Step Back In Time
Exploring Mo’orea on a scooter, I felt both saddened and elated. Despite restrictions in French Polynesia easing in the past couple of weeks, the majority of resorts, shops, restaurants and bars on this beautiful island are still closed. The tourism infrastructure is taking time to get back up and running and, as we toured around, taking in the stunning mountain viewpoints, beaches and villages, it was eerily devoid of people. It felt like we’d taken a step back in time.
Having arrived on a sail boat last month, we are so privileged to be here; one of the very few able to travel, and that’s where the elation has set in. This week, restrictions have been completely lifted in French Polynesia and we can now move around freely again between the islands. Before the tourists flock back, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the Tuamotus and the Society Islands – including Huahine, Bora Bora and Ra’iatea – while they are virtually free of visitors.
The first international flights into Tahiti, carrying visitors rather than those being repatriated, are unlikely to commence before July. There’s still a strict 14-day quarantine in place for those arriving into the area and it’s unclear as to when this will be lifted. Although, the government has noted the need to kick-start their tourism as soon as possible.
While inter-island flights have resumed, they are vastly reduced; and some routes may be cancelled altogether, making travelling between the islands more challenging for visitors and locals alike.
So, it appears we have a few weeks with the islands all to ourselves, apart from sharing it with the 500-odd other sailing boats also in French Polynesia that is!
But back to exploring the magical Mo’orea. Six of us, on three scooters, took the main road around the island, and we stood out like a sore thumb as the only tourists. Some locals waved at us, while others just pointed in confusion mouthing, “tourist, tourist,” as we were so obvious with a map, guide book and cameras.
When we sat down for a mid-morning coffee at one of the few restaurants we found open, the waitress couldn’t understand how we had managed to get to the island. We told her we were on boats and had come across from Tahiti, delighted to be able to explore now that restrictions had eased. She smiled, wished us well and was patient with us as we tried to learn some Tahitian words.
We motored high up into the mountains, heading to a lookout at the island’ highest accessible point by vehicle. The views were staggering across Opunohu Bay, Cooks Bay and to the 899m-high Mt Rotui, which lies between the two bays. The striking, craggy mountains in the centre of this lush green island, once formed the southern rim of an ancient crater.
Sadness again, at the sight of some of the beautiful hotels and resorts, mothballed until travel resumes in large enough quantities to justify reopening. Overwater-villas, the epitome of a romantic holiday, lying empty.
From a roadside viewpoint, we looked down on the picture-postcard Sofitel la Ora Moorea Beach Resort, its beautiful turquoise lagoon was deserted. It’s famed for being located on the best beach on Mo’orea; but this too lay empty, except for a few local kids playing in the shallows.
There’s an anchorage just by this hotel, which we hope to visit in a few days. It will be unusual to be so close to a resort, and for it to be so quiet, no background sound of people enjoying a holiday, or a pianist playing in the evening as holidaymakers gather for a sundowner. As I said, stepping back to a time before tourism took over the islands.
Mo’orea benefits from being a weekend escape for residents from Tahiti, and has the ease of a regular ferry from Pape’ete. It may be a while before it gets international tourists, but at least this little gem of an island won’t go hungry.
Exploring the delights of French Polynesia during the high season this year will be incredibly special, as we experience deserted beaches, snorkel spots, diving and whale watching, far from the madding crowds.
© Two Drifters Trave