Tag Archives: South Pacific

Hiking through the humid forest on Moorea, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Moorea, Part 2

At dawn, I met my guide and the young couple joining us for a day-long trek into the rain forest on Moorea, in the South Pacific. Moorea is a rugged, mountainous island, with jagged peaks surrounded by tropical greenery, encircled by a clear aqua lagoon and then the deep blue ocean.

We began hiking through the trails of Sister Island, gradually going higher towards the center, until we reached Belvedere Lookout, with a grand view of Cook and Opunohu Bays. It was a clear sky, hot and humid, with very muddy trekking, as you can see in my photo at the top of this post. We crossed three brooks: one had a foot bridge, but for the others, we went over on the slippery, moss-covered rocks.

Roosters run wild and are in the forests of all the nearby islands. I could hear the cock-a-doodle-do long before I could spot one. Little brown lizards with fluorescent blue tails scurried about the forest floor. Many types of trees, ferns, and plants covered every inch of the forest except the narrow trail. Fortunately there are no poisonous snakes, or poisonous spiders, or poisonous plants on the island. There are birds and I saw many, including the Tahitian kingfisher and green pigeons.

We zigzagged our way up to a ridge separating Mouara and Tohivea peaks onto Three Coconut Trail. We walked higher until we came out onto a rock outcropping and had a grand panoramic view of the island. It is 10 miles distant on each side, with a coastal road of 37 miles around the shoreline.  It was quite a picture with pineapple plantations below and the lagoon in the far distance.

On our descent, we passed through a bamboo forest. In parts of the forest, the trees form a high, dense canopy overhead, covering the trees with moss and lichen; the earth remains damp and the trail is muddy and slippery. We reached the trail head as the sun was going down—I was anxious to reach the village and get cooled off with a refreshing swim in the lagoon.

Tropical wonders on an undersea walk at Moorea, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Tropical wonders on an undersea walk at Moorea, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

After my hike on Moorea, I was ready for one more adventure before leaving the island: I took an underwater sea walk. Three other people participated and we met our instructor for a quick briefing, before going off in a small boat to an area restricted for diving off the coral reef. The boat was anchored and we sat there while our instructor prepared an 80 pound helmet and air line for each person. When it was my turn to go overboard, I went down a ladder attached to the side of the boat, while the instructor lifted the diving helmet onto my head, with the weight resting on my shoulders, and the airline was attached. Immediately, I sank to the bottom of the sandy lagoon. I balanced myself on my knees for a minute or two, getting oriented to the heavy helmet. Then I stood and moved one foot slowly, then another, then took time to see the fish.

Our instructor brought a feeding tube filled with smelly bait. In just a few minutes, two large, beautiful sting rays appeared. I began to stroke each one as it swam around me while I held the bait tube. The hand print remained on the back of the sting rays, just like running your hand over a steamed-up window. The sting rays rub against you and I tried not to lose my balance and land upside down like a turtle with my feet dangling above me! Fish came up to my mask and brushed against my helmet. They were so colorful and all different sizes. I walked along the uneven ocean floor between the colorful coral. After the underwater sea walk, we motored around the lagoon looking for sea turtles. The next day, it was time to sail back to Tahiti and end my South Seas adventures.

(posted April 12, 2016)

A lovely instructor mama, who helped me to make a heis during my time on the island of Moorea.

Moorea, Part 1

I was at sea again, sailing from Bora Bora to Moorea, in the South Pacific. I was excited thinking about adventures planned and unplanned on Moorea. When it was nearing sunset, my thoughts changed to hoping to see a Green Flash.

The effect is real and rare, as the conditions have to be exactly right. The horizon has to be unobstructed; out to sea is an excellent place, as long as there is no haze, fog, or clouds. This was a good day. I glanced occasionally at the sun until it appeared to touch the ocean; it started disappearing, and when it was about ¾ gone, then I looked for a brilliant Green Flash at the top of the sun. The glow is like emerald and it lasts just a second. It is a good luck omen and a special moment in time.

After the spectacular sunset I was eager to enjoy life on Moorea.  One afternoon I had an opportunity to make a leis and a heis to wear for dinner and dancing that evening.

Making leis with the lovely ladies of Moorea, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Making leis with the lovely ladies of Moorea, in the South Pacific. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A group of mamas had laid out large cloths and assorted hundreds of flowers in piles of different colors. They were speaking French, but it wasn’t a problem to sit with them on the cloth mat and follow the instructions from an older mama, who sat in front of me with a needle and thread, taking one flower at a time to make a leis. I slowly and carefully began threading the delicate, fragrant flowers one at a time, following a pattern of one being made by my instructor-mama. It took a while to make my leis with so many flowers, but it was beautiful when it was finished.

Now that I understood the process of making them, I appreciated all the leis that had been given to me in the past, and it made this one more special. I tried to imagine the work this entails to make leis for every guest entering their island: how many flowers need to be grown, picked, and then assembled by hand.

My mama instructor gently put the lais over my head and straightened it around my neck. Then she smiled and we gave each other a big hug.

She insisted I now make a heis. This is a crown made with many colorful blossoms. I sat quietly working and glancing at my instructor, trying to follow her directions, while she laboriously worked and helped me at the same time.  When I finished, my mama-instructor nodded her head in approval and gently put it on my head.

These lovely mamas, who were working so hard to please their guests, were also willing to share their culture of Moorea and the islands of the South Pacific by teaching their guests how to make their leis and heis. I was very pleased and humbled by the experience.

(posted April 5, 2016)

A church I enjoyed attending in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora is an intriguing name that sounds like a far-off place in paradise—and it is. What a great experience to sail in through the only pass, Te Ava Nui, in the wide barrier reef that surrounds all of Bora Bora. I could almost picture Captain James Cook sighting the island in 1769 and marking it in his log book. Above in the distance is the highest peak, Mount Ote Manu, the remains of the extinct volcano that made this island.

A mama sells her wares in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Note the map behind her, which shows the reefs that surround the island. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A mama sells her wares in Vaitape, Bora Bora. Note the map behind her (click on this photo to enlarge it). Photo by Madelyn Given.

My adventure here was to take a pirogue, a traditional outrigger canoe, around part of the island and lagoon. The weather and the warm clear water make the South Pacific so inviting for outdoor water activities. It is an eco-friendly island and pristine in appearance. The locals have small homes in and around the villages. Most of the island is undeveloped. Resorts are well camouflaged into the green tropical setting.

I spent one day walking on a steep trail through the tropical forest with several lookout points. I was surprised to see on one of these lookouts canons still standing from WWII. The American army built a road, airstrip, base here in 1942.  From another lookout I could see across the beautiful lagoon to the distant islands of Taha’a, Raiatea, and Huahine.

Sea life is abundant around the coral reefs, and the water is so clear it is easy to see the different fish, sea turtles, and stingrays. I saw a black-tipped shark and dolphins in the sea beyond the reef. Bora Bora is part of the vast Indo-Pacific zone, which has the richest submarine depths on the planet. The local people fish in the lagoons, but the fish there are less tasty than deep sea fish.

I spent most of one day in Vaitape and tried breadfruit mixed with coconut milk, taro, and tropical fruit. I bought a pareo and learned different ways of tying this simple dress. I learned a little about the Polynesians of the past: their art, realistic and rarely painted, was for religious or decorative design, with images of fish or turtles, and human forms were common. The early clothing was made from tapa, beaten bark, or woven leaves. The men wore a maro, a belt wrapped around the hips like underpants. Women wore the pareu that was longer and went from the hips almost to the ankles. In cooler weather they added a poncho called the tiputa. The ancient Polynesians had great canoes and primitive weapons for tribal wars.

It was on Bora Bora that I was invited to attend a church service one morning. It was so peaceful and inviting. The men and women participating were in casual white dress and wore heis on their heads and leis around their necks. The congregation sang joyfully and children casually walked out the open doors when they became restless: they went and played on the lawn, then returned when they were ready to sit and listen again. During the ceremony , a man blew the pu, a conch shell made out of a large murex. It was very awe-inspiring to hear it resonate in the edifice. After the closing ceremony, the parishioners were not in a rush to leave. They took time to visit and wish everyone a good day. It was a moving experience and a happy memory of Bora Bora.

Families gather often to sing and dance in their yards and enjoy bountiful food. Usually someone has a musical instrument like a pahu, a drum which varies in size and shape. Sometimes a ukulele or a flute adds to the musical group. Old and young are relaxed and happy. They can sing and swing their hips, something passed down from generations of Polynesian culture.  Laughter comes easy. They are friendly and kind. They are so far removed from the great turmoil in major countries of the world. It seems a blessing.

(posted March 29, 2016)