I could see it. Less than twenty kilometers from Tahiti, Mo’orea was on the horizon. Green and mountainous, it was to be my first real taste of French Polynesia. My layover at the Tahiti Airport Hotel didn’t count, but gave me eighteen hours to adjust to the heat and humidity. As I blasted the air conditioning and looked across to Mo’orea, I began to second guess my choice of a non-air conditioned bungalow for the following six nights.
After a poor night’s sleep – the roosters announced sunrise in every time zone on the planet – I boarded the catamaran for my sixty square kilometers of paradise. A paradise that Europeans discovered in the sixteenth century, first by Samuel Wallis in 1767. James Cook followed two years later. The Polynesian idyllic lifestyle went downhill from there with the introduction of European diseases, weapons and alcohol.
The island’s beauty, and the hospitality of its 14,000 inhabitants, atone for modern influences. Mo’orea is an extinct volcano. The mountains – Mt. Rotui the tallest, rising 900 meters – change shades of green with the rising sun and are often enveloped in cloud, adding a dramatic and ominous appearance.
One 60 kilometer road encircles the edge of the island and as my taxi driver, Ghislaine, drove me to my hotel, she pointed out the Sofitel Resort. Situated on the island’s best beach, it epitomizes that iconic scene of over-water bungalows stretching out into a lagoon of blue and green and every colour on the spectrum between. I was staying somewhere more downmarket – the family run Hotel Kaveka. The next six nights were about the island, not the hotel room.
It was also about the beach. Situated on beautiful Cook’s Bay, surrounded by mountains, my hotel’s beach was adequate, but not spectacular. Fortunately, Ghislaine informed me that anyone could go to the Sofitel beach. We discussed the options to get there. A $56 return taxi ride for the ten minute trip (there seems to be a taxi cartel in all of French Polynesia) or a $3 bus ride each way. I would have to time my arrival and departure by the catamaran arrival time and explain to the bus driver in French that I wanted to be picked up at the Sofitel when he returns from the catamaran. But another option presented itself – my hotel rented bikes. The taxi ride didn’t seem that far. It was worth a try. I certainly wouldn’t get lost on the sole road on the island.
After a leisurely – albeit hot and humid – forty minute cycle, I saw a sign for Plage Tamae. Desperately in need of a refreshing swim, I turned off to cool down before continuing my search to find the Sofitel Beach. As I cycled down the dirt road to the beach, locals on scooters and 1980s era vehicles passed me. I hopped off my bike and walked from the road to the beach and there it was – the beach – with the Sofitel’s over-water bungalows at the far end. Paradise found.
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
― George Harrison