Day 6: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
Once again it was 5:45am when we all awoke at the same time. At first I thought it had to do with our home schedule, but then again, I noticed how early the sun came up and how bright it got at this time. So I reckoned that was the more plausible explanation considering we were now in day 6 of our trip.
At 6:45am when we were trying to feed Tahia her milk, we noticed that she was having a runny nose. We were concerned that she might have caught a cold or something. Not good.
Plus, it was still overcast outside even though the clouds didn’t look as threatening as the last three days. Still, we were wondering if we were ever going to see sun and clear skies to bring out the wonderful colors of the lagoons at any point during this trip.
It was about 7:45am when we returned to the familiar Fare Nui Restaurant for our included breakfast. Shortly after a quick brekkie, I talked with the Avis person (a different guy this time) and explained that I wanted to hang onto our stick shift rental car while also explaining the fuel situation.
At first he said all their rental cars have a fuel gauge indicator issue, but when I told him that I paid 2600 CFP yesterday afternoon when I didn’t even drive all the way around the island, he gave me a look of understanding and altered the contract so that I’d only have to return it with 7/8 tank (even though I started off at 6/8 tank).
I was also being refunded the difference for keeping the stick shift all three days instead of switching to automatic (more expensive) for the last two days. The difference was around 1800 CFP so it wasn’t that much of a savings, but I guess every little bit helped.
While making small talk with the Avis rep, I asked if the downpours of the last three days were typical of Wet Season rains, and he said it had more to do with the cyclone that destroyed some homes in Fiji. I guess that would explain the persistence and intensity of the storms we were experiencing on this trip. Lucky us.
At 8:40am, I kissed both Tahia and Julie good-bye as it was decided that I’d solo the waterfalls of Afareaitu while they chilled out at the resort to play in the water and possibly play with the dolphins.
The drive around the south side of Moorea involved a few stops to try to rekindle memories of ten years ago when Julie and I made the same circle island drive (under much better weather). This time, I had a better camera though the familiar places to take photos like the bay at Maatea weren’t all that great since the water was a bit murky and brown thanks to all the rains we’ve had the last three days.
Meanwhile, a muted sun did show itself through the haze of thin clouds. It was enough for me to notice there was still some attractive turquoise colors of the less developed southern coast of the island. I was even able to see the silhouette of the impressive Tahiti Island as well.
Something that I had noticed but was very different from our last trip to Moorea 10 years ago was the presence of bike lanes. I had recalled that the roads were far narrower then as they were now. So with these bike lanes, I had a pretty easy time finding a shoulder to pull over and take photos on a whim.
Since the scouting trip in the rain from yesterday gave me a pretty good sense of where I needed to go today, I wasted no time heading to the first waterfall where the access road was right behind the Ah Sing Market. The beat up access road between residences definitely wasn’t as bad to dive yesterday since I didn’t have to worry as much about mud and about flooding.
As I made the approach to the falls, I also had noticed that the waterfall I saw yesterday wasn’t gushing nearly as much either. I guess that meant that the flooded flows of yesterday weren’t normal in the least bit and what I was seeing today was probably more indicative of slightly above average flow.
Once I made it past the muddy part that the rental car had no chance of getting past, I started to evaluate whether I was in any position to judge whether the falls’ flow I was seeing would be any bit indicative of what someone else ought to be seeing. After all, I had no way to know given the conditions this time around immediately followed conditions that were so unusual.
Now, I could see through the stream and could see where the shallow parts of the stream crossing was. It was still shin deep in some places, but at least I was able to get through that first stream crossing and go into parts of this hike that I had never done before.
I was still walking along the 4×4 road as it got progressively rougher with the bush closing in even more so than before. There was a second stream crossing between some tiny cascades, which was a little longer though just as deep as that first one.
After that second stream crossing, the path was now the conventional hiking trail. At this point, the trail started climbing, and with the saturation rains as well as fallen trees, this walk was a little more nontrivial than I had hoped. Still, the obstacles only conspired to slow me down slightly. I was pretty determined not to blow this opportunity to see this waterfall as I was so tantalizingly close.
Along the ascent, there was yet another fork in the path. This time, I headed to the right of the fork while taking a mental note to come back and check out the trail on the left to see if it went anywhere.
Eventually, I made it to a third stream crossing just beneath the base of the waterfall. While the falls was quite audible and could be partially seen through the foliage, the thick jungle foliage kept me from seeing the falls in its entirety at this point. After a short distance further uphill from the last stream crossing, I was right at the base of the tall waterfall.
It was hard to get a decent photograph of the falls due to its height and the fact that I was quite close to it. Whenever I got further back on the trail, there was a big tree that was in the line of sight for the most interesting pics of the falls so I had to make do with the limited field of view on the 17mm lens (plus 1.4 multiplier) for the EOS DSLR camera I was using.
When I had my fill of the falls taking both photos and movies, I immediately headed back towards that junction I made a mental note about coming back to explore. So this time, I did take the left path and started climbing uphill on a muddy and slippery path that eventually got into real thick jungle with plenty of overgrowth conspiring to throw me off on the wrong path.
As I saw that the big waterfall was more to my right and that it appeared that the path kept going away from the falls and deeper into the thick jungle bush (parts of the trail seemed very overgrown and seldomly used), I figured this trail must be the one going to Mouaputa (the mountain with the hole at its top) and so I turned back at this point not bothering to figure out if I might have gone far enough to find a spur path leading to a different view of the falls (since it seemed unlikely at this point in my judgement).
After a few minutes of walking downhill (being careful not to slip and fall on those muddy sections), I returned to the rental car at 10:30am while seeing the mountainous silhouette of Tahiti Island looming in the distance.
Next, I slowly drove back down the access road towards the main road again. I realized that my handheld GPS had run out of batteries so I stopped by the Ah Sing Store at the corner of the access road and the main road to pick up another pair of AA batteries.
Then, I continued north on the main road and went left on the much rougher access road a few driveways north of the town hospital (good thing I did some scouting in the heavy rains of yesterday – there was a white handwritten sign that also helped me to identify it). Then, I proceeded to drive up this road with its very deep ruts and holes for as far as I could take it. I even saw the stone bridge that the Moon book was talking about, but I couldn’t find a good spot to park the car without getting in the way of locals’ traffic here.
So I kept driving until eventually the road got steeper and grassier, but it was also where I saw a shoulder wide enough to pull the car over and stop it at 10:55am. At this point, I couldn’t tell if anything I was doing concerning this particular hike was tolerated or welcome by locals. There was no signage (well, it wasn’t there for the other waterfall as well) and there was even some signs in French that I wasn’t sure about whether I needed permission to do this walk.
Anyways, I got out of the car and proceeded to walk up the 4×4 road past the last of the residences (one of them blaring music). The path became less discernable the further I went as more grass and rocks dominated the path. After the first 5 minutes or so of walking, there was one small opening where I could see the waterfall I was supposed to be going to further up ahead.
This waterfall, which I noticed from the main road, was a bit slenderer than the one I had just seen. I wasn’t sure if this one was the so-called Atiraa Waterfall according to the Moon book. Whatever the case, I started to realize that the waterfall we saw on the half-day 4×4 tour was the one I had just seen earlier this morning. There was no one it could’ve been this one.
In fact, I started to wonder about the accuracy of the Moon guide in this instance in identifying Atiraa Falls considering that this one was way smaller and more obscure than the one I saw earlier this morning. It seemed a bit counterintuitive that this waterfall would have a name while the much larger one would not (or at least not have a label for it on the map for the Moon guide we possessed). I guess we’d have to pick up a more up-to-date guidebook to see which waterfall really is which.
Continuing on the walk, the path gradually climbed as it got closer to the stream responsible for the falls. Eventually, it got to the point where I followed the stream plus a few tiny cascades en route before the path finally made its final ascent to the base of the falls where I could see a small plunge pool at the base of the tall drop of the falls, which I wasn’t able to photograph in one shot given its height and my position so close to it.
There was some mist blown in my direction at the falls so I had to content myself with the fact that it would be difficult to convey in pictures the context of this falls. Perhaps movies was best for to accomplish that in this particular instance.
When I had my fill of this second waterfall (still not certain if it was Atiraa as Moon indicated or not), I then walked back through the thick bush seeing parts of Tahiti Island in the distance en route and to the parked rental car at 11:45am. I had to walk by a couple of locals who were chit chatting and looked at me with suspiscion, but when I said “Ia orana” to them, they gave me polite smiles and gestures before resuming their conversation.
I guess that further made me wonder whether tourists were welcome or merely tolerated in these parts. Perhaps it had the feel of Hawaii all over again except in this instance, mass tourism didn’t really happen in Tahiti given its reputation for being very expensive (which wasn’t that far off from the truth).
Whatever the case, I slowly made my way back down the access road being very careful not to damage the rental car (especially since I didn’t take out the CDW, which made me wonder if it was a wise move in hindsight).
After driving a short distance on the main road while making brief stops for photos, I stopped by the only supermarket in town at the Champion Store at 12pm (also known as Chez Toa back in the day when we were last here). It was just south of the Vaiare Ferry dock. I was on a mission to pick up some more milk for Tahia, but unfortunately, they only had the 1L package and not the small kid-sized ones that worked pretty well for us up to this point.
So the 10-minute grocery store run was over with me picking up the 1L milk carton (meaning we’d definitely have to use the refrigerator in Bora Bora) and then I continued my own solo circle island drive around the island.
Further along the road, it climbed past the Sofitel where there was a Panorama de To’atea. I stopped the car there and was treated to a gorgeous view of the Sofitel Moorea property below as well as the reef lagoon fronting the strait and Tahiti Island in the distance.
It was easily one of the prettiest overlooks on this island, but it was too bad that the skies remained overcast to mute the colors that would’ve really made this spot stand out. Is it ever going to be sunny on this trip?
At this panorama, there was a memorial of those who lost their lives from a plane that went down between Tahiti and Moorea. I immediately thought about the difficulties we were having a few days ago when we hit major turbulence and had to abort the landing attempts and go back to Papeete then to take the ferry across the strait. Julie and I were glad they went the conservative route and they didn’t have to do another one of these memorials for our flight despite the logistical headaches we were faced with as a result.
I continued the drive now west alongside the two bays. I wanted to stop for some more panoramas and picture taking, but the overcast skies as well as the time constraint (given it was getting late for lunch) kept me going.
When I got to the turnoff for the belvedere at the bast of Opunohu Bay, I did make a brief detour to take some photos of the sharp mountain further to the west, which showed just how advanced Moorea’s mountain had eroded. Moreover, it indicated that Moorea was an older island than Tahiti itself.
It wasn’t until about 1:05pm when I finally returned to the Intercontinental Moorea where Julie was still in the beach bungalow while Tahia was asleep for her morning nap, which now seemed to be a much longer nap than she would usually take. Clearly, her sleep schedule was all screwed up at this point.
After hastily getting ready to go out for lunch (knowing that it was getting close to siesta), we arrived at Les Tipaniers at 1:45pm and quickly walked to the beach where they sat at one of the tables overlooking the beach and lagoon. It was a bit stuffy there as hardly any of the tropical breeze filtered into the beach bar plus we were getting mosquito bites in the process.
I found it ironic that I had been hiking in the jungle all morning long which pretty much was mosquito central, but I ended up getting a handful of mosquito bites at a beach in a low-key resort. Go figure.
Our lunch was a quick and reasonably-priced affair consisting of poisson cru, bolognese (which Tahia liked), some salad, and some untoasted baguette (which Tahia also liked). As usual, it was a challenge to feed Tahia and to feed ourselves given Tahia was hardly sitting still (until we got her the bolognese, which seemed to pacify her for a fair portion of the lunch).
At 2:40pm, we left the restaurant. At that point, Julie decided we should just go around Moorea Island and do our own little circle island tour. The skies remained overcast so that was a bummer. But we still had to go around the island and see the sights before we left for Bora Bora tomorrow.
The first stop was the Belvedere. I had to follow some ATV tour up to the Belvedere, but it wasn’t long before we arrived at the familiar lookout of Mt Rotui splitting the twin bays of Opunohu and Cook at 3pm.
Of course the overcast skies muted the color of the scene but at least we could see most of Mt Rotui under the higher clouds. While we were up here, there were some chickens and roosters strutting about, which Tahia seemed to enjoy as she would chase them. Meanwhile, there were also plenty of mosquitoes up here as well. The only thing missing was the ice cream vendor I recalled was selling the goods ten years ago.
I remembered it well because it was the first time Julie and I tasted Tahitian vanilla ice cream and it was so memorable that we still remembered it to this day. But I guess times change and that vendor was nowhere to be found. Speaking of change, I noticed that there were bike lanes flanking the main road around the island, which was something I didn’t recall seeing before back in 2002 as well.
This place was also the first time I got to use the tripod as I tried to take family photos in front of the Belvedere using the camera’s timer. It was always a challenge to get Tahia to look at the camera, but at least the memories of this moment would last us a lifetime regardless of the imperfections of various moments and conditions we had experienced on this trip.
Anyways, we continued with our tour of the island at 3:20pm. At this point, we continued around the tip of Mt Rotui and then around the base of Cook Bay. We saw some large fancy yacht in the bay and wondered if it was the Paul Allen yacht that Rico from Albert Tours mentioned on the day he drove us from the ferry to the IC Moorea.
At 3:55pm, we returned to the Panorama To’atea. This time there were more people here, but it was still just as gloomy and overcast as before. But at least it was another opportunity to use the tripod and try to take family photos of the gorgeous scene before us. It really made me wish that I had photographed this panorama when the weather was good back in 2002, but who knew that the sun was so rare on this trip?
After enduring a few more mosquito bites at this overlook, we made a brief stop somewhere near the Paopao panorama where we took another quick photo across Cook Bay, but the constant cloud cover seemed to have lessened the visual impact of the view of the east-side of Mt Rotui.
Next, Julie was inspired to go back down to the Sofitel Moorea (formerly Sofitel Ia Ora) to both rekindle memories of ten years ago (where we stayed here) plus to do an informal visit to see how it compared to the other resorts she had seen on this trip.
So at 4:15pm, we were at the Sofitel Moorea where we went to the familiar beach and briefly let Tahia play in the calm and warm waters. After briefly checking out the overwater bungalows here, we then returned to the car hire and drove off at around 5pm. We’d spend the rest of the time finishing our circle island tour going around the quieter and less-developed south of the island.
It wasn’t until about 5:45pm when we returned to the IC Moorea. We hastily returned to the room to get cleaned up for our 7pm dinner reservation at Te Honu Iti. It wasn’t until about 6:45pm when we left for the restaurant knowing that it was a bit of a drive to even get there. I guess it was a good thing we hired the car because the restaurant no longer offered free taxis from the hotel to the restaurant.
When we were at the restaurant, the water was a bit murky thanks to all that storm runoff. Thus, the visibility wasn’t good and there were no stingrays like 10 years ago. However, we did see an impressively large eel that was swimming alongside the restaurant much to the delight of Tahia. However, we had to be real careful that she didn’t run off on her own and potentially fall into the bay where she might drown.
The food there was well prepared as expected, but we probably ended up getting the wrong main (going instead with a suggestion of the lady taking our order). At least we loved our appetizers where Julie got a seafood bisque while I had smooth foie gras (knowing it was outlawed back at home).
At 9pm, we were back at our room. There was some kind of performance going on at the rest, which we missed, but the staff was still playing traditional Polynesian music. Meanwhile, the skies were clearing as we could see many stars out in the night sky. I believe it was the very first time we had even seen stars on this trip!
Unfortunately, the skies cleared at a time when it didn’t really matter. I wondered if we were going to see the sun tomorrow or if this was merely a head fake. Such was the nature of this trip as it seemed like the weather did its best to be unkind to us, but I guess that was the risk we took traveling here in the Wet. After all, there was a reason why we managed to secure a trip at a very deep discount. Such deals would be impossible to find in the Dry Season.
And so ended our night. At least it was a day where the weather was calm enough to allow me to finally accomplish my waterfalling mission. Really, the only thing left on this trip was to see the sun and the colorful lagoons. I guess we could stomach not having sun on Moorea Island (tomorrow morning was the last of this island we’d be experiencing), but Bora Bora was where we really hoped for the good weather. I guess we’ll see whether that will be the case or not for the last three full days of this trip…