The Islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Raiatea
4/11/16 - 4/13/16 30 °C
Many months ago a group of 8 of us who travelled together to Vietnam in 2012 decided that a cruise in the South Pacific would be a good idea. The eight intrepid adventurers were Sherry & Kent from California; Michael & Mercedes from Toronto; perennial travel friends and in-laws Roy & Sue from Oshawa and David & Hazel. The cruise of choice was operated by Oceania Cruise Lines, one of the smaller cruise lines plying the oceans today. The ship for this trip was the Marina, a relatively new ship built in 2011. With a capacity of 1250 passengers Marina is on the smaller side of modern cruise ships. Why the South Pacific? Why not?
Members of our intrepid travel group
French Polynesia is a vast geographic area in the South Pacific Ocean. The area covered by the 118 islands and atolls is about the size of Europe. As the name implies this vast area is an overseas territory of France. The entire area is divided into 5 archipelagos: Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu. The general area is roughly located halfway between California and Australia. Although it stretches over about 4 million square kilometers of ocean, the land above sea level accounts for only about 7,000 square kilometers. Four of the five archipelagos are volcanic and one is coral. Much of the area is quite fascinating when viewed from a cruise ship as you often have to pick your way through a cut in the coral reefs surrounding many of the islands to anchor inside the calmer, protected waters.
The Trip Begins
4:00 am comes early but we managed to get ourselves ready, put our house to bed, and set off to the Toronto airport Monday morning. With a couple of centimeters of fresh snow on the ground and a light rain falling it was a great incentive to get out of town.
Our flight to Los Angeles was uneventful and navigating the chaos of the LAX airport was relatively straightforward. We took the opportunity to walk outside in the warm sunny weather to get to Terminal B where we were scheduled to catch our next flight on Air Tahiti Nui. After a short delay we all boarded the plane for the final leg of our trip to Tahiti, a tiny dot in the Society Islands. For our sailor friends this part of the Society Islands is known as the Windward Islands. For the next 17 days our itinerary will take us 4500 km east across the Pacific all the way to Lima, Peru.
Although the flight was with Air Tahiti this particular flight was a Charter exclusively for passengers on our cruise so there was lots of chatting among all of the passengers about our upcoming adventure. No matter how lovely the destination, an eight-hour flight immediately following a five-hour flight is never fun. However, we did catch up on our movie viewing while on the two flights. My favourites were Revenant and Carol, although the nine-inch screen is hardly a great cinematic experience.
Finally we have landed in Tahiti
Around 6:30 pm local time we landed in the small city of Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Being at the equator the days are fairly short and it was completely dark when we landed so we didn’t see too much of Papeete as we drove in our van from the airport to the ship which was docked in the downtown area. By the time we cleared immigration, drove to the ship, got checked in, fed and given the mandatory life boat drill it was closing in on 10:00 pm. Given the six-hour time difference we had now been up a full 24 hours. However, we managed to unpack our luggage and get things put away in the closet and the many drawers before falling into the beautiful beds on Marina.
Our ship - Oceania Cruise Lines Marina
Our fairly typical 180 sq ft cabin with outside veranda
One interesting feature of this ship that we have rarely seen in other cruise ships was a full sized bath tub in the bathroom. It is an interesting idea but it does end out making the dedicated shower space even smaller than other cruise ships.
Most unusual to have a full sized bath tub
Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia and is the primary center of Tahitian and French Polynesian public and private governmental, commercial, industrial and financial services, the hub of French Polynesian tourism and a commonly used port of call. The population of Papeete is approx. 134,000. The average day time high temperature is 30C, average low 23C. The primary languages are French and Tahitian with some English in the tourist areas.
No sooner were we in bed than our ship, the Marina, slipped away from the jetty and our cruise was officially underway as we headed out under the cover of darkness. Given the time difference our sleep was not perfect but we all got a fairly decent night’s sleep and woke up Tuesday morning as the Marina was dropping anchor just inside the coral barrier reef near the Island of Moorea.
Tuesday, April 12th
Moorea is a small mountainous island located just 20 kilometres northwest of Tahiti.
Island of Moorea
Due to the shallow waters around the island and the complete lack of shore facilities the only way ashore was to take one of the ship’s tender boats. These are also used as the ship’s life boats.
Tenders being lowered from the Marina
Tenders being lowered from the Marina
Tender Ready for Boarding from Deck 4
Tender along side the town dock
These boats are fairly large with a capacity of between 50-60 people. They are powered by twin diesel engines and while quite utilitarian they are reasonably comfortable for transiting between the ship and the shore. Due to very limited shore facilities and the shallow waters in this part of the world most of our trips ashore will be made using the boat’s own tenders.
Around mid morning several of us descended down to deck 4 and boarded one of the tenders for the trip ashore.
Hazel & Sue sitting in the tender
We walked around the little shore facility selling local crafts but did not bother walking into the nearby village.
Local port area
Local port area
Local port area
All beaches are public on this island but not as close or as accessible from the ship as one might like. There are a number of ship organized shore excursions but none of them really appealed to any of us and we also found them quite expensive by most cruise ship standards. There is no city to speak of on Moorea although there are small towns and villages along the secondary road that encircles the heart shaped island. There are a few areas along the road with clusters of shops selling miscellaneous goods, local crafts and colorful hand printed fabrics (pareos which are pieces of cloth wrapped around the body) and that is about it for this island.
Our view from the ship showed a topography of spiky mountain peaks, turquoise lagoons and lush tropical foliage. Just to add to the tropical ambiance we had a heavy rain shower for about 30 minutes just as we were dropping anchor at around 8:00 am. But shortly after the cloud burst the sun was out and it returned to a steamy 29C with very high humidity. It's said that the fictional island Bali Hai, from the musical "South Pacific," was based on Moorea - and the island looks the way you probably imagine a tropical paradise to look, even the usual power and telephone lines are buried underground to further the effect. The island, like many in this part of the world is surrounded by a coral reef which creates a wide shallow lagoon. Our ship has to navigate a small channel to get just inside the lagoon where we anchor for the day. Interestingly many of the residents from Tahiti will make the 20 kilometer 30-minute ferry ride over here for a weekend getaway.
Mountainous topography of the island
By 5:30 pm everyone was back on board and shortly after 6:00 pm we weighed anchor and headed off to the island of Raiatea where we would drop anchor on Wednesday morning.
After a lazy day of casually wandering around the port area as well as getting to know our ship our group of eight all gathered at 6:30 pm at one of the specialty restaurants, Chez Jacques for an amazing meal. So far we all agree on one thing, the food on Oceania is the best any of us have experienced on any ship and this is a pretty cruise savvy crowd.
With nine dining venues on the Marina no one is going hungry. The Grand Dining Room is the main dining facility. It is large and very elegant.
The Grand Dining Room
The Terrace Cafe is more casual and a bit of a combination table service and buffet. Most days we have breakfast there. Out near the pool is Waves Grill which is very casual and tends towards fast food style. There are also four specialty dining restaurants which require reservations but unlike so many cruise lines today there is no extra charge for these restaurants. These are: the cruise line's signature Polo Grill; Toscana, an Italian restaurant; the French Bistro Chez Jacques and the Pan Asian restaurant, Red Ginger. Two additional venues are available at an added charge: Privee private dining and La Reserve.
For the more technically inclined Marina was built in Italy and launched in 2011. She weighs in at 66,000 gross tons and is roughly 800 feet long. Her beam is 105 feet and she draws 24 feet of water. She carries 1250 passengers and a crew of 780. Marina has a diesel-electric power plant with a pair of variable pitch propellers and two bow thrusters. The ship's interior is a bit more formal looking than we have been used to and is decorated with rich woods, Italian marble, lots of granite surfaces, wool carpets and lots of leather. The ship has 626 staterooms and suites, with 90% featuring private verandas.
Around 9:00 pm most of us headed off to the main theatre at the other end of the ship to check out the evening’s entertainment. Tonight’s show was to be a short one which essentially introduced us to a number of the entertainers that we would see throughout the cruise. While Oceania has a reputation for amazing food it also has a reputation for rather down scale entertainment on board – no Chorus Line show here. The smaller size of the ship limits their ability to mount major shows. Tonight was no exception as several seemingly talented performers did a number of show tunes from the 50’s. Sad to say that so far the advance billing was accurate. Hopefully the entertainment will improve as the trip progresses.
Wednesday, April 13 – Raiatea
We awoke Wednesday morning to the sound of our ship being tied up to the jetty in the middle of a small village on the island of Raiatea, the only port where we will tie up alongside at a dock. All other ports are too small for our ship to tie up at even though we are roughly half the size of many of today’s mid-sized cruise ships.
View from starboard side of our ship as we enter harbour of the Island of Raiatea
Our ship the Marina tied up at the island of Raiatea
Looking back at our previous days port in the distance
Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands after Tahiti. It has a small road that runs around the entire island and even has a small airport. The economy is mainly agricultural with some pearl farming. There is less tourism than other islands. The Mt. Temehani Plateau is written up in the guide books but none of the ship’s tours excited any of our group so we just walked off the ship and wandered around the very small town next to the dock. The temperature of 30C with very high humidity was not very conducive to vigorous exploring up the nearby mountain sides. After a couple of hours of shore side exploring and window shopping most of our group ended up back on board the ship exploring the various venues on the ship. Several of us even snuck in a mid-day nap to help extinguish some of that lingering jet lag.
After last night’s amazing meal at Chez Jacques we decided to head off to Deck 5 and spoil ourselves again at Chez Jacques.. Once again the dinner experience rivaled the best 5 star restaurants. After nearly two hours of comradrarie our group pushed away from our table around 9:00 pm.
Most of us skipped the evening stage show in favour of catching up on our sleep and putting that 6 hours of jet lag behind us for good. Most of us were sound asleep by the time Marina weighed anchor at 11:00 pm and headed off for Bora Bora which is 300 km to the east of us.
Getting ready to depart the port of Raiatea