Moorea: Paradise found

By Sophie Bond

Moorea is everything you'd imagine a tropical island to be, writes Sophie Bond.

Moorea Lagoon, a shore boat trip from Papeete, has spectacular views. Photo / Sophie Bond
Moorea Lagoon, a shore boat trip from Papeete, has spectacular views. Photo / Sophie Bond

I've only been scuba diving once but I do feel qualified to offer two pieces of advice: first, don't do your inaugural dive with an instructor who'll start you laughing by pretending to eat a baby turtle; second, the island of Moorea, in French Polynesia, has got to be the best possible place to learn to dive.

In fact, French Polynesia is the perfect place for anything to do with the water. During my week in the sun there, I spent more time in the sea than on dry land.

Not that the land isn't beautiful too. Moorea, just a short boat trip from the Tahitian capital of Papeete, is everything you'd imagine a tropical island to be. Spectacular jagged, jungle-covered slopes rise steeply from the white-sand beaches and a single road loops around the island, dotted with ramshackle houses, tiny stores and well-manicured hotels.

But the sea is even better. When lounging on the freshly raked sand at the Intercontinental Resort got a little tiresome, I took to the lukewarm ocean with a mask and snorkel and pottered around the reef, where hundreds of fish fluttered around me and brightly coloured anemones waved from the coral.

The waters of the lagoon were remarkably clear given the numbers of sunscreen-slicked bodies splashing around in it every day. And did I mention warm? Just as well there was a swimming pool to cool off in.

A short boat trip away, in waist-deep water on a sandy bar, a host of stingrays appeared each lunchtime, ready for a feed. They are so accustomed to the hordes of tourists, it's possible to swim along above them and run a hand across their silky wings.

A mention of sharks almost kept me on the boat. However, it turned out the blacktip reef sharks, which follow the rays hoping for leftovers, are small and shy and have quite tiny teeth.

The resort offered another close encounter with nature: swimming with dolphins. True, they aren't local dolphins, having been imported from Hawaii as youngsters and living ever since in a large enclosure at the resort - but they look happy.

In any case, I stifled any reservations I might have felt in order to fulfil a childhood dream of catching a lift on a dorsal fin. I'm sure anyone who grew up watching Flipper will understand.

It was lovely, once-in-a-lifetime kind of feeling to be pulled through the water by a beautiful and powerful animal. They're supposed to be pretty intelligent, so I hope he understood my sincerely thankful patting.

Other than that I was quite happy not to encounter any large creatures in open water, especially on my scuba-diving trip off the island of Tahiti.

I ventured out with Topdive-Bathys on my introduction to the sport and it was a magical experience - despite my guide's underwater spoofs, which had me choking back laughter.

With hindsight, I'm not sure if guffawing on a regulator is best practice. I thought I may have to resurface to recover when he ate the baby turtle - no, not a real one - and his frantic jabbing at the shark image on his waterproof fish guide was mime at its best.

We floated through veils of silver fish and were visited by various wrasse and angelfish and other brightly coloured, and curious, marine life. A little clown fish hid shyly in his long-fingered, sticky anemone and a startled sea slug shot a tangle of white threads from its rear - or its mouth?

There's another whole world down there and I think I'm hooked.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air Tahiti Nui flies from Auckland to Papeete.

Where to stay: Check out the Intercontinental Resort on Moorea.

What to do: Topdive-Bathys will teach you to dive.

Further information: To find out more about visiting Tahiti see tahiti-tourisme.co.nz.

Sophie Bond visited Moorea with help from Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Tourisme.

- NZ Herald

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