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jeudi 6 juin 2013

Moorea, the sister island

Smart suburb of Tahiti

Second most populous island of French Polynesia, Moorea becomes, since a few years, the smart suburb of its big sister, Tahiti.

Moorea Island seen from high above  in the sky
By 17° 29’ 31” of latitude South and 149° 50’ 8” of longitude West, Moorea Island (Mo’orea in Tahitian language) lies barely 17 km on the Northwest of mythical Tahiti.

Moorea Island Map
 Initially named by the Polynesians Aimeho or Eimeo, Mo’orea means in reo Tahiti (the local language): “lizard (mo’o) yellow (rea)”.

Moorea and the history
Given their very great closeness, the history of the islands of Tahiti and Moorea makes them inseparable.

Moorea, with Tahiti in background 
 As regards the period prior to contact (understand the arrival of the western “discoverers”), both islands knew the same development.

They were discovered and inhabited at the same time by the same people. Afterward, even there were numerous conflicts, there were always royal alliances. This past, these ancestors and this history together common were never really denied.

The first Westerner who entered officially Moorea on a map (as Duke of York Isle) was the British Samuel Wallis, in 1767, when he landed in Tahiti. But he didn’t bother to travel, considering useless to investigate it.

In 1769, the explorer James Cook’s officers and naturalists went to settle an astronomical observatory. But the famous captain, he too, didn’t set foot here. It’s only in 1777, during his last journey in French Polynesia that he landed on the island for the first time. The place where he casts during some days, Papao’s Bay, one of the most beautiful of the South Pacific, is since called to his memory Cook’s Bay.

Cook’s Bay, seen from the Belvedere
English missionaries, in 1817, installed the first ones a mission of evangelization here. They created a sugar refinery and a textile factory there. But their efforts were annihilated when the Island was annexed by France in 1843, at the same time as Tahiti, direct consequence of the Pritchard affair.

Legend of Mouaputa, the leaky mountain
 One night, the god of the thieves, Hiro, tried to steal Rotui Mount to take it at home, to Raiatea. He put a rope around the mountain which he hung on his outrigger and began rowing. But Pai, “superhero” who stayed up since Tahiti, surprised him in full act. He climbed a hill and threw his lance to stop Hiro.  

Mouaputa Mount, the leaky mountain
He missed him, but the weapon crossed Mouaputa Mount, leaving the hole which we can see there still, ended its race to Raiatea, breaking a piece of rocky peak. Hiro gave up Rotui Mount, but seized all the same a small hill which he brought back at home to Raiatea. This hill is always visible today, just next to Taputapuatea Marae.

Moorea and the geography
            Quite as Tahiti, its big sister, Moorea is a part of Winward isles, in the Society Archipelago, one of the five which form French Polynesia.

Both islands are separated by a deep channel about 17 km wide which reaches, by places, more than 1 500 m of depth.

Contrary to Tahiti, Moorea is completely encircled by a lagoon. Nevertheless, it remains widely opened on the ocean thanks to its twelve shipping waterways.

Rotui Mount and Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay
Extremely steep, the island is constituted by eight particularly stiff mountains which offer spectacular landscapes. The highest, Tohiea Mount, peaks at 1 207 m. This very particular relief doesn’t leave enough space for 16 191 inhabitants (inventory of 2007), distributed on ten villages which nest according to valleys, among the almost totality of the circumference of the island.

Rain and sun on Moorea from Opunohu Bay
Shaped like a butterfly with spread wings, Moorea Island is altogether encircled by 70 km of a coastal road offering luxurious landscapes. This road binding all the villages, besides its vital economic role for the inhabitants of the island, also allows the casual traveler to discover the magic sites of Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay.

Moorea and the economy
            The main activities of Moorea are the tourism and the farming.

If the tourism, in Polynesia, is a sector seriously in crisis, Moorea continues to make (with it) its main economic resource. Nevertheless, during the last decade, several luxury hotels had to close their doors, starting with the most famous: the village of Club Méditerranée. Nevertheless, Moorea remains the third island the most visited of Polynesia, after Tahiti and Bora Bora.

One of the upper-class hotels of Moorea  
Besides hotels, the island offers very numerous boarding houses by allowing the tourists to stay far cheaper and likely nearer the population.

The presence on the island of the only agricultural high school of Polynesia, on the other hand, is a driving element of the local agriculture, also worn by the plantations of pineapple of Rotui Company which produces fruit juices of the same name.

Except these two main activities, we count number of small food-producing farms and activities service providers of the tourist operators.

Dolphins and tourists are sometimes compatibles…
Contrary to Tahiti’s one, Moorea’s lagoon is still in excellent health, even if it seems very fragile and already threatened in certain places.

Moorea, smart suburb of Tahiti 
            If the flight connection of Air Moorea was deleted at the end of the year 2010 (seven daily return flights), many sea links bind both islands, allowing the inhabitants of Moorea to work in Tahiti while going back home every evening.

One of Twin-Otter of the deceased Air Moorea Company
It’s the same for the high school students who are obliged to come to Tahiti to attend their studies, because there are no secondary establishments on the island sister.

Thanks to it, numerous easy families choose to settle down to Moorea while keeping their professional activities in Tahiti, transforming little by little the island sister into island-dormitory…

Tahiti seen from a beach of Moorea   
But, the weekend, the Tahitians cross the channel to enjoy a trip out of town, to get a breath of fresh air in the “countryside”…

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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