On watch in the early morning one can truly appreciate the
slow and uplifting wonder of dawn. It starts with a faint light in the eastern
sky; colour seeps from the horizon, spilling into the clouds, lilac at first,
then pink and gold as the kaleidoscope revolves. As the first orange crescent
appears above the horizon, the colours deepen and become rich and vivid. On the
island ahead the dark peaks light up first, high above they are first to see
the new sun; then slowly, the light spills down the eastern slopes, long dark
shadows withdrawing into the deep green ravines cut into the hillside. The sun
enjoys its first glimpse and now climbs quickly, increasing in power and
splendour as it rises to create the new day.
After a night sail from Fakarava we are approaching Moorea, brooding
and mountainous, only ten miles northwest of Tahiti, its wooded slopes are green
and lush. The smell of wood smoke drifts across the water as we enter the
channel through the fringing reef and into the still green waters of the lagoon.
We anchor in a sandy pool behind the reef near the little village of Papeto’ai
in Opunohu Bay. We take the dinghy
ashore at 7am to the little quay; a tarmac road to the airport runs past the
shops, green road signs remind us that we are in France and the general store
sells freshly baked baguettes and pains au chocolat that we hungrily load into
our shopping bag. Breakfast back on Juno after a night sail is a feast,
followed by a glorious doze in the cockpit to recover from the night watch.
A narrow dinghy channel runs through the reef, marked with
wooden stakes, and we fly over the shallow turquoise water, our propeller
spinning inches above the rocks. We tie up at the dive centre dock at the
Intercontinental Hotel; low thatched buildings on stilts over the lagoon, and
we book a dive outside the reef.
“Is the diving good?” we ask the French dive master.
“Of course, this is Moorea” he answers with the Gallic
arrogance that we have become accustomed to. “Where are you from?”
“We are on our boat and we have been diving in Fakarava”.
He visibly drops his guard, smiles and shrugs his shoulders.
“Well, its not Fakarava. Fakarava is
unique, fantastique – did you do the drift dive through the pass?”
A common bond established, Philippe is funny and
knowledgeable. The water is clear and we see lemon sharks for the first time;
much bigger than the black tips, maybe four or five metres in length and with a
more threatening appearance. They cruise around the sea-bed, their lateral fins
have evolved to be smaller than those of the sharks that roam the open ocean. Jamie
is elated because finally, hiding among the waving strands of sea anemone, we
find Nemo; a yellow and black Clown fish that rears its young in the safety of
the coral. And deeper, under an overhang,
a turtle wakes from its sleep and paddles gently past.
We have lunch ashore at a small family run restaurant where
we can tie up our dinghy and step onto the terrace. It is Sunday and the French
are out in force enjoying a long lunch in the shade of the trees. The people of
Polynesia are friendly and gentle and the way of life seems simple and easy.
Apart from the hotels, which look like gilded cages, there is little wealth
here; but from the smiles and laughter, much happiness and contentment. Today we leave Moorea to cross the channel to
Tahiti with its 260,00 inhabitants, an international airport and two marinas -
the first we will have seen since we left Panama in February. It might take