Moorea, Polynesia’s Yellow Lizard

Cook's Bay is easily Moorea's scenic highlight.

Cook's Bay is easily Moorea's scenic highlight.

Moorea, Tahiti’s heart-shaped sister island, is renowned for its white-sand beaches, long, deep bays, lush volcanic peaks, and broad blue-green lagoon. It’s the laid-back South Sea isle of the travel brochures. With a population of just 16,000, Moorea lives a quiet, relaxed lifestyle. Most of the hotels are clusters of thatched bungalows, and you won’t find many of the monstrous steel, glass, and cement edifices that scream at you in Hawaii.

This triangular, 125-square-kilometer island is actually the surviving southern rim of a shield volcano once 3,000 meters high. Moorea is twice as old as Tahiti and weathering is noticeably advanced. Two spectacular bays cut into the north coast on each side of Mount Rotui, once Moorea’s core. The crescent of jagged peaks facing these long northern bays is scenically superb.

Legend claims that Aimeho (or “Eimeo,” as Captain Cook spelled it) was formed from the second dorsal fin of the fish that became Tahiti. The present name, Moorea, means “yellow” (rea) “lizard” (moo) for a yellow lizard that appeared to a high priest in a dream. It has also been called Fe’e or “octopus” for the eight ridges that divide the island into eight segments.

Captain Samuel Wallis was the European discoverer of French Polynesia in 1767. After leaving Tahiti, he passed along the north coast of Moorea without landing. Captain James Cook anchored in Opunohu Bay for one week in 1777. Ironically, Cook never visited the bay that today bears his name.

(Text from Moon Tahiti published by Avalon Travel – reproduction prohibited.)