What's a French Polynesia
27 October 2018
“Can we just stay here for the entire cyclone season?” Lisa and I loved our anchorage at Opunohu Bay, Moorea that much. Moorea is just 15 miles NW of Tahiti but a world of difference. Tahiti is the largest island and home to most of the population of French Polynesia. Papeete is the main city and bustles with traffic, shops and cruise ships. Moorea is a sleepy, beautiful sister to Tahiti.
French Polynesia covers an area in the South Pacific about the size of Europe. But only 265,000 people live here on several hundred islands. The three major island groups are Marquesas to the NE, Tuamotos covering much of central FP, and Society Islands to the west.
The Society Islands of French Polynesia, Moorea included, are volcanic islands with coral atolls surrounding the islands. There are breaks in the coral that are marked for passage by boats. The north side of Moorea has two deep bays, Cooks Bay and Opunohu Bay. Opunohu bay was the setting for the movies, “Bounty” and “South Pacific.” There is a very good reason they chose this beautiful bay. A green valley hugged by two mountains forms the backdrop for a beach at the foot of this bay.
As we found in Marquesas, mountainous islands with deep bays aren't ideal for clear water. Streams rush down the mountains and silt the bays. There are very few bays in Marquesas that have water clear enough to snorkel. The scenery is stunning with great hikes and waterfalls but watersports are limited. These islands are too “new” to have formed coral atolls surrounding the islands.
Tuamotos are the oldest formations in French Polynesia. Here the coral atolls that surrounded the volcanic islands are all that remains. The volcanic islands have sunk over time leaving a lagoon where they once towered. The atolls have grown with accumulated coral growth to form low islands or motus. Some motus surround the entire lagoon but most have gaps where there is just submerged coral. There are openings in the coral reefs for most of the Tumotos that allow a sailboat or even cruise ship to anchor inside the lagoon. Surrounding these atolls is crystal clear water, packed with coral (watch out!). Fish and sea life abound in the Tuamotos. Jacque Cousteau said the Tuamotos have the highest density of fish populations of any island group.
Back to the Society Islands. They have the best of the Tuamotos and Marquesas. Majestic mountains are the backdrop for any anchorage. Coral reefs surround the islands with crystal clear water and protected anchorages. We have explored Marquesas, some of the Tuamotos but have just scratched the surface of the Society Islands. Uproar will most likely sail French Polynesia for another two years. We are excited to discover new jewels in this magic island nation.