French Polynesia Travel
I just returned from an interesting and exciting trip to French Polynesia. The main purpose of my voyage was to attend the official opening of Seacology's latest project on the beautiful island of Moorea. But on this trip I was wearing many hats. In addition to my role as executive director of Seacology I was also an island "expert" lecturer on a Zegrahm Expedition cruise throughout French Polynesia. Zegrahm is one of the world's leading exploratory cruise companies. What makes a cruise an exploratory cruise as opposed to the more typical drink, eat and gamble 3,000 passenger cruises? As the name implies we stopped at many remote destinations including islands that had not received tourists for many years. An exploratory cruise also features numerous snorkeling, diving, hiking, birding and cultural events. Furthermore an exploratory cruise such as the one I was on has many lectures throughout the day on the history, geography, culture, fish and birds of the many places we visited. Finally, exploratory cruises take place on smaller ships such as the Clipper Odyssey which I traveled on with a maximum capacity of 110 passengers (pictured above left).
This voyage took us from Papeete on the island of Tahiti to the low lying atolls of the Tuamotu islands. The diving and snorkeling were spectacular particularly at the less visited islands of Motu Tunga and Raroia. From there it was up to the Marquesas, one of the most beautiful and most isolated island groups in the South Pacific. In fact the Marquesas lie farther from a continental coast than any other island group in the world - 3,400 miles from the west coast of South America. Viewing the tomb of Paul Gauguin and the ancient Polynesian temples (marae) was fascinating. From there we sailed down to the Tuamotus. Rangiroa is the world's third biggest atoll with a lagoon over 25 miles in width. Diving the pass where the ocean empties in and out of the lagoon is a real thrill ride. Birders enjoyed viewing one of the world's rarest bird species.
After a stop in the beautiful but very touristy Bora Bora we made it to Moorea. This is one of the world's most breathtaking islands. Some think it is the inspiration for James Michener's Bali Hai. Here, Seacology provided funding for the Atitia Center, built like an old style fare (house) with open sides and a thatched roof (pictured above right). The building, which will be used to promote environmental conservation and for instruction about traditional cultural practices, lies at the edge of the property of the Gump Research Station of the University of California, Berkeley. The local organization Te Pu Atitia is dedicated to preserving the environment and culture of French Polynesia much as Seacology has the same goals for islands throughout the world. The partnership between Seacology, Te Pu Atitia and the Gump Station was ideal.
Te Pu Atitia knows how to throw a great party. The several hundred guests were greeted by local dancers. After I cut the ribbon to officially open the Atitia center (above left) there were speeches from the environmental minister of French Polynesia, the Mayor of Moorea (both pictured above with me cutting the ribbon of flowers) and board member Kimo Campbell of Seacology. We then watched a performance of traditional Polynesian dance (right). When I say traditional, I mean it. This was no Kodak Hula Show at Waikiki. The hakas, or chants, were performed just as they were hundreds of years ago. It was then time for the opening of the traditional Polynesian earth oven (left). The food was delicious and the hospitality was great. After some demonstrations of Polynesian crafts, such as tapa cloth making, President Oscar Temaru of French Polynesia made closing comments (pictured center below with Kimo Campbell and Duane Silverstein).
The Zegrahm cruise throughout French Polynesia was fantastic. The opening of the Atitia Center was the cherry on top of this sundae making this an unforgettable adventure.