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French Polynesia: Marquesas & Moorea, August 25-September 6 2020 Trip Report

Escorted by: Cindi LaRaia

Marquesas & Moorea, August 25-September 6 2020 Trip Report

After 6 months of lock-down from this world pandemic called Covid -19, I had to run away!

All my guests trips postponed until next year and beyond! Some I had rebooked from earlier this year until fall and still not able to travel!

All my group trips since March, count 3 have been postponed until next year! On top of what I already had booked; how to manage this next year is beyond me.

French Polynesia opened doors to the world July 15 2020; even for AMERICANS!!

I had a wonderful group to French Polynesia last September; visiting 4 islands for diving and whale swims in Rurutu. We dived Tahiti, Rangiroa and Fakarava!

I have been dying to get to the mysterious Marquesas as this is fabled to be the ‘real’ Polynesia! Scientists feel this could be the place of origin of the people of Oceania!

Paul Gauguin the painter and Jacques Brel the singer in the day spent their remaining lives here, as well as being buried here!

I will also spend time in Moorea to scuba dive and swim with whales to see how the operators work here, I know it’s busier which is what concerns me! We shall see!

I am sitting on the plane waiting for take off to the beautiful island of Hiva Oa now! My anticipation has my tummy in jumbles!

To read some interesting information and things to do and see I found this article.

There are fantastic procedures in place for visitors wishing to come to French Polynesia- Tahiti!

You must have a negative covid test 72 hours prior to boarding. You have to fill out an online form called an ETIS from the government with details of your stay, when you had the test done, print and bring with you once approved, it’s easy. They also take your temp before boarding.

Upon arrival in Papeete, Tahiti; they take your temperature and give you a self-test kit you must do 4 days after arrival that gets turned into the reception and will be checked at the laboratory in Papeete or infirmary at the island you are staying on.

I have been extremely impressed as everyone everywhere wears masks! Even the local children! They are taking this seriously.

Marquesas or Marquises!

The island of Hiva Oa is steeped in old Polynesian Beauty and charm! This is REAL Polynesia, the culture is still intact in many ways!

The people happy, friendly and without worry! There is no poverty here!

It’s stunning beauty above water leads to pelagic marine life underwater!

Hanakee Rock in the bay the beautiful Hanakee hotel over looks was our first dive!

The water is green, at least not pea soup, so we could actually see throngs of Mantas that come to feed in these nutrient rich waters!

I counted maybe 10 as we made our way around the rock; then at the point, they started streaming overhead like a giant air force platoon! I lost count at 23!
Well, ok then! Not a bad start! Total approx. 30 big mantas!!! OMG,, my first dive!!

There is not a lot of hard or soft coral in French Polynesia which I cannot explain! It is all granitic with some encrusting hard coral and bits of orange and purple in Hiva Oa. There is lovely hard coral gardens however in Fakarava in the south pass!

There are some sponges, a few small nudibranches; on Hiva Oa it’s all about the surprises !!

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Marquesas is like a box of chocolates; ‘you never know whatcha gonna get’!

The other sites are all similar outside the bay! Better viz, not gin clear like in Rangiroa or Fakarava but good enough. The islands are within 10 degrees of the equator so has 2 seasons! I was in the dry season, but it rained daily and a lot! They had not seen it this much rain in August!
Hmmm I am hating climate change!

On one dive we had 9 Eagle rays that stayed around for a long time playing up and down in the water column; a big curious dog tooth tuna, schools of fish, and gray reef sharks! It is certainly worth a visit to combine the beautiful island with 2 or 3 days of diving!

Next stop Moorea for whale swimming and diving!

I LOVE Moorea!

I am here to check out the whale swimming/ watching options and scuba diving!

There are so many fun activities here!! Just what I love,, a FULL on adventure!! 4 nights here and still cannot do it all!

2 whale swimming days - 2 scuba diving days! Plus; ATV/ quad biking like no other! I do this all over the world wherever I can! This was wild, going thru the valley, up the mountains on dirt- rocky crazy roads, crossing streams, the scenery dazzling!! Took my breath away!

Bali Hai (mountain) from the musical and movie South Pacific and movie sets ! Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed here on and on! It is beautiful, friendly, land and water activities and yet still stunning small island charm!!

Day 1- I arrived by ferry from Papeete, Tahiti 45 min ride ! Whales as we approached Cook Harbour!

Lovely hotel accommodation upgraded to ocean view bungalow 2!! Great sunset restaurant and food!

Booked a 3.5 hour ATV / quad bike! What a BLAST!!

Day 2 - booked morning whale swim tour, got very lucky with a singing male!! The song, sounds and vocals make me cry!!

They are very respectful of the whales here. You cannot get to close by boat. Must keep I think 150 meters away.

We had some whales near us, but they have to want to sit and stay before you can quietly slip into the water with them. There is a boat guide that keeps us the correct distance away- since I was trying to video with my phone - she would pull me back by my fins!

All I could see at first was the glowing big white pectoral fin, then the incredible whale song that goes right through your veins!!

The absolute Majesty of these gentle giants brings tears and chills; we are so privileged to enter their water world!!

My last 2 days on Moorea! After a scuba dive, though not very exciting on Moorea- while there are hard corals, not many fish! The highlights are beautiful Lemon sharks, green sea and Hawksbill turtles & black tip sharks.

I had a 2-hour gorgeous horse ride through the valley with stunning scenery! There are wild horses in the hills, over many years this owner has tamed up to 50 of them. The horses are well taken care of and well behaved! I love horse riding around the world!

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On my last day before flying back to San Francisco 😞; I had my last chance to find and swim with the beautiful Humpback whales!

I spent a lot of energy visualizing mama and baby!!!! Since I was already blessed with a singing male 2 days earlier!

The weather a bit lousy, wind and rain not very appealing, lots of white caps and big waves with swell! Well what do you know ...... we found mama and baby!!! OMG! Slowly as the boats must stay no closer than 100-150 meters away! They were moving, not fast, but not sitting still for us!! Noooo😞!

After some time, we had to carry on.... visualizing again.....

We see a boat coming to us, they advised there are 3 whales by the lighthouse!! OMG again!!!

At this point we have almost circled the island!!

We found them! Chilled at the surface, not moving!!! Getting ready to get in!! We had to swim a long way!!! The guide had to keep motioning me to stay behind him! Uggg then several (young) people could not keep up! Give me a break!! We had to wait for them! Seriously!!???😖

Finally we arrived and needed to stay a certain distance away from the whales.

I was once again mesmerized by this beautiful scene playing out in front of me! The mama was holding up her small calf on top of her head so she could easily breath. She was also protecting her from the male escort which you will see has a lot of white on his underside, reaching far up the sides! The mama looks all black in the videos! I used my iPhone and housing, its pretty amazing to me the decent quality I can get with this simple device since I have give up u/w photography!

Since she has given birth, the males battle each other for the right to mate. This one is patiently waiting for the chance!

However, she is not ready to mate, she will nurse her calf for nearly 10 months to 1 year. She will give birth every 2 or 3 years.

She must protect her calf as some males will try to kill them so they can mate with her!

This was a very special behavior to observe in their ocean realm!! Again, I was crying at the majesty in front of me! We had a good 15-20 minutes with the trio!!

Mama holding up baby to keep her safe from the male escort - the white underside

I now have a plan for 2 years from now in September to dive in Hiva Oa / Marquises which is now part of the very important UNESCO World Heritage site above and below water!

Here is the link to read about the importance of HIVA Oa.
Focus on criterion ix and criterion x!


I Will offer a private boat for whale swimming in Moorea.

And excellent diving in Fakarava! More time diving the south pass this trip!!

I had the most exquisite agent reconnaissance work trip to French Polynesia; sadly returning to smoke, fires, haze, extreme record breaking heat AGAIN in northern CA, covid and politics! Gross!!!😩

The great news is French Polynesia is doing an exceptional job with covid protocols!

Negative 72 hour covid test prior to boarding, a Free self-test kit 4 days after with a drop box at the reception at your hotel, the airplanes offer a full kit with wipes, face masks & sanitizer, temperature taking - going and coming. Face masks required in all public places, ok to remove when dining and on the dive/ whale boats since we were outside!

I also observed a women spraying seats in airport as people got up to board the planes!

Many Maururu’s to the beautiful islands and people of Polynesia!!

I will miss you!!

It is OK and SAFE for Americans to travel here!!! 💙🧜🏼♀️

Cindi LaRaia

Cindi LaRaia - Marquesas & Moorea, August 25-September 6 2020 Trip Report