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"Bali Hai" May Call You:
Mo'orea French Polynesia

by Rebecca Rochat

Probably the three most famous images of French Polynesia come to mind in the form of "Mutiny on the Bounty", Paul Gauguin's art and James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific". Captain Bligh and his problems, Paul Gauguin's romantic canvases of Tahitian women notwithstanding, one Polynesian image that seems forever implanted in our mind is that of the mystical Bali Hai from "South Pacific". Several islands claim to be or have the peaks of Bali Hai, but the people of Mo'orea will tell you unequivocally tell you Bali Hai can be found there.

from the Phantom's postcard collection
Bay of Opunohu, Mo'orea

As my group leaves the main road from the village of Maharaepa, a fine mist is falling and the road turns muddy. At one point, our driver has to back down a hill and "put the pedal to the metal" to get a running go up the deeply rutted and now muddy road.

We finally make it up leaving a white cloud of exhaust behind us. We pass pineapple plantations, and ancient marae in search of Bali Hai. Cresting the top of a hill, we make a stop. Our guide points to a peak at the far end of a valley. The top is covered in mist, but in a few seconds the mist lifts somewhat and we can see the jagged peak rising from the valley floor. "That's the mountain used for Bali Hai in South Pacific" our guide tells us. He says a film crew took several pictures and that's what was used in the movie, which by the way was filmed in Hawaii.

It would have been nice to see the peak on a brilliant sunny day with blue sky and the lush vegetation surrounding it, but there is something otherworldly, if not surreal, seeing it draped in an ever changing mist. Sort of like another legendary island, Avalon. You have to travel through the mist to finally view it.

Roadside Pareus

Back out on the main road we turn inland again through the Opunohu Valley, a rich agricultural area, and head to the government agricultural station where all manner of fruits, vegetables, livestock and fish are raised. After driving through, we stop at a roadside stand to sample some fruit jams (confiture). Papaye Rouge, Ananas-Coco, and Banane are my favorites, so much so that I buy some jars to bring home.

By the time we head back down through the valley and onto the coastal road the rain has stopped, the mist has lifted and the sun is out. Good thing, we are heading to the belvedere (lookout) for views of Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay. The road winds and climbs making its way to the lookout. At the designated stopping point, we get out and squarely in front is Mt. Rotui (2964 ft./898 m) which bisects the two bays - Opunohu to the left, Cook's Bay to the right. The bays are actually the crater floor of the extinct volcano.

This is supposedly one of the most beautiful views in the world and it doesn't disappoint. Sky, water and mountain all converging at one single point. At the lookout, there are some local vendors and we enjoy some delicious locally made ice cream and peruse through the brightly colored pareus blowing in the breeze. I finally decide on two that feature the tiare, the white Polynesian flower.

Mo'orea Sunset

Once again back down to the coastal road and we are speeding around Opunohu Bay. Our guide points to a jagged peak overlooking the bay. "That's where we're going" he tells us. "Are you afraid of heights?" he asked. I sheepishly raise my hand. Too late now. We've taken the cut off up to the peak, "Magic Mountain". The road skims the edge of the mountain, twisting and winding as we climb. A few hundred feet from the top, the driver points the jeep towards the road edge, (at which point I put my head between my legs not wanting to see us plunge over the precipice), puts the jeep in reverse, hits the accelerator and backs us up the side of the mountain where we come finally to the top, or so we thought. Not quite, we have to walk up to the peak.

Luckily, there is a narrow paved path and chain to hold on to. Huffing and puffing we reach the top and as typical of most ascents, the view is worth the climb (and white knuckles). Opunohu Bay and the lagoon are spread before us. To our left the lower edge of Mt. Rotui juts out into the lagoon. To the right and below us is the village of Papetoai. Breathtaking and spectacular doesn't really do the view justice. It's mesmerizing.

The trip down takes half as long as the climb up and we head back around Opunohu Bay and make a stop at Jus de Fruits de Mo'orea to sample local fruit liqueurs. Its a welcome, nerve calming stop and the shots of liqueur keep coming as the percentage proof potency keeps rising. With our nerves sufficiently calmed, if not our thirst, we head back to Maharepa where we are dropped off at the L'Ananas Bleu at Club Bali Hai (where else) for lunch under the coconut palm covered outdoor restaurant in Cook's Bay. By now, Bali Hai is covered in mist again and rain and clouds roll through the bay. Just like in the movie, Bali Hai (Mo'orea) calls as "your own special island".

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