Enroute Moorea, Society Islands, French Polynesia
Our expectation on the quality of ferry service was not too high. So Papeete is the major commercial port for the region. Come on, the second largest commercial port in the region had guys on outboards bringing in fruit and a grand total of one cargo ship that goes about 8 knots best speed. So it can’t be that much more advanced right?
The distance between Tahiti and Moorea is not much more than a stone’s throw in island terms, a little over 10 miles to the rest of the world. Add in the docking, loading and unloading process and we figured it would take us about four hours to make the transit.
Our first hint that we had underestimated the situation was that the 5 passenger ferries that service this route (!!) are each bigger than the one resupply ship for the rest of this country…and not by a little bit.
Our second hint was the nicely upholstered airline style lounge area aboard with the flat screen TVs showing old black and white island TV.
But what really convinced us was when the 4 jet turbine engines kicked in (they have those here!?) and we hurtled across the channel between the two islands at about 25 knots!
This may not seem very fast to those of you living in the DSL wired, jet setting, car driving crowd but when compared to the facts that the last ferry we took while in Mexico averaged about 12 knots and that our average speed of advance for the past 6 months has been about one-fifth of that speed…well, it makes it more impressive. (Additionally, it should also be noted that this thing’s average cruising speed is faster than the full out flank speed of the overwhelming majority of cutters currently serving in the US Coast Guard fleet.)
They have 1 diesel powered delivery ship for 8 islands spread out among and thousands of miles of open ocean…and 5 high speed turbine gas guzzling passenger ferries for one 10 mile trip that is also actively serviced by multiple daily flights. As in more than one flight to the island per day! The other capital cities of these islands are lucky to get a flight per week.
That ladies and gentlemen is the power of the tourist dollar. You see, the economy of French Polynesia is much like its populace – ridiculously focused on a very, very small piece of the overall country. Remember, this colony is made up of over 100 islands divided into 5 different island chains that are spread out over an area the size of Europe. Their primary industries are pearls, copra (coconut oil) and tourism. So two of the three primary money makers in this country rely on tourists and tourists pretty much come to one place: Tahiti. The other islands of the Society Island chain catch the fallout of people who want to see “more than just Tahiti” and Rangiroa / Fakarava pick up the divers, and with good reason. The other 90+ islands though? Not so much. In fact we found out that some of the islands Air Tahiti flies to are actually serviced at a loss in order to simply connect the small, isolated regions.
Aside from being the center of French Polynesian government, business and populace, The Society Island chain serves a very important role in the socioeconomic structure of the islands: they are the money makers. As such, they get the nicest toys and biggest budgets in order to get the most from us – the tourists.
Pretty sure this ferry isn’t green certified for low fuel consumption though. It’s a far cry from the original rides these people used to find these islands but they haven’t forgotten their past in pursuit of their future. Take for example, the male / female bathroom signs.
Just Awesome. We love these people.