Definitely a new favorite place.
Mopelia had 13 residents when we visited and only a few of those stay there year round. The atoll is under the administration of Maupiti and run as a communal operation mostly producing copra but including pearl farming. In order to reside in Mopelia you must have permission from Maupiti and part of that permission involves proving that you will work the land in some way. If anyone reading this plans to visit Mopelia, consider stopping by the mairie at Maupiti first and asking if they have anything needing carrying to Mopelia. The workers there should be able to get back to you after contacting the people who have family in Mopelia and you may be asked to carry goods or even people. The residents told us that the supply ship is paid by the government and only comes when paid. Apparently that isn’t regularly because the “monthly” supply ship had recently visited after a nine month absence.
Mopelia is unlike the rest of French Polynesia that we visited. It 100 miles from the nearest other island and without regular boat service and without an airstrip, it is isolated. In that sense it felt more like our visit to Penrhyn in the Cook Islands later. I imagine it is how the Australs and Gambiers might feel in French Polynesia but we haven’t visited any yet. As a result, just like in any isolated community, visitors are much more of an event. We had some of our best reef walking ever in Mopelia. Absolutely stunning. Super clear water in the lagoon with that iridescent blue that we found in the SE side of Bora Bora. We met a bunch of fun people and shared a number of meals ashore and hosted on our boat.
We had the entire atoll to ourselves for the first night (i.e., no other boats) and for a few days had a few other boats visit the N anchorage. Toward the end we shared the SE anchorage with SV Eclipse, a French flagged vessel that was a delight to meet and who shared their photos of their visit to Antarctic in their cored fiberglass boat. They said they would not normally go in a cored fiberglass boat but, drum roll, they had been there before. I (heart) French sailors.
It would be difficult to write a logbook entry for Mopelia without mentioning the pass. I almost chickened out of going to Mopelia several times based on the scary reports in the guidebooks. The pass is narrow – very narrow. The current can be strong and the reef edges are right at the surface (see picture below). There is also surprisingly little information out there in guides or on the internet (see right – this is from an older guidebook). This dearth of information is particularly interesting because this atoll is due West of Bora Bora and the many boats transiting from Bora Bora to Suwarrow pass nearby. Either everyone is keeping it a secret (whoops!) or the pass is scaring people away.
In 2012 there were two markers marking the sides of the reef (see below). The mark on the left (N side) was the first marker we passed and the mark on the right (S side) was the slighter later (i.e. they are not goal posts, but staggered). We stayed left of center for the first half and right of center for the second half. As we entered the lagoon there were a few bommies to avoid and we curved gently to the right to keep a center bommie to our port. When we were there the main ones inside the entrance were marked with multiple buoys although apparently they were added when the supply ship had difficulty entering and so they may not be maintained.
A note regarding current: we were given the advice that if the pass at Maupiti is mellow, then the pass at Mopelia will be mellow as well because the two lagoons fill from similar wind and swell conditions. True or not I don’t know but we left Maupiti for Mopelia and both passes were mellow. Final note on current, I’ll write more about this later after I do some more research but as I understand it, Mopelia is a part of the region governed by solar tides not lunar which is why approx 6am is low tide and noon is high tide year round. Thus, we had to balance the desire for less current (incoming tide after 6am) and good visibility (sun high in the sky closer to noon). Having a wee 29HP motor, we arrived at the pass early and waited around, nosing near the pass, until we felt like the visibility was sufficient and entered at 8am experiencing a maximum of 2 knots of outgoing current.
From the entrance we followed the advice of friends in Papeete and pointed our bow directly at the Southern edge of the Eastern motu, heading due West only after passing through two large reefs which you can see in the satellite photo to the right. We found the visual navigation straightforward, and despite comments in the guidebooks to the contrary, the lagoon is no longer filled with pearl farming buoys. Alternatively you can make your way to the N side of the Eastern motu which we did not do.
There is a road between the anchorages which brings you past the homes of most of the residents.
We loved it. If conditions allow and we are passing by, we are likely to stop by on our way West whenever we head that way again.