The speck of green against endless blue grew into a coastline as our ferry approached the island. White sand rimmed the verdant jungle, which climbed over itself in a mess of foliage that smothered the island’s mysterious interior.
As we reached Moorea in French Polynesia it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of this Pacific island, perhaps the most amazing I have seen in the world (definitely much more beautiful than Vanuatu, another island country we'd visited earlier. It resembles Kauai in Hawaii, but with a much nicer ocean).
While getting there from Tahiti you can see that the water is as crystal clear as it can be, with coral reefs everywhere and spectacular sunsets put an end to every day.
Moorea fulfills all your daydreams of an island paradise, and with so many things to do in Moorea you easily spend a lifetime here and not get bored- I guess it's the reason many French nationals have moved here.
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Where is Moorea?
Spin your globe to the Pacific Ocean, roughly half way between Australia and Mexico. Squint, and you may see a handful of dots collectively labeled “French Polynesia”. One of those tiny islands is the tropical paradise of Moorea.
The island is located just next door to Tahiti in French Polynesia.
How to Get to Moorea
Don’t expect to see any direct fights to Moorea from … well, anywhere really. Remember you’re visiting one of the most remote islands in the world; if Moorea was a breeze to reach, then perhaps it wouldn’t be the secluded hamlet it is today.
Your first step to getting to Moorea is to fly to Tahiti. Almost all visitors to Tahiti come via Los Angeles, arriving at the Faa'a International Airport in Tahiti.
From there, Air Tahiti has around four flights a day to the nearby island of Moorea. However, these flights don’t always match up nicely with inbound trips from LAX, so there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait overnight in Tahiti.
If you find yourself in this situation, consider embracing it, and staying a night or two in Papeete.
The administrative capital of French Polynesia, Papeete, is interesting enough for a few days, and there are regular ferries to Moorea.
Taking the Ferry From Papeete to Moorea
Only one company, Aremiti, operates ferries from Tahiti to Moorea. The trip is only 30 minutes, and Aremiti has regular scheduled Papeete to Moorea departures throughout the day, all year round.
What’s the Best Time to visit Moorea?
The sweet spot here is to visit Moorea sometime between May and October, when the weather is mild and dry, with clear skies and gentle waters. The coolest months are June to October, which have average temperatures around 28-29 C.
June, July and August are definitely the most popular months, though with good weather comes higher prices across the board.
Come slightly earlier in May for slightly hotter temperatures in the low 30s C, or aim for October for good weather and slightly thinner crowds.
The rest of the year can be pretty hit and miss, mostly due to storms that batter the South Pacific.
November through to April can see intense cyclones crashing into these islands. Most years, these storms are intermittent, with destructive ones being somewhat rare; though the exception is El Niño.
If you arrive during storm season in an El Niño year, you’d better be prepared for some extreme weather.
Things to do in Moorea
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find Moorea activities range from hiking to diving, experiencing Polynesian culture at the Tiki Village and just lazing on the beach.
Get your bearings by climbing to the commanding heights of Magic Mountain, a forested hike with great views of both the sea and island.
From the trailhead, the hike shouldn’t take you more than an hour. While many visitors tackle the trek as part of an ATV tour, it’s walkable, even from the dock.
Just remember to pay the XPF 200 (US$2.50) per person at the box near the trailhead. Also, bring sturdy shoes and plenty of water; the last 15 minutes or so of the ascent are a bit rough, and the summit is fully exposed to the tropical sun.
Another great option for Moorea hiking, Belvedere Lookout is a bit of a drive, but has panoramic views of the island’s interior.
Be careful on the trail, however; it’s quite thin, and frequented by ATVs. Many visitors also do the lookout as park of a 4x4 safari day tour of the island.
If you want to go diving in Moorea the easy way, then beeline straight for the Moorea Lagoonarium. From the ticket booth on shore, it’s a three minute water taxi ride to an island surrounded by waters reserved for this unique lagoon experience.
The Lagoonarium staff will do everything for you; from guides to safety ropes to protect you from being pushed out to see by the currents. Scuba and snorkel gear aren’t included in the price, but can be hired.
This is definitely one of the best opportunities for some Moorea snorkeling, with sharks, rays and countless varieties of tropical fish coming out during the Lagoonarium’s twice-daily feeding events.
Try your hand at ray feeding, or just gawk at the reef sharks as they descent on the food frenzy.
The scenic Opunohu Valley is both good for hiking and for getting up close to some of French Polynesia’s best preserved marae.
Once serving as communal meeting centers for pre-colonial Polynesians, marae can be found throughout the valley, along with other remnants of the ancient civilization that once thrived here.
Opunohu Valley was densely populated for around 600 years, from roughly the 13th to 18th centuries. Since excavations began in the 1960s, over 500 pre-colonial buildings have been identified, some of which can be observed by hikers.
Start your archaeological adventure at the Lycee Agricole, which occasionally hosts a small market of local produce. Take the uphill road towards Mount Tohiea, and follow the trail to the imposing Marae Titiroa. This enormous marae is just the first, with two more smaller ones being found further along the trail.
A six hour, round trip hike that takes in all the major ruins starts and ends at the Lycee Agricole, and is suitable for anyone of moderate fitness.
The nearby Opunohu Bay offers visitors panoramic views of the lush island interior in one direction, and the calm, mirror-like waters off the shore. Worth the pit stop, especially if you have a kayak or two handy.
After visiting the ruins at Opunohu, your interest in the authentic Polynesia should have been perked a little. To see a bit of traditional Tahitian culture, visit the Tiki Village for one of its famous shows or cultural events.
Along with the dance show and signature Tahitian feast nights, the Tiki Village also offers demonstrations of Tahitian tattooing, flower crown making, pareo painting and more.
Book in advance, and they’ll even pick you up from your hotel.
Moorea Dolphin Center
If you’ve spent some time in the South Pacific, then you’ve probably seen your fair share of mediocre aquariums – this is not one of them. The Moorea Dolphin Center has just one, clear cut raison d'être; it’s all about swimming with dolphins.
On arrival, you’ll receive a 15 minute educational course, before being tossed in the water with a friendly dolphin. The dolphins seem to love human interaction, and will let you swim alongside them (we swam with dolphins in Oahu, Hawaii).
Transfers from your hotel are available for additional cost.
The Best Beaches in Moorea
You could rush to hit up the sights, sweat up the mountain and get stuff done on your vacation; or, forget it all and just whittle away the days on one of the world’s most stunning beaches.
If you opt for the latter, then these beaches are good starting points for enjoying Moorea’s coastline.
Most of Moorea’s best beaches are located on the northern face of the island. These are mostly swimming and diving beaches, rich in sea life that flocks here to feed off the fertile coral reefs that ring the island.
Due to these reefs, surfing is mostly pretty bad, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious currents around.
Stay safe, and be aware of your surroundings.
Temae Plage Publique
Comprising of much of the northern coast of Moorea, Temae Plage Publique is a seemingly endless stretch of white sand bordering unbelievably electric blue waters. In the distance, Tahiti can be seen on clear days.
Mareto Plage Publique
Sandwiched between Cook and Opunohu bays, Mareto features coconut groves that make for some great photography. Often visited on jet ski tours.
One of the best activities in Mooea is snorkeling, and Ta'ahiamanu’s clear waters are perfect for some fish watching. Consider Moorea snorkeling tours around here.
Where to eat in Moorea?
K Restaurant is often considered the most prestigious restaurant on the island, specializing in multi-course extravaganzas that can last for hours. Bring insect repellent.
Meanwhile, local favorite Le Lezard Jaune Cafe does some of the freshest fish anywhere on Moorea.
Where to stay in Moorea
Moorea resorts clearly tend towards the expensive side, with many aimed specifically at honeymooners.
Best Budget Accommodation in Moorea
However, if on a budget look no further than Camping Nelson- it's located in the north side of the island right by a superb beach- just check these two pictures I took while I was there.
Tent sites cost 14€/night per person and dorm rooms cost 18€/night per person, although the dorms are actually two person cabins which means that you’ll be sharing it with one other person at most.
With plenty of space and good facilities you don’t really need anything else (check this budget tent guide by Globo Surf).
On the other hand, if you’re looking for Moorea island resorts, then the unique experience to go for here are overwater bungalows.
Most accommodation is expensive, but there are some good options at affordable rates. This is paradise!
Moorea Overwater Bungalow Options
One of Moorea’s signature sights is the iconic overwater bungalow. It’s simple: picture a thatched roof bungalow in all its timber glory, now imagine it’s perched over azure waters off the coast of a verdant Pacific island.
These overwater bungalows definitely represent the best way to stay in Moorea, and can be more affordable than you think – especially during low season. A few good picks include:
InterContinental Moorea Resort- One of the largest resorts on the island, the InterContinental’s overwater bungalows are somewhat more affordable and have a convenient location. Extremely popular among honeymooners. *Check Rates*
A Bora Bora Sidetrip?
The jewel of French Polynesia, Bora Bora, is less than an hour by plane from Moorea, making it a tempting side trip for many visitors. Direct flights are available with Air Tahiti, though prices can be pretty high.
Expect to pay somewhere between US$700-1000 for a return trip between the islands.
Things to Do in Bora Bora
Like Moorea, Bora Bora has options for hiking, diving and more.
Avid climbers must hit Pahia, the second highest mountain on Bora Bora and one of the most impressive anywhere in the Polynesian islands.
It’s a tough but short 1 hour scramble to the summit, and best done with a guide. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with clear, 360 degree views of the island below.
Bring all the things you’ll need for a day trip, including plenty of water. Worth doing on all Bora Bora vacations.
Visit Mount Otemanu
Bora Bora’s tallest peak, Otemanu is 2,400 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, the peak isn’t accessible for travel, though numerous operators run tours along the mountain’s flanks and forested surroundings.
The most popular trip is a tour by foot/jeep to sights around the island, including caves and rusting World War II relics. These relics date back to the months after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, when the US was scrambling to protect its vulnerable Pacific islands.
Under a secret plan, Bora Bora was designated the primary supply depot for US forces in the South Pacific, and heavily fortified in preparation of a expected Japanese invasion.
The assault never came, and today the forests around Otemanu are riddled with forgotten bunkers, anti-air guns and other bits and bobs that will impress anyone interested in military history.
One fun activity is to hunt for the eight 7"/44 artillery pieces scattered across the wilderness.
At the time, these were some of the heaviest caliber rapid fire armaments available to the US military, and today remain quite the experience to see.
Bora Bora’s most famous beach snakes around the island’s eastern and southern coasts, and has views of offshore islands like Raiatea and Tahaa.
This iconic bar is best known for its flavorsome cocktails and meals of fresh caught fish.
After a day of exploring Bora Bora, settle down under the thatched roof and enjoy the views of sailboats in Powai Bay over a daiquiri or two.
What to do in Moorea when it rains?
November through to April can see heavy rains across Moorea, but it’s worth being ready for a downpour all year round. Keep a rain poncho handy, as umbrellas aren’t ideal when the wind starts.
What’s the best time to visit Moorea?
Ideally, book your drip between May and October.
What are the best beaches in Moorea?
Some of the most popular include Temae Plage Publique, Mareto Plage Publique and Ta'ahiamanu Plage.
What to pack for Moorea?
Try to bring any water sports gear you’ll need; hire prices on the island tend to be pretty expensive. Other than that, all you’ll need are light clothes for the hot afternoons, and rain gear for the inevitable downpour.
Hiking boots will come in handy if you attempt any inland treks.
Things to do in Moorea from cruise ship stops
Moorea excursions from cruise ships tend to involve jeep tours of the island, or visits to the Lagoonarium. Moorea hiking is also quite popular, particularly around Mount Pahia.
How long is the ferry from Papeete to Moorea?
The ferry from Tahiti to Mooera takes around 30 minutes each way
Are there any free things to do in Moorea?
Moorea isn’t exactly gentle on the wallet, but there are some easy ways to enjoy yourself without burning too much cash. Inland hikes can be done for free, such as the Belvedere Lookout hike.
A day trip to Opunohu Valley is also cheap and rewarding, with hikes to archaeological sites.
Otherwise, just head for the beach. The sunset is always free.
Plan Your Moorea Trip
Accommodation in Moorea
Flights to Moorea
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Rental Cars in Moorea
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