Your love affair with Moorea begins on a clear day in Tahiti, with the sight of giant peaks rising like shark fins out of the blue waters on the horizon. As you leave Tahiti behind on the ferry, dolphins lead the way into the harbor like a welcoming party. Moorea is known as ‘the magical island’ and for good reasons. Tahiti’s little laid back sister feels is a world away from the big island, with time ticking away so peacefully as you’re living the Polynesian dream. Moorea’s twin bays carve out the island’s signature heart shape, and its lush deep valleys spill into a massive lagoon that feels like a giant heated pool. There’s something for everybody in Moorea, and once you visit – you simply won’t want to leave! This Moorea Travel Guide will help you make the most of your time in the magical island.
About This Guide
I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with a whole month dedicated to Moorea. This travel guide to Moorea was written based on my experiences, and is meant to help you make the most of this once in a lifetime destination. The Moorea Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful. In this article, we’ll explore the island of Moorea. Look inside for discounts on scuba diving.
Heading off to French Polynesia? Start your reading with the French Polynesia Travel Guide, where you’ll also find similar travel guides to 11 islands in French Polynesia!
Why Should You Visit Moorea?
Moorea is so beautiful you simply won’t want to leave. A dream island with stereotypical French Polynesian charm, this is the idyllic holiday for anyone. Why? Because there’s something for everyone in Moorea! It’s the perfect holiday package without the packaged holiday. Beach lovers will love catching up on some reading under the shade of a palm tree, water sport enthusiasts will have plenty of ways to get wet and nature lovers will always remember those magical hikes through lush forests of mape trees, waterfalls and panoramic vistas over the lagoon. On the accommodation front, pamper yourself in a luxury resort, chill in local pensions or even rent a simple beachfront bungalow to really get the local feel. Moorea offers plenty of opportunities to satisfy your senses. They say Moorea is the Tahiti of old (much like Maupiti is the Bora Bora of old) and when you’re in Moorea, Tahiti does feel like a world away.
What’s Included In This Guide To Moorea?
Moorea Travel Guide Map
Click on the image to open in Google Maps. The map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.
Where To Stay In Moorea?
Moorea has plenty of options to suit your budget, though unless you’re staying at one of the resorts – book well in advance. Pensions and bungalows tend to be snatched, especially during the high season, local and international holidays (a.k.a Christmas).
The bulk of the ‘action’ lies in Moorea’s north coast, between the main village of Maharepa and the small village of Hauru (also known as ‘le Petit Village’). In between are Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay – both beautiful spots, less for swimming but definitely for the gorgeous scenery. If you want to stay like a local, there are lots of options around Haapiti. This is less of a village but more like a strip of beachfront homes. It’s hard to see the beach beyond the string of houses and there aren’t many access points. This means the beach is a ‘secret’ to tourists, reserved primarily for the lucky residents that live around this part of the island. This could be you!
Long term rentals: I found a real bargain right by the Tiki Village, between Haapiti and le Petit Village. This was a very simple yet spacious bungalow, only 20 meters away from the beach and inside a neighborhood of primarily French expats. There was a hot shower, wifi, simple outdoor or indoor kitchen and a fan to keep the air moving (because boy is it hot here). There’s a grocery store just across the road that also rents bicycles, and millions of stars at night.
Swimming and snorkeling were OK (free kayak to use), but there was a great beach just a few meters away by the Tiki Village. And what do you do with the leftover food? Just step down to the beach, toss it into the water and wait for a few minutes. Before you know it, friendly stingrays approach from the depths of the lagoon for the easiest catch they’ll ever have!
To inquire about a bungalow in this area, contact Herve Leulle (email@example.com, +689 777 426). He was the owner of the bungalow I stayed at, but was in the midst of making some changes. If he doesn’t have any available, he’ll be able to put you in touch with a neighbor who does. One month’s rental should start at about €500, depending on the condition of the place and the season. Alternatively, contact Paule Diederich (firstname.lastname@example.org) who has a bunch of higher end units in this excellent area.
Pensions: before I found the bungalow, I heavily researched a number of pensions, which I then paid a visit to during my stay on the island. My top choice would be Fare Edith. The location is great, in a quiet part of the island but close to amenities. The beach is one of the best in the island, and you can even swim to a small motu just a few hundred meters away. Prices vary with your choice of bungalow, kayaks are free to use and there’s wifi. Other good options include Fare Pole and Fare Maorina.
Luxury Resorts: right up there with Bora Bora, Moorea is a top choice for honeymooners and package holidaymakers. Fancy an overwater bungalow? Moorea’s got plenty of options for you. The top resort in Moorea is the Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort, located in a more secluded part of the island facing Tahiti and right on the gorgeous Temae Beach. Tied for second place are the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa and the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa – each occupying prime real estate in and around Moorea’s twin bays. Staying at multiple resorts? If you’ll be resort hopping in French Polynesia, you can get good ‘deals’ by booking with the same resort chain (where possible).
Hotel: Hotel les Tipaniers occupies the best beach in Moorea. It’s popular with families, has a great restaurant and is meters away from a dive center and boat rental. The motus off Hauru point are just a short kayak ride away, as is the shark feeding spot. The beach is great for swimming, snorkeling and kitesurfing.
Airbnb: there are quite a few locals who rent out their house or part of it throughout the year. Things may get a bit tricky during the holiday season, as some actually head back to France and close down.
Dorm rooms: the only backpacker option I’m aware of in Moorea, Pension Motu Iti also has a 15 bed mixed dorm room. The location is ideal, right between the two bays. You’re never too far from the action and a bicycle can get you to most points of interest.
Camping: believe it or not, there’s camping available in Moorea. I’ve heard very mixed reviews about Camping Nelson so do your own due diligence. The location is not bad, close to the shops, snacks and restaurants of Le Petit Village. The beach at Les Tipaniers is walking distance from here, but you can rent a bike/scooter from the nearby shopping ‘center’.
Facts & Brief History
Moorea (properly spelled and pronounced Mo’orea) is a high island in the Society Islands archipelago. It was first settled by Polynesians about 1,000 years ago, arriving by boat (obviously) either from other islands already colonized in the South Pacific (originally departing probably from Southeast Asia). For many centuries, locals lived in a simple and traditional manner – with local religion and myths ruling life. Perhaps this explains the meaning of island’s name – ‘yellow lizard’, likely stemming from local legend.
Samuel Wallis was the first European to make contact with the local Polynesians in 1767, followed by James Cook in 1769 and the Christian missionaries later on. With the arrival of the Europeans, traditional life gradually faded away along with much of the native population who were not immuned to the diseases brought over by the foreign visitors.
These days, Moorea manages to retain some of its laid back charm while still feeling connected to the world. Perhaps this is the reason why so many French expats and retirees call this place home, seeking the peaceful life that Moorea so beautifully offers. There are a little over 16,000 residents in Moorea, almost exclusively living around the very slim coastline. Unfortunately, such development is blocking parts of the gorgeous coastline, inaccessible to the public due to private homes forming long chains of private paradises (though the beach is public).
While in the past copra was a major source of local income, pineapple is the prime crop these days. In fact, Moorea is the ‘pineapple capital of French Polynesia’, so I hope you like this delicious fruit because there’s plenty of it. Tourism is also a major source of income, drawing honeymooners, families and independent travelers who take advantage of the close proximity to Tahiti – only 30 minutes away by ferry. The island’s tourism industry was badly hit by the 2008 global economic crisis, with a few resorts shutting down – most notably the massive Club Med at Hauru Point.