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!
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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 sports 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!
Self-catering Bungalows: this is a great way to live like a local in Moorea and save on costs, especially if you are not traveling solo. There are quite a lot of such bungalows available for rent, usually with a 3-day rental minimum requirement and a need for advanced booking in high season or during local holidays. You can find such listings online or by running a Google search, but if you don’t speak French, it night be a bit challenging. Lastly, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a small deposit to secure your reservation. Here are 3 recommendations, all places I stayed at.
(1) Fare Tokoau was my favorite place to stay in Moorea. It’s located not too far from Les Tipaniers beach and all bungalows front a grassy lawn overlooking the lagoon and incredible sunsets. The swimming is not amazing at this particular part of the lagoon but it’s still a very nice spot where the kids will be able to get wet and where you can kayak up and down the coast (free kayaks available) or to a small motu not too far away. The units themselves are very spacious and include everything you need to cook your own meals and stay cool when it’s too hot. Wifi is fantastic and if you feel like grilling some tuna, BBQ facilities available lagoon-side. Owners Tea and Alex are very friendly and will help you with anything you need to make your Moorea vacation a success.
(2) I found a real bargain right by the Tiki Village, between Haapiti and Le Petit Village, a beautiful yet quiet spot in Moorea that doesn’t see many tourists yet is minutes away from the major sights. 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 you’ll see 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!
This particular bungalow is now available on Airbnb.
(3) A bit closer to the Tiki Village and about 50 meters away from the beach, this studio bungalow is renovated and can accommodate a family of 4 (double bed + a bunk bed). I stayed here for 10 days and paid about 70 Euros per night. The only downside is the lack of wifi but if you have a Vini 3G sim card you should be able to get online on your phone (Vodafone reception was bad). To book this place you’ll need to get in touch with the friendly owner – Lawrence – who lives in Tahiti and doesn’t speak English very well (use Google Translate).
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 Miti. The location is great, in a quiet part of the island but close to amenities. The beach is one of the best on 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.
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.
Backpacker: the only two budget backpacker options I’m aware of in Moorea are Pension Motu Iti and Camping Nelson. Motu Iti has a 12-bed mixed dorm room set in an ideal location right between the two bays. You’re never too far from the action and a bicycle can get you to most points of interest. However, the owner of the place is not very hospitable (to say the least) and you have no access to a kitchen of any kind or even refrigeration. You get what you pay for (a cheap place to stay) and that’s it. Camping Nelson offers a campground as its name suggests (see below) but also small budget rooms that can be shared or booked privately. Rooms are a bit stuffy and include no electric lighting or ventilation, however, the location is perfect (right on the beach) and the communal kitchen and showers are adequate.
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 immune to the diseases brought over by the foreign visitors.
These days, Moorea manages to retain some of its laid-back charms 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.