Moorea Travel Guide

May 27, 2016

Diving In Moorea

Perfect for all levels, scuba diving in Moorea will be one the highlights of your visit to French Polynesia. Though nothing beats diving in the Tuamotu Archipelago, In Moorea you’ll be treated to the inevitable sighting of nurse sharks, sea turtles and maybe even a few other surprises from the mammal family. You’ll, of course, be diving outside the protective lagoon.

Moorea blue diving french polynesiaAfter much research, I went diving with Moorea Blue Diving. They’re located at the Manava Beach Resort (formerly the Pearl Beach Resort), and part of the totally worth it Te Moana Pass. A few years ago, French couple Diane and Stephane decided to swap the snow of the French Alps for the warm waters of Moorea. They run this lovely dive center, where you’ll get personal attention and enjoy top-notch gear. You can say that Diane & Stephane are the ‘shark experts’ in Moorea. They’ll take you to dive sites just off the twin bays where you’re almost guaranteed to see some serious sharks.

*** Save 10% off your dives when you mention the promotional code ‘X Days In Y’ to Diane & Stephane. The offer is for direct bookings not part of the Te Moana Pass ***

Our first dive was in a valley that leads into Opunohu Bay. Right off the bat, we saw a huge barracuda just chilling close to the surface as if to welcome us to his neighborhood. We then descended to 24 meters and the ocean floor, where we caught our first glimpse of a shark. This became the norm, sharks coming and going as we floated along the valley atop beautiful hard coral.

Diving in Moorea huge baracudaDiving in Moorea with sharkDiving in Moorea with lemon sharkDiving in Moorea with lemon shark 2Diving in Moorea two sharks

There were lots of reef sharks but also the occasional lemon sharks. These guys are the type of sharks that begin to resemble proper looking predators, though they’re almost always completely harmless.

As we got closer to the boat, huge sharks were hanging around the mooring line with others arriving to check us out. It was quite a scene, as the fish smelled the bait that was carried by one of the other dive instructors.

Moorea French Polynesia coastline from oceanAfter some tea, cookies and amazing views of Moorea’s coastline – it was time for the second dive of the day. This time, we battled our way through the current and swam along a few channels that run in the direction of the lagoon. We would grab on to something (just not yellow coral because that’s poisonous) as the current washed out, and rode it as it swept into the lagoon. Along the way, Stephane spotted a small sea turtle just snacking away, and before we knew it, shark after shark arrived to see what the commotion was all about.

We finished off the dive scouting a few hidden caverns before Stephane spotted a sleeping nurse shark in one of them. What a good spot for a nap! Altogether, these two dives were among the best I’ve done in the South Pacific. In terms of coral, it’s very similar to Samoa and the Cook Islands but in Moorea, there’s a much greater chance of spotting more than one shark or turtle.

Diving in MooreaDiving in Moorea through lagoon passDiving in Moorea nurse shark hiding

Here’s a video summary of my dives in Moorea with Moore Blue Diving.

Logistics: the dive sites are just minutes away and you’ll depart bright and early at 7:30 am (afternoons on Sundays only), back by 11 am with the rest of the day still free. They’ll pick you up for free if you’re staying between the Hilton and Vaiare (the ferry area). Only 10 divers can head out, so booking in advance is highly recommended. During the afternoons, certification courses and introductory dives take place inside the lagoon – great for children and for those who want to get a feel for scuba diving.

*** Save 10% off your dives when you mention the promotional code ‘X Days In Y’ to Diane & Stephane. The offer is for direct bookings not part of the Te Moana Pass ***

Excursions In Moorea

Shark & Stingray Feeding

You may have seen them when diving or snorkeling, now you have the chance to feed them (well, at least the stingrays). This is one of the highlights of a visit to Moorea and there are a handful of operators to choose from. I went with Moorea Mahana Tours on a full day lagoon excursion which also included a picnic on one the motus.

The tour begins with a quick ride to the worst kept secret in Moorea – the shark and stingray feeding area. Tour boats, jet skis, and kayaks all gather here and so do the fish. It feels very counterintuitive to step off the boat when you can clearly see dozens of shark fins zipping atop the water, but it’s all perfectly safe and enjoyable.

Shark and stingray feeding Moorea French PolynesiaShark and stingray feeding Moorea reef sharksShark and stingray feeding MooreaShark and stingray feeding Moorea touching stingrayShark and stingray feeding Moorea stingray up close

Take your time swimming and snorkeling around the boat, as guides hand feed the stingrays and toss a few chunks for the sharks. You too can touch the stingrays without any fear, just stay away from the spiky tail. Their skin feels like jelly and they really stick to you in search of food, not realizing they’ve already swallowed what you had in your hand. It’s an incredible and surreal experience that should not be missed. The only downside is the large number of people out here, stirring up sand and getting in your way at times.

After about 30 mins in the water with the rays and sharks, it’s back on the boat and another quick trip to one of the motus. As the crew prepares lunch, head out to the best snorkeling spot in Moorea. Right in the channel between the motus, you’ll find lots of tropical fish, massive stingrays and even moray eel hiding inside the beautiful coral.

Shark and stingray feeding Moorea huge stingrayShark and stingray feeding Moorea black reef fish matingShark and stingray feeding Moorea moray eel close upShark and stingray feeding Moorea moray eelShark and stingray feeding Moorea traveli fishShark and stingray feeding Moorea stingray hiding

Back on the small motu, enjoy a delicious Polynesian buffet, not before the crew teaches you how to make the national dish of French Polynesia – the poisson cru! The food is delicious and there’s plenty of beer available along with soft drinks (here’s the recipe). Post lunch activities include some more snorkeling, exploring the beautiful motu (with great views of Moorea) and yet another key lesson in island life – how to crack a coconut!

Moorea lagoon tour picnic motu

Logistics: leave at approx. 10 am and back by 2 pm. Bring with you a camera, sunscreen and a towel. They’ll give you mask and fins for snorkeling. There are half-day options that do not include the ‘picnic motu’ but I highly recommend opting for the full day if you have the time and money (~8,500F per adult). If you’re heading to Bora Bora, you have the chance to experience this there as well and in Huahine, you’ll have something very similar (and more impressive in my opinion).

Here’s a look back at this amazing day spent in the Moorea lagoon!

Lagoonarium

I heard excellent reviews about the Lagoonarium but didn’t have enough time to do it on my own. It’s very similar to the shark & stingray excursions, but with a much more local (and laid back) feel.  

ATV Tours

There are a few operators running ATV tours in Moorea, which I personally stayed away from. They will basically all take you to the Belvedere, Magical Mountain, and the Pineapple Route (see ‘things to do’ section) – which can all be seen at the comforts of your own pace with a rented car. So unless you’re really keen on driving an ATV, I would pass on this.

Hiking In Moorea

Moorea is a hiker’s paradise, offering at least a half a dozen excellent hikes for all levels. Whether on the hunt for a hidden waterfall, or walking among the island’s giant peaks – with a bit of effort you’ll be treated to spectacular views over the lagoon and get to explore the island’s rich rainforests with their unique mape trees, giant bamboo, and tropical flowers. Here are the hikes that I personally did (without a guide) during my four weeks in Moorea and a second return visit in April 2017. If you’re looking for a hiking guide in Moorea, get in touch with Hiro Damide

Mount Rotui Hike

It may not be the highest peak on the island of Moorea, but the hike to the summit of Mount Rotui affords views of the twin bays that you will never forget. This is a challenging hike that should not be attempted during the wet season or if it’s been raining over the past few days.

Moorea Travel Guide - Opunohu Bay from Mount Rotui Hike

To pick up the trailhead, park your car in the Hilton Resort’s parking lot and locate the Faimano Village Hotel. Take the inland path across the road from the hotel and you will see a sign marking the trailhead and a request to pay about 200F per person (if the owner is not present, pay on the way back). From here, just follow the signs until you start to climb on the visible trail. You’ll begin an ascent that never really ends until the summit, first through dense rainforest and then along the ridgeline until the very top.

Hilton Moorea Bungalows from Mount Rotui Hike

Marteo Beach and Clear Lagoon from Mount Rotui Hike - Moorea

Once you clear the forest, the fun really begins. Views down to the overwater bungalows of the Hilton and the clear waters of Mareto Beach are the stuff dreams are made of, and the higher you ascend, the finer (and wider) the views of the spectacular Opunohu Bay get. There is no better place to catch such views in Moorea!

Cruise Ship in Opunohu Bay - Mount Rotui Hike Moorea

Opunohu Bay From Mount Rotui Hike in Moorea

Opunohu Bay Moorea - Mount Rotui Hike

Logistics: summitting Rotui will take the full day and, as noted, do not attempt to summit during the rainy season or after a few wet days. Always watch for rain clouds moving in from the windward side and be cognizant of possible storms. It is not recommended to hike alone! Views are spectacular throughout the ridgeline section so if you see clouds covering the summit, it’s best to stop, enjoy the views and head back down. Parts of the trail can be overgrown with vegetation, especially at the start of the hiking season (April-May). If you have a machete to bring along – great, if not, be prepared to get scratched and to plow your way. In addition, watch your step: the trail will be slippery, narrow and filled with blind spots. It’s best to wear long hiking pants, good hiking shoes, hat and to bring plenty of food and water! I also advise to bring a full change of clothes and to treat yourself to a refreshing swim in Mareto Beach after the hike.

Vaiare to Paopao Hike

My absolute favorite hike in Moorea is one that crosses the island from the village of Vaiare (where the ferry is) to the village Paopao in Cook’s Bay. It’s a moderate hike which you can do on your own, assuming you can find the trailhead.

The hike starts along local orchards, filled with mangoes, papaya and that smelly yet super healthy fruit called Noni. Once in a while, a local farmer emerges out of the bush with a heavy payload of freshly picked fruits on each shoulder. This is a good time to check your bearings.

Vaiare to Pao Pao hike Moorea French Polynesia farmer

You then veer left and up the hill, through a very steep mape forest – where the roots can be used as natural steps to make your life easy. The mosquitoes are ferocious out here so just keep going!

Vaiare to Pao Pao hike Moorea French Polynesia mape forest

After about an hour of climbing, you’ll make it to the ridgeline and your efforts will totally be rewarded. From up here, you’ll be treated to truly 360-degree views of both sides of the island. On the one side – Vaiare, Tahiti and the ferry going back and forth. On the other side, nothing but mountains, pineapple fields, and Cook’s Bay. What a sight! This is exactly how you had pictured French Polynesia to be and then some.

Vaiare to Pao Pao hike Moorea French Polynesia Opunohu ValleyVaiare to Pao Pao hike Moorea French Polynesia view of ferryVaiare to Pao Pao hike Moorea French Polynesia pineapple fields

From up here, you have a few options: (1) continue down to the Opunohu Valley, eventually making it to Paopao and hitchhiking back to your car back in Vaiare (or timing it with the ferry bus). (2) Take the trail that continues from up here to the Belvedere. (3) Do what I did and turn around. Honestly, with such a view, you might as well stay up here and take a very long (and well-deserved) break.

Logistics: the only challenging part (aside from the steep climb) is locating the trailhead. You can do this hike on your own if you manage to find it. Follow the road that heads inland at the Bayside Moorea Market and keep right at the soccer field. At this point, it’s best to ask the locals living here for the trailhead, which is basically up an agricultural road to your left. Once you’re on the trail, you’ll know it – it’s used by farmers and there are red & white ribbons from time to time. It takes about 90 minutes to get to the ridgeline and 60 minutes back down to the main road. Bring plenty of water, hat, closed shoes, food, short pants are fine and a change of clothes for after!

Opunohu Valley Hike

There are quite a few hikes that venture into the lush Opunohu Valley. I did a small section of it called the Natira’a Roa hike. The easy hike takes you through a thick mape forest, before emerging into a clearing with mountain views. You then walk back down along the main road, passed the Lycee Agricole (can stop for some fresh juice or ice cream) and a few giant bamboo trees.

Opunohu Valley hike Moorea French PolynesiaOpunohu Valley hike Moorea French Polynesia mape forestRoots of Tahitian chestnut trees Opunohu Valley hike Moorea French PolynesiaOpunohu Valley hike Moorea French Polynesia large banyan treeOpunohu Valley hike Moorea French Polynesia view of mountainOpunohu Valley Hike Moorea French Polynesia

Logistics: take the road that heads up to the Belvedere and when you reach the bridge over the river, park the car (don’t leave anything visible inside). You’ll see a bunch of trail signs on the side of the road passed the animal fence. The hike is meant to be nearly 5 hours, but we returned well before that.

Afareaitu Waterfall

A short and easy walk along the river and through the forest will bring you to one of Moorea’s waterfalls. You might have this place all to yourself so a picnic might not be a bad idea!

Waterfall in Moorea French Polynesia

Logistics: coming from Haapiti, turn inland after the hospital and continue driving. Ask the locals if you can park your car next to their house and just follow the dirt road which eventually turns into the trail. About 30 minutes of walking will bring you to the waterfall. You can just leave your car along the main road and walk everything on foot, but that should add another 20-30 minutes to your hike. Once at the waterfall, the trail continues to the second waterfall, though we couldn’t find it… Take mosquito repellent, sandals, food, drinks and obviously a swimsuit.

Three Coconuts Hike

One of the most popular and accessible walks in Moorea thanks to new signs that mark the way. The trail starts off at the Belvedere (can also start from Haapiti) and takes you first through a forest filled with mape trees and giant bamboos. You’ll cross a few freshwater streams before starting a moderately difficult climb up to the ridge. The views from here are very similar to those in the Vaiare to Paopao hike – just from the other side of the same ridge. As for the three coconuts… they are no longer here, blown away a long time in a cyclone apparently.

Three coconuts hike Moorea French Polynesia giant bambooThree coconuts hike Moorea French Polynesia forestThree coconuts hike Moorea French Polynesia view of mountainThree coconuts hike Moorea French Polynesia view of Mount Rotui and baysThree coconuts hike Moorea French Polynesia Cook's BayThree Coconuts Hike Moorea French Polynesia

Logistics: if you start from the Belvedere, look for the signs in the carpark. If you’re starting from the coast in Haapiti, you’ll have to ask around for directions. No special clothing required, just comfortable shoes as always and lots of water. Expect a 90-minute hike to the top and about an hour to get back to the Belvedere car park.

Temae Hike

You won’t find this hike in the guidebooks so here’s a secret hike only locals can tell you about. If you liked the view from Toatea Lookout, you’ll love the view from the summit of this hike. It’s short, it’s steep and it’s not easy – but once you reach the summit, it’ll all be worth it. From up here, you can look down to the Sofitel Resort and Temae Beach. To your left is the lake and the airport, to your right the northern coastline of Moorea and right across the water – the big island of Tahiti. Enjoy!

Temae hike Moorea French PolynesiaTemae hike Moorea French Polynesia coconutsTemae hike Moorea French Polynesia beach viewTemae Hike Moorea SummitTemae Hike Moorea with YannTemae Hike Moorea Path

Logistics: drive towards Temae Beach and just across the road from the turnoff to the beach, there’s a post office. Park the car and head up the hill either via the steps or using the trail behind the large tree in the car park. You’ll find yourself walking up towards a bunch of antennas, after which the steps turn into a proper (unmarked) trail. Follow it all the way to the summit and you can even continue for a little longer. It takes about 45 minutes of steep hiking to the summit and 20 minutes to get back down.

More hikes

I didn’t manage to hike the ‘pierced mountain’ – Moorea’s most challenging hikes. For this one, you’ll need a guide and it’s not easy to find one in the low (wet) season.

Moorea pierced Mountain French Polynesia

Now It’s Your Turn

I hope you’ve found this Moorea Travel Guide useful. If you have any questions or your own Moorea travel tips, leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation started!

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35 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! It’s everything you could ask for in a guide. Hope you have many more happy and fulfilling adventures

    1. Thanks for the feedback Sandy. Heading tomorrow back to Tahiti and then Moorea for round #2. What a special place!

  2. Another evening spent reading your fantastic guides, doing last minute preparations for our trip to FP, in 3 weeks we will be at Moorea, cannot wait! Great work Avicai! 🙂

  3. Thank you for your detailed and well-written guide. I have spent couple hours now reading your travel guide to Tahiti, Bora Boara and this one, Moorea. Our trip won’t be until March, 2018 but I’m getting excited reading and looking at your beautiful photos.

  4. Thank you for all the wonderful insight into Mo’orea. We will be spending this Christmas there. After reading your guide, we are even more excited!

    1. Thanks Monica!

      It’ll definitely be a very merry Christmas, but I wouldn’t count on it being a white one 🙂

  5. Thank you SO much for writing this! Headed to Moorea the end of October for a honeymoon and haven’t found much in the way of guides- so this was perfect! Can’t wait for all of the adventures!

  6. This is great, very helpful for a first timer, in California, realizing This area is not as far as I thought, hoping for a trip next year, I guess I need to wait till May for decent weather. Any thoughts on off-season? I’m thinking I will stay on this island, but also maybe visit another smaller more cultural island nearby, any suggestions?

    1. Hi

      I’ve traveled offseason as well. If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, a day of rain here and there isn’t going to make or break your vacation. It is a lot less breezy though… Some of the better lesser known islands are Maupiti and Huahine. If you need specific 1:1 consultation, check this link out: https://xdaysiny.com/tahiti-tailor-made/

  7. Any idea where I can find a guide for the pierced mountain hike? I am travelling to Moorea for a couple weeks at the end of August. I’ve searched everywhere for a guide online but have had no luck.

  8. My husband and I did an “intro” dive with Aude. She was so informative and made us feel safe, so much so that we wanted to do another dive before we left! If you’ve never been scuba diving and are on the fence, this is the best way to go. We are now working on getting our certifications!

  9. This is a wonderful guide. Thank you! My gf and I are looking at Air BnBs… what do you recommend? staying in Temae, or Opunohu?

    1. Thanks Rachel. I would advise to look for places between the InterContinental Resort -Haapiti Village & between Maharepa Village-Temae. Hope this helps and happy travels in the South Seas

  10. Hello, we’re going to be Moorea morning of April 4th (arriving on the first ferry from Papeete) and until 2pm the 5th before sailing on a catamaran with friends for a week through (Bora, Huahine, Tahaa[coral garen], Raiatea [wreck dive]). We just got certified here in California and I’m wondering if we should try to snorkel and dive during such a short visit.
    The lagoon excursion with shark/ray/snorkel already sounds good enough. Is it worth it to dive also? What will we see on the dive that we don’t get to experience through snorkeling?
    Can we get around on a scooter? For example, can a scooter make it to Belvedere lookout with me and my husband? Or is a car really necessary?
    Thank you so much, this is really a fantastic guide.

    1. Hi Jenny. If you have one full day in Moorea, save the diving for the other islands you’ll be visiting. The dives take place on the slope in the outer section of the lagoon so there is more to see vs snorkeling (so definitely do go diving on the trip). You can make it on a scooter up to the belvedere. I advise snorkeling in the Moorea Lagoonarium vs the lagoon tour (coordinate your visit to the Lagoonarium with the stingray feeding). However, seeing as you’ll be on a boat and probably doing a lot of snorkeling, you can totally “chill” in Moorea and do a land based tour / hike plus relaxing on the beach. Hope this helps!

  11. Yes that’s a fantastic suggestion, we’ve never been near stingrays before and that has been on our bucket list. One more question for you. Is there a scooter rental near the ferry drop off? Is there a particular business you recommend? Thank you so much!

    1. I don’t believe there’s a scooter rental near the ferry but try contacting the suppliers and see if they can arrange a pickup from the ferry. I know of Albert Transport but there are a few other smaller outfits.

  12. well i found this article is very helpful and informative and its a lot of about Moorea its a very beautiful location soon i’ll take a tour
    Thanks for sharing

  13. Great guide, can you recommend a place to rent a small boat for a day on Moorea? A fun beach bar on Moorea? Thanks, Marc

    1. Hi Marc
      You should be able to find both at the beach of Les Tipaniers hotel. It can be accessed by the public. They have a beach bar and a place that rents out boats etc.

  14. absolutely love your guides! used them on our first trip to rangiroa/fakarava. this is our first trip to moorea. looking at diving there in feb with 4 parents, 3 teens so looking at an airbnb. would you do a house on the north near the dive shops or do one on the west, sunset side. would love something with beach out front and we could snorkel from the house. maybe walk to restaurants or shops – but not super busy beach out front. what do you recommend? thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Maryann
      My personal preference is for the west coast, between Haapiti and Les Tipaniers Hotel. That’s a great low key spot that also has a beach and some snorkeling.

  15. Thanks for the post which has tons of information.
    We are planning a trip to French Polynesia and we are family of 4 which includes 2 kids. Do you any recommendations to choose the islands which are Kids friendly.

    -Mani

    1. that depends on what you consider kids friendly. but in general: Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora

  16. Do you have any links for hiking trails? Specifically the hike to the keyhole and any/ all waterfalls? Also looking for best snorkel spots, I am an experienced and avid ocean swimmer. Can you recommend a boat tour that includes feeding / swimming with sharks and mantas where we also might see turtles…but also includes eating at a water side table with the rays around us? I’ve seen pic amd Andy’s looks like a big company, but maybe too big/ touristy? Headed there next week! Mahalo!

    1. Hi Christina. Most of the hikes mentioned in the travel guides are not official hikes. So apart from the Three Coconuts Pass which is a marked trail, for all others I’ve included as much information as I can. You can search online for some Summit Series posts but those maps won’t be helpful. So use the info in the guide and cross reference it with local advice. That said, hikes such as the Piereced Mountain are better done with a guide, for your own safety. This is ESPECIALLY true during the wet season when it can be very dangerous to hike without a guide. For snorkeling, the best spot in the Moorea Lagoonarium. For tours, I went with moorea mahana tours. All these operators have the same itinerary: visit sting rays and then stop for lunch on a motu where you can snorkel. The snorkeling is not that great where they stop for lunch, just OK. The Lagoonarium would be the best. Hope this helps.

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