We really liked the island of Moorea during our stay in French Polynesia. It is the island that we preferred after Maupiti for its beautiful beaches, water activities and hiking opportunities. Moorea also has the advantage of being easily accessible by boat because it is located less than twenty kilometres from Tahiti.
1What to see, what to do in Moorea
The main activities on Moorea are focused on the sea side, as on many islands of French Polynesia. Most of the hotels or pensions on the island offer kayaks and paddles to their guests: don't hesitate to use them!
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the activities that we have mainly tested and that you can practice in Moorea.
This is one of the easiest activities to do. It is accessible to everyone, and in French Polynesia you should not experience the frustration that you may sometimes feel in other parts of the world, where some bottoms are too deep to discover the wonders they have to offer with a simple mask and tuba. Here in Polynesia, the water is so clear that the visibility is up to twice that of Hawaii, for example. A feast for the eyes!
The most interesting snorkeling areas are the coral "potatoes" that are easily visible from the surface (large black spots). The most beautiful areas are called "Coral Garden". As for sandy areas only, their only interest is to see rays or blacktip sharks passing through if you are in a good area.
During our trip in 2019, we focused on the area where we were staying in the northwest of the island, near the motus Fareone and Tiahura (a motu is a small sand island located between the coral reef and the main island). One of the Coral Gardens in the area is located between these two motus. The area is large enough to spend a good half day exploring coral reefs.
This coral garden is easily accessible by kayak from Tipaniers beach or Haaru Park. If you are not staying in this part of the island, you can call one of the local pensions and ask them to rent you a kayak. If they don't have one for rent, they will probably redirect you to the right person.
You can also book an excursion that will drive you to one of the coral gardens with the extra bonus of a short ride on the lagoon, probably with a few other activities.
If you haven't had the opportunity to do it on another island or atoll then don't hesitate to make this nice little excursion. The area frequented by stingrays and blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus Melanopterus - a totally harmless species) is located at the following GPS coordinates: -17.4879382, -149.9003953.
It is a sandbank where you can easily walk. Here stingrays and blacktip sharks pass very frequently and are visible simply by putting the head underwater, it is not necessary to have fins, the height of the water is not important here.
To get there, you can do as we do by renting a kayak in order to stay as long as you deem necessary on site and especially avoid busy times from late morning, or use one of the many companies that offer (among other things) this type of activity. As we have not tested this second option, we will not be able to recommend one of them.
Be aware that it is possible to observe stingrays in other parts of the lagoon, as we have seen between the motus Fareone and Tiahura.
You can also combine the snorkeling of stingrays and sharks on the sandbank and the coral garden between the two motus over a half day of kayaking. If you choose this solution, do not hesitate to explore the sandbank at the eastern end of the motu Tiahura. A little gem!
Take an excursion to swim with whales and dolphins
This is another activity that often depends on the knowledge of the captain of the boat you choose, as well as the time of year when you will be on site (mid-July to November). Here too, several companies offer this excursion. A quick tour on the internet will give you a first draft of the companies making these excursions, it's up to you! For your information, people at our accommodation have tested Moorea Dolphin Expedition, and were very enthusiastic.
Drive around the island
During your stay in Moorea, don't miss the opportunity to drive around the island at least once. With its particular shape, Moorea offers several very different facets: large bays on the North Shore, a superb lagoon with intense colors bordered by beautiful beaches and magnificent peaks in the center of the island. There's enough to have a great time.
Finally, take the opportunity to eat locally by stopping to buy some fruits at the street stands along the road.
The circular road is 60 km long. Feel free to stop as much as you like. It is easy to park along the roadsides. Depending on your stops, allow a good half-day at least to make a leisurely tour.
On the way, be sure to stop at the following two points of view:
One of Moorea's most popular viewpoints is called "The Belvedere". It is located in the north of the island and is easily accessible by car, bicycle or by foot. The road that goes up there is clearly indicated from the circular road, you won't be able to miss it. This one is paved to the end and goes up to the point of view by making a few turns.
If you choose to walk up there, a footpath leads to it from the Lycée Agricole car park. There is a 150 meter elevation gain over a distance of 2 km to get there.
Don't miss a stop at the belvedere overlooking the bungalows on the water of the Sofitel Hotel. The viewpoint is directly accessible from the main road that passes up the hill at this point.
The lookout offers a breathtaking view of the lagoon and the southern pass as well as Temea beach just below.
Hiking the 3 coconut trees trail
If you want to escape a bit to Moorea, you can try the 3 coconut trees hike. It starts at the parking lot of Moorea's belvedere. It's a three-hour round trip to the jungle. We will not be able to tell you more as we have not tested it, but according to the locals it is the most enjoyable hike on the island. However, beware of mosquitoes!
Go to Moorea's Lagoonarium
To conclude this list, I felt a little forced to mention here the famous Lagoonarium of Moorea very popular, even considered as a must-see on the island.... Nevertheless, I am not at all in line with the concept.
Although the fish are in their natural environment, they are still in a restricted area and are fed regularly. Finally, the many tourists do not hesitate to touch them... I personally find that there is absolutely nothing natural about this rather expensive activity.
However, if you still want to go there, you can check their website website for more information.
2How to get to Moorea
There are two ways to get to Moorea: either by boat from Tahiti (Papeete) or by plane.
Fly to Moorea from Tahiti will be of limited interest if you plan to rent a vehicle on the island. Prefer to rent a car or scooter in Papeete and then take the ferry (see next paragraph).
Note that at the time of writing, the price difference, for the same period and for the same category of vehicle (economy car), is more than 20€ per day in favour of Tahiti.
On the other hand, if you are arriving from an international flight or from another island, flying can be a good choice if you do not need a vehicle in Moorea.
It takes 30 minutes to 1 hour to cross the sea, knowing that Terevau's boats are smaller and faster but also more sensitive to waves, with fewer places to transport cars.
If you are travelling as a pedestrian (without a vehicle)
If you are travelling as a pedestrian (without a vehicle)
You can go directly to the ticket offices at the terminal of each ferry company to buy your tickets. There is no need to book, boats are large. All you need to do is arrive about 30 minutes before the departure.
If you wish to board with a vehicle
- If you choose Tereva, you will have to call them in advance or go to their ticket offices to book a place for your vehicle. It is better to do it in advance because their boats are small and the weekend trips are often full several days in advance.
- If you choose Aremiti, it is possible to buy the car ticket at the desired time slot directly on their website.
You will then have to go to the dock 30 minutes before departure with your vehicle. Only the driver will be allowed to park the vehicle on board, the other passengers will have to embark as pedestrians (with some exceptions for children). On disembarkation all passengers must get into their vehicles.
It is possible to buy food on the boats at a reasonable price.
Our personal feedback: arriving in Papeete from a flight from San Francisco at 6am, we picked up our rental car just in front of the airport at Eco Car followed by a short visit to the supermarket for some shopping before heading to the port to embark the car on the ferry to Moorea. For us, it was clearly the most economical and practical solution..
3How long to stay in Moorea
We spent 4 days in Moorea which seemed to us to be a sufficient time to enjoy Moorea, with however a little heartache on the departure: we felt so good there! It is an island where you can easily stay a week in a pleasant pension on the edge of the lagoon.
We advise you to stay there for at least 3 days to have time to go around the island and enjoy the lagoon and its excursions.
4Where to stay in Moorea
We tested the Fare Club
In comparison to other less busy islands and more distant from Tahiti, finding accommodation in Moorea is not difficult. We selected the Fare Club which was very well located, with good reviews and in our limited budget.
We were very happy with the welcome we received. The family has really been taking care of us and Lena has even been pampered! The location on the former Club Med site is beautiful and the beach just in front is just gorgeous! The availability of kayaks and paddles will have been a plus to explore Moorea lagoon and meet rays and sharks (free single kayak and possibility to rent a double from the neighbour for 3000 FCP per day). The bungalows are quite basic but remain comfortable. Continental breakfast is included in the price. Finally, the proximity of shops and very good restaurants/snacks make us highly recommend this establishment. The only drawback: mosquitoes that are very present in this area (bed net provided).
If you are looking for a more comfortable accommodation, there are many hotel clubs on the island such as the Sofitel and its bungalows on the lagoon.