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MOOREA (Mo'orea)

Return to French Polynesia

Mt Belvedere, Roto Nui, Moorea, French Polynesia
Moorea © Can Stock Photo / markskalny

The name Moorea refers to an island and not a city.  It is also sometimes called the Magical Island.  Moorea has no urban centers, but rather it is home to a series of small villages along its shores, such as Vaiare, Paopao and Haapiti.  The island is about 80 square miles in area and has a permanent population of under 20,000.  Typical of French Polynesia islands, it is ringed by a low coral reef that protects the island and creates its fabulous blue waters.  The Opunohu Valley around Opunohu Bay is lush with fruits and tropical plants.  A series of mountain ridges makes Moorea picturesque when viewed from the ocean or by 4x4 from one of the ridges.  It is a much more natural and uncluttered island than Tahiti.  Typical of all of Polynesia, the cost of living is extremely high with nearly every food except swordfish and tuna being imported from continents far away.  French Polynesia is famous for its black pearls and there are plenty of opportunites to purchase them.

Weather:

Expect very little variation in temperatures throughout the year.  Average highs will be about 85 F (30 C) and lows will average 75 F (23 C).  The rainy season extends from November to April.  Temperatures can be slightly higher during this period, because this area of French Polynesia is south of the equator.  June through October are the popular tourists months, because they are drier.  It can rain any time of year though and global warming influences of El Nino bring inconsistency to weather forecasting.  We think September is a good bet for the best month to visit Moorea.

Transportation:

Moorea is located about 16 km (10 mi) from Tahiti and is easily accessible by air on Air Tahiti Nui or regularly scheduled ferry service on Aremiti or Terevau.  The ferries both land at Vaiare and operate in a manner that makes them seem almost like the same company.  Many inhabitants of Moorea use the ferry to reach jobs on Tahiti every day.  The ferry system also transports vehicles.  Walk on passengers can leave suitcases and packages with an attendant beside a large dolly on the dock and pick up their luggage on the other side without ever tagging it.  The road around the island has markers at each kilometer from the airport and you need to pay attention to whether you are going clockwise or counter clockwise.  Haapiti is the intersection of the marker systems at PK 24 clockwise or PK 37 counter clockwise.  Cars are easy to rent and tour bus companies traverse the island regularly, such as Moorea Explorer.  Local bus service on Le Truck is inexpensive and coordinated with the arrival of the ferry.  Le Truck service around the island can be irregular at other times.

Stingray and reef shark visitors, Moorea, French Polynesia

Stingray snorkel

Things to see and do in Moorea:

  • Moorea is one of the best snorkelling locations in the world.  Guests at the Hilton Moorea rave about the variety of fish seen from the overwater bungalows.  Tropical fish are even visible through glass floor sections in the bungalows.  The InterContinental Moorea has very good snorkelling too.  During our Take That Vacation visit in 2015 at the InterContinental we found that overwater bungalows on the inside lagoon had some beautiful sections of coral teaming with smaller fish, while the bungalows facing the sea had larger fish.  We saw coris, chromis, triggers, brown clownfish, damsels, squirrelfish, bright blue parrotfish, an eagle ray, numerous varieties of butterfly fish, reef sharks and lots of Picasso triggers. The snorkelling was excellent and occupied most of our time.

Black tipped reef shark, Moorea, French Polynesia

Black tipped reef shark snorkel

  • The shark and stingray excursion is one of the most popular tours in Moorea.  The stingrays congregate inside the reef a short distance from the InterContinental Moorea.  The black tipped reef sharks have learned that they can pick up bits of fish and squid from the ray feedings, so they have moved inside the reef to join the stingrays.  Moorea is very laid back on safety.  Ensure you keep your fingers in tight anywhere near the underside of a stingray, as they can't see what they are chomping down on as they search for food.  It's safe to touch their backs.  The reef sharks keep circling around the rays and snorkelers.  They are safe to snorkel with as long as you don't touch them or try to feed them.

InterContinental lagoon, Moorea, French Polynesia

InterContinental lagoon

  • The sharks and rays can be reached by a tour from the dock at the InterContinental or by one of their kayaks.  There are also several variations of tours by hotels and independent operators in Moorea.   Add ons include lunch on a private motu (small island), boating through Cook Bay & Opunohu Bay, or searching for dolphins and whales. The independents are vying for the lucrative tour market and provide information to tourists at the ferry landing in Papeete en route to Moorea.  These operators will pick up and drop off at resort hotels and do bookings by a local call from your hotel.  In 2015 the rate for a 6 hour tour including rays, sharks, whales, dolphins and lunch was $55 US per person with Hiro's, while the InterContinental was charging $110 US per person for the same tour.

Eagle Ray, Moorea, French Polynesia

Eagle Ray

  • Humpback whales migrate to the area around Moorea and Tahiti to have their young.  They are typically present from July to October, which makes September an excellent time for viewing whales and their newborn calves.  Rules about whale watching are slack in French Polynesia.  In 2015 some excursions included snorkelling with humpbacks and their calves.  While this is an exciting opportunity, it's not something we recommend at Take That Vacation.  Guides indicated that snorkelers shouldn't touch the calves, but remember it's completely at the discretion of the mother whale as to when she might decide to defend her newborn.  Also, humpbacks don't have sonar and that makes their motions much less predictable.  You definitely don't want to be too close to a breeching humpback, as they may not have an accurate determination of your location in the water or even your boat's location for that matter.  Humpbacks have been known to breech and accidentally land on kayaks.

InterContinental Moorea overwater bungalow, Moorea, French Polynesia

InterContinental Moorea overwater bungalow

  • Travel the 61 km (40 mi) road that circles the island via rental car, rental dune buggy or with an excursion.  It's impossible to get lost on Moorea, as it's the only road on the island and it always brings you back where you started.

  • Take an off road excursion to the Belvedere Lookout.  Near the viewpoint are ruins of the Polynesian temple of Titiroa Marae.  From the parking lot at Titiroa, a trail leads through the forest to the altar at Marae Ahu-o-Mahine.  Try the Moorea Circle Tour and Belvedere Lookout or Albert ATV Fun Tours.

  • Scuba diving, kayaking, rowing on an outrigger canoe, paddle boarding, kite boarding and deep sea fishing.

  • Visit Opunohu Bay, Opunohu Valley and Cook's Bay with views of Mount Mouaputa, the Shark's Tooth.

  • Moorea Fish Market

  • Church of St. Joseph

Moorea, French Polynesia

Moorea near Ha'apiti, © Can Stock Photo / XavierMARCHANT

  • Ebenezer Temple Papetoai

  • Moorea Dolphin Center at the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa.  At Take That Vacation we aren't supporters of dolphins in captivity performing for business profit, but this center is fairly popular.

  • Tiki Theater Village has a Tahitian dinner and performance.  The performance gets much higher ratings than the dinner.  Shows are not held every day, so plan accordingly.  You will also be able to buy woodcarvings, handicrafts and black pearls.  Take an outrigger canoe ride offshore. 

  • Toatea Overlook has views of the Sofitel overwater bungalows.

  • Atiraa Waterfall and the unmarked Polynesian ruins of Umarea Marae on the waterfront at PK 10, both near the village of Afareaitu.

  • Moorea Sunset Cocktail Cruise

  • Moorea Green Pearl Golf Course Polynesian - one of the rare opportunities for golf in French Polynesia.  The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Overwater Bungalows, Moorea, French Polynesia

Moorea, © Can Stock Photo / shalamov

Restaurants on Moorea:

Many restaurants on Moorea vie for customers of major hotels by offering free pickup and return to your hotel.

Restaurants within walking distance of the InterContinental Moorea:

  • Snack Mahana - this restaurant is about a 20 minute walk to the left from the InterContinental.  In 2015 it was open from 11am to 3pm and was cash only.  They served mahi mahi, tuna, burgers, chicken and fries.  The restaurant is extremely popular with tourists, but we found the prices only slightly less than the hotel and the quality the same.

  • Le Motu Pizza Grill - this restaurant is about a 30 minute walk to the right from the InterContinental to the small village of Hauru.  It was cash only.  The prices were significantly less than the hotel and quality was fine.  A burger, fries and soda in 2015 were $11.50 US versus $28 at the hotel.  For dessert a sweet crepe and a scoop of ice cream was only $4.  The clientele was mainly local.

  • Taihura Restaurant - located a few steps away from the Le Motu.  Check Trip Advisor for reviews.

Moorea Tours:

Hotels on Moorea:

Major hotels on Moorea:

Other hotels on Moorea:

Review of the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa

We enjoyed our stay at the InterContinental Moorea immensely. Torea Nui Tours shuttled us to the hotel from the ferry landing. Moorea Tours also provides shuttle service. The hotel is at the northwest corner of the island, past Cook's Bay and past the Hilton.

The Good - The overwater bungalows are very large and have a luxurious feel. They have king beds, oversized bathtub, couch, satellite TV and a large deck. The bathroom doesn't have a door and the shower isn't enclosed, which is a great feature. The deck is large enough for a table, two chairs and two lounge chairs. There is a freshwater shower on the deck and a ladder straight into the ocean. Without the overwater bungalow, the visit would have been a mistake.

The overwater bungalows are all connected by a short bridge and in the middle is the dolphin center. It was popular, but we didn't participate as it just feels wrong to see these animals in captivity. It's presented as a research facility, but it's really a revenue generating tourist attraction that even has a speed dial for it on the room phone. The overwater bungalows on the outside had much deeper water and larger tropical fish. Several people said they had reef sharks swim under their balcony when it was feeding time at the dolphin center. The overwater bungalows on the inside had smaller fish and some beautiful sections of coral teaming with fish. During our stay we saw coris, chromis, triggers, brown clownfish, damsels, squirrelfish, bright blue parrotfish, an eagle ray, numerous varieties of butterfly fish and lots of Picasso triggers. The snorkelling was excellent and occupied most of my time.

The Not So Good - The main hotel building isn't as impressive as the InterContinental Tahiti. It's set lower down and doesn't have the expansive views that the hotel in Tahiti does. That takes away from the ambience greatly. The dining staff were all female here and lacked some of the flamboyance that the male waiters at the InterContinental Tahiti entertained us with. The meals were slightly more expensive on Moorea (it's expensive everywhere in French Polynesia, as nearly all the food is imported from places like New Zealand). A hamburger and fries were $22 US here vs $19.50 in Tahiti. Bottled water was $5 for a half litre. Some of the meals were great and some weren't. We enjoyed samosas and pizza fenua (tuna pizza), but hated the chicken Caesar made with fatty fried chicken skewers. The poisson cru (raw tuna in coconut sauce) was better in Tahiti. There was also a French dining restaurant open nightly, but it was way too expensive for us. We went al la carte instead of the all inclusive price of $129 US per person per day.

To save money on meals at the InterContinental Moorea, walk 20 minutes left to the restaurant named Mahana. This is a popular cash only spot that serves from 11am to 3pm. They have tuna, mahi mahi, chicken and burgers. Quality is ok and prices are about 25% less than at the hotel. Alternately walk about 30 minutes right to the small village of Hauru and you'll come upon three options in the small town of Hanua. We enjoyed Le Motu. The served hamburger, fries and a pop for $11.50 which is half the price of the hotel. I added a sugar crepe and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert for $4. Desserts at the hotel started at $11. It's a great option for saving money and for walking off the fries and ice cream.


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