Moorea Pictures Guide, French Polynesia, South Pacific

Moorea seen from the air, French Polynesia, South Pacific

Moorea seen from the air. The east coast (on the right) is the most popular and has the best weather. Photo by Remi Jouan.

Visiting  Moorea

Moorea, (also known as Mo’orea in Polynesia) though a bit short of huge beaches is an island that is much closer to a tropical paradise than Tahiti. Moorea is quiet, has no town or even village, is surrounded by clear waters and a moderately thriving coral reef, offers white sand beaches and a totally magnificent group of green mountainous peaks in its centre.

Just half an hour by fast catamaran (20kms/12mls) from Tahiti’s depressing capital ‘city’ of Papeete (Pape’ete) lies Moorea, backdrop to many a Hollywood movie with its jagged green mountains, little developed bays and aquamarine lagoon.

Mo’orea’s peaks are probably all that remains of an ancient volcano while the all-enveloping lagoon is due to a coral ring surrounding the island which ensures that marine activities are prolific and possible under most weather conditions.

Moorea Island Map

Moorea

Part of Moorea’s stunning skyline from the road on the island’s south side.

 A Moorea island beach, French Polynesia, South Pacific

Although Mo’orea’s lagoon is protective and inviting the regular beaches tend to be small and white but strewn with odd coral fragments except for those belonging to pricey hotels that are bigger and carefully manicured. Due to the humid climate moisture gathers above the inland hills as damp winds rise, so cloudy peaks are frequent, even in summertime, on tropical islands.

A tourist kayaking in Cook

A cheap and cheerful hired kayak in Cook’s Bay, the staggeringly beautiful place where Captain Cook first anchored.

In fact Moorea is what Tahiti may have been 30 years ago, and Tahiti is, pessimistically, what Moorea may become in 15 years time. i. e. Too many people, too much interest in the XPF (local currency, the Pacific Franc) and too many cars. But at the moment prices in Moorea are reasonable (not cheap, we hasten to add, just not ridiculous), the (one) circular road is fairly clear, the people are relaxed and friendly (though mostly French speaking), facilities are comfortable (but mosquitoes are hungry) and a massive range of quality marine activities in a huge turquoise lagoon.

Moorea tourists play with stingrays, Polynesia, South Pacific

Fondling or being fondled by stingrays is one of Moorea’s more unusual experiences.

There are two ways to swim with rays in Moorea – in a crowd off a boat or during lunch on an island. The rays will climb all over a swimmer to get at a piece of fish, which is slightly unnerving as their mouths are underneath. Would you let a stingray near your nipples?

Meeting a dolphion in Moorea, South Pacific

A rather more tranquil experience, getting to know the local dolphins (in captivity, albeit a spacious home).

Activities

Moorea’s white sand beaches are generally narrow and spotted with coral droppings so they are a little uncomfortable to walk on and coral lumps and outcrops can make them tricky to swim from, but the water is clear, warm, azure and coral fish are abundant.

Marine activities include the usual snorkelling, kayaking, diving, parasailing, windsurfing of course, but also kite surfing, swimming with sharks, lunching with sting rays and high quality dolphin encounters in one of the five star hotels.

 Swimming with Stingrays, Moorea, Polynesia, Pacific

Swimming with stingrays during a lunch break. And no, they don’t sting in this context, but they are intimidating. They’re perfectly beastly in fact.

Outside the reef the extravagant few can scuba dive, possibly snorkel with spinner dolphins or see pilot whales all year round and go humpback whale watching July-October. Courageous and skilled nutters with boat support can also surf the big waves over the outer ring reef.

Land activities are limited, with bicycling on the island’s flat ring road (60kms/36mls in length) probably the best way to get some exercise (rental bikes are available) or a couple of steep roads up to prime viewpoints at Belvedere, below Mount Rotui, from where Cook’s bay and Opunohu Bay can be clearly seen. Small scooters are for hire at considerable cost.

 Hiking Moorea, Polynesia, Pacific

Hiking in Moorea is tranquil, interesting and spectacular though frequently along roadsides.

Moorea has some ancient sights, forts for example, that are sadly little more than organised piles of stones and have no wow! factor at all.

Accommodation

Inland there are no urban centres and only occasional clusters of shops.
Best accommodation is right on the north shore with the road behind, while the cheaper, backpacker places are often just on the other side of the road.

Moorea Sofitel beach resort, French Polynesia, South Pacific

The upmarket Sofitel beach resort. Photo by Lander.

The best beaches on Moorea, which are bigger and well manicured, belong to the international – need we say, very, very pricey – five star hotels.
Coral inside the big outer reef is not in very good shape, much of it dead, but the fish are kaleidoscopic, and small black tip sharks and amiable stingrays amusing.

Dolphin jumping, Moorea, South Pacific

A dolphin at work in the Beachcomber (Intercontinental) hotel with its lovely but hideously expensive waterfront bungalows.

Moorea backpacker bungalow by the sea, Polynesia, South Pacific

A lovely little beach house on the east coast was our home for Christmas, low cost but no beach, though the water depth is shallow until way out and the facilities comfortable and quiet. The best of these low-rent beach cottages need to be booked well in advance.

Riding a ray, Moorea, Polynesia, Pacific

An excitable swimmer, attacked by an absurdly territorial and aggressive Picasso Triggerfish (absurd considering that they’re only 4 inches (10cms) long) – attempts to escape by hitching a ride on an passing stingray.

Nightlife

As far as evening entertainment goes, apart from the obligatory sunset cocktails the most obvious action is attending a Tahitian feast followed by a traditional and an erotic – if commercialised – dance show, grass skirts, thrusting hips and all. Ah, so that’s what got syphilitic old Gauguin the goat going!

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