MOOREA FRENCH POLYNESIA
AFTER SUFFERING FROM BURN OUT, I LEFT CORPORATE HEALTH CARE, STEPPED ONTO A ONE-WAY FLIGHT TO TAHITI, & NEVER LOOKED BACK.
During my first year of solo travel, I lived in Polynesia (mainly Moorea) for six months. Since then, I return each year to explore more islands and swim with the Humpback Whales.
If you prefer to explore new places on your own, getting 90% of your recommendations from locals then, my friend this post is for you.
A lot of the islands in Polynesia have nicknames, Moorea is commonly referred to as The Sister Island to Tahiti (The Queen of the South Pacific), but it happens to have another nickname I find more accurate, The Magical Island.
Moorea is special in many ways, even its shape is a heart. Despite the high levels of tourism, Tahitians strive to keep their island home: home. Each generation passes down the deep-rooted respect for momma earth.
Life is simple, full of big smiles, music, food, and deep belly laughs.
French Polynesia is a once in a lifetime, bucket-list, dream destination.
Famous for its stunning beaches, overwater bungalows, soul filling culture, the best poisson cru (Polynesian Ceviche) in the world, incredible turquoise lagoons, volcanic views, and the origination of the word tattoo.
Just as the Atlantic Ocean has the 'Bermuda Triangle' the Pacific Ocean has The Polynesian Triangle, from New Zealand, to Hawaii, to Easter Island Polynesia makes up more than two million sq miles in total encompassing 118 islands and atolls.
MUST SEE AND DO
From the mountain tops to the sea nature provides paradise. Hike in the mountains. Swim with sharks and rays. Explore the island by ATV or jet ski. Turn adventure mode on with kite surfing, scuba, or free diving, or rest and relax on the white sand beaches.
Tahitian Dance Show at the Manava Hotel.
Make a reservation for dinner and stay for the show. Every Wednesday and Saturday at 7 pm.
Afareaitu Waterfall is a easy hike to reach, about 30 - 45 minutes. Powerful after good rain.
Shark and Ray Spot is one of the top places to see. Park across from Les Tipaniers Hotel and walk to the left of the entrance down the path to the ocean. There are boats or kayaks available to rent. It is possible to swim out on your own. Be aware of boat traffic. A floatation device is highly recommended.
Belvedere is reachable by car or you can hike up if you wish. It is a stunning view of both bays. Most, if not all island tours will include this spot.
Best Beaches (La plage)
Tema’e Beach — Hottest beach so, make sure to find a good shade tree. Excellent lagoon to snorkel, paddle board, or just relax. Good chance to see stingrays cruising around.
Ta’ahiamanu Beach — Surrounded by palms creating a good amount of shade, this is my favorite beach to just relax, watch the sailboats, and read a book. Sometimes there is a taco food truck across the street!!
Hauru Beach — Snorkel with turtles. Go into the water and swim to the right all the way to the dock. This area is known for turtles.
Sunset Beach — This beach lives up to its name with spectacular views of the sunset.
Carameline – Favorite breakfast or light lunch spot. Best coffee.
Fare Maheata - Drinks are incredible and made with homemade liquors. Family owned and they grow their own vegetables and herbs. Meals are always fresh and delicious!
MOZ Pizza - Big pizzas with a lot of options and good cheese!
Sea You Soon – Good food with a respectable number of options, especially love the vegetable pizza!
Allo Pizza – Pizza made in a wood burning oven.
Casa Vincenzo – Everything Italian.
Golden Lake – Best Chinese.
Vegan / vegetarians: Fruit + veg are higher in cost like most, if not all islands in the world. It is common to see $8 eggplants and pay $9 for three small Roma tomatoes. Buy fresh from the local stands on the side of the road.
As crazy as this may sound, if your time is limited you may want to dine out for just about every meal. Seeing all the best spots and taking part in all the experiences is better than cooking in the kitchen. Time is precious.
French Polynesia has some of the world's best fish. Look for poisson cru on the menu.
If you are like me and happen to love French fries or potatoes in any form, look for Uru (breadfruit) on the menu, and order two! This magical fruit tastes like potatoes and grows naturally on the island. Funny enough, it is in the same family as Jackfruit, so they look similar, however, quite the different taste.
If you are looking to stay in the famous over the water bungalows be prepared to pay into the thousands per night.
If your trip is a multi-island adventure, my advice is to go full adventure on Mo'orea. Stay in an Airbnb, a local hotel, or the only hostel run by my friend, Tahnee. Then when you get to Bora Bora go full luxury and relax.
Airbnb is the most affordable option. If, you're new to Airbnb, sign up here and save $40 on your first stay!
As you go around the island you will see stands on the side of the road that sell fruit, vegetables, flower crowns, and necklaces. The BEST one I know of is seaside, between the ferry and Champion grocery store.
Make the flowers last longer by storing them overnight in a shallow dish of water in the refrigerator.
Another option, is to place a single flower behind one of your ears. Behind your right ear if you are available and behind your left ear if you are taken.
French Polynesia is one of the few places in the world where you are able to swim with whales. Being in a boat or watching these gentle giants from shore is an experience in itself, but being in the water and making eye contact is pure magic.
What brings the whales to French Polynesia? The short answer is protection. Each year these whales migrate from Antarctica to Polynesia, arriving as early as June. The majority of Moorea is surrounded by a reef system that creates lagoons. These beautiful turquoise lagoons are not only stunning to look at, but they provide a safe haven with deep waters for moms to give birth and reproduce away from predators.
When to go
July - October. September is known to be a fantastic time to observe the newborns with mom. The first two weeks of October are also particularly exceptional. The babies range from 4-8 weeks old, curious, playful, and showing off their bellies.
Oftentimes, the male whales, commonly referred to as escorts or minders, swim deep out of sight. They sing powerful songs that travel up to 10,000 miles underwater. A strong vibration in your body will tell you when they are close. The male whales have one job and that is to ensure the females arrive safely in Polynesia. If the male does a good job, it is likely he will be able to mate with the female he successfully escorted from Antarctica.
What to expect
Unforgettable moments. Most tours are about four hours and they start at the famous shark and ray spot. It is the perfect opportunity to make sure your mask, snorkel, and fins are a good fit and to snap a few test shots with a camera. Some companies have underwater photographers available for hire.
From there, the guide will explain what to look out for, how to behave in the water, the laws set by the Polynesian government, and of course, their code of conduct to ensure safety to all.
Tahitians have a great deal of respect for wildlife so when a whale is located, both the captain and guide will assess the whale’s behavior, conditions of the water, weather, and take into consideration how many other boats are in the area.
If it is safe for both the whales and humans, instructions on how to enter the water quietly and slowly will be explained. Note, boats cannot operate within 100m of the whales so, expect to swim with your fins underwater for a couple minutes. Once the guide signals to stop swimming, float calmly, and wait for the whales to come close. Do not swim at the whales or dive down to them.
What to bring
Mask, Snorkel, Fins: If you do not have your own, there will be options available on the boat. Highly recommend to bring your own gear that way you can snorkel anytime you want all around the island.
Wetsuit: If you get cold easily you may want to bring a shortie or a rash guard. The water is always around 80F 28C warm enough for only a swimsuit.
Extras: Towel, water, reef safe sunscreen, and an underwater camera. Visibility is usually good, highly recommend bringing a waterproof camera, a GoPro, or even a waterproof case for your cell phone.
Belvedere, Three Coco Tiers, and Magic Mountain are easy hikes and marked well for tourists to find. For any hike, highly recommend an early start, feet on soil at or before 7 am.
Mou'a Puta is the ultimate hike. Maybe you have heard about the pierced mountain, as there is a hole in the mountain. **Unless you are an advanced hiker, a guide should be seriously considered. Never attempt this hike within days of rain, the end of the hike is extremely steep with only ropes to assist you to the summit.
Many other hiking trails around the island are not marked as they are on private land. If you happen to see a potential trail, just ask a local for permission to hike.
Afareaitu waterfall is about a 30 minute walk to reach – you can find the location saved on my Google Map of Moorea.