Merely 12 miles from Tahiti, across the aptly named Sea of the Moon, a dreamy Moorea vacation awaits you. Only a few minutes travel by plane, or thirty minutes by high-speed catamaran, Moorea soars magically out of the ocean in a spectacular explosion of green velvet cliffs and plummeting waterfalls.
“Nothing on Tahiti is so majestic as what it faces across the bay”. So wrote author James Michener in Return to Paradise when describing Moorea. The island is only about one-third the size of Tahiti and is ringed by a 37-mile coastal road, allowing easy access around the island. Volcanic eruptions, millions of years ago reduced Moorea’s lofty peaks to jagged outcroppings that give the island its distinctive geographic profile. Mt. Mouaroa, the “shark’s tooth” is Moorea’s most famous peak, and is emblazoned on the 100 Pacific Franc note.
There is no central town on Moorea, so everything tracks from the airport at Temae, located in the northwest part of the island. To the west lies Maharepa, the island’s commercial center. The fine stretch of beach just before town was the site of the island’s first tourism development - the Bali Hai Hotel, founded in 1961 by a group of California ex-pats. Today, the Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa occupies the former hotel site.
The relatively new Moorea Green Pearl Golf Club is located near Temae. Jack Nicklaus designed the course, which is French Polynesia‘s second 18-hole course, joining the Olivier Bréaud International Golf Course on Tahiti. The 6,600 yard, par 70 course has a tunnel under the road which allows access from the mountain to the lagoon side of the resort.
Your Moorea vacation will not be complete without a visit to the Cook’s Bay with its’ black pearl shops, restaurants and hotels. At the apex of the bay is the town of Paopao, one of the largest on Moorea. For a delightful meal in a scenic setting try the Restaurant Honu Iti. On the bay’s northwest coast is the road to the Moorea Fruit Juice Factory and Distillery. It’s worth a stop to sample the famous Rotui Juices and the ‘Tahiti Drink’ fruit liquors. Moorea is considered by many as home to the sweetest pineapples on earth.
Situated on the short drive to Opunohu Bay, is the Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa. In contrast to Cook’s Bay, Opunohu is virtually devoid of commercial development. Nearby lies an area known as Robinson’s Cove, an oft-photographed yacht anchorage. Just beyond the bridge lies the turn-off for the road up through Opunohu Valley to the scenic Belvedere Lookout, one of the most visually stunning views in the world.
The town of Papetoai, on the northwest coast of Moorea, is a climatically drier area. Known as the “hotel district” resorts including the Intercontinental Moorea Resort & Spa, Moorea Beachcomber Parkroyal, Hotel Les Tipaniers and Hotel Hibiscus are located here. Those who stop by the InterContinental Resort can visit the Moorea Dolphin Center and can swim side by side with dolphins. For an educational excursion, expert guides lead dolphin-watching boat tours into the ocean to observe the dolphins in their native habitat.
The Tiki Theatre Village is another must-see during your Moorea vacation, offering a recreation of Tahitian life as it was in pre-European days. In fares (houses), visitors can see demonstrations of traditional tattooing, tapa cloth making and painting, carving, weaving, cooking, instrument making, costuming and the art of growing black pearls.
The town of Haapiti is worth a stop to photograph an alternate view of Mt. Mouaroa (the Shark’s Tooth). Tahiti comes into view after rounding the southernmost point of the island, and nearby Vaiare Bay is the landing spot for most of the inter-island ferries from Tahiti. Continuing in a loop around the island, the Sofitel Ia Ora Resort is just south of the airport. From there, the road detours inland towards the Toatea Overlook, which provides a grand view across the Sea of the Moon and Tahiti.