The knock-out island that’s a gateway to Tahiti

Easily reached from the gateway island of Tahiti (10 minutes by plane, 30 by fast-ferry), Moorea is a one-stop wonder that cries out to be explored. When Paul Gauguin first saw its zig-zagging peaks in 1891 he was awed.

‘The mountains stood out in strong black upon the blazing sky,’ the artist noted, ‘all those crests like ancient battlemented castles.’ Add in white sand beaches, a gorgeous turquoise lagoon, fields full of pineapples, dense tropical forests to hike through and a sea where you can spot dolphins and whales, and you might well feel you’ve reached paradise.

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From pineapple farms and jeep safaris to swimming with humpback whales

Covering 51 sq miles and roughly heart-shaped, Moorea is ringed by a tranquil, shore-hugging road that you can drive round in two hours – assuming you don’t get waylaid by the sleepy villages, tempting crȇperies and roadside stalls selling brightly coloured pareu (sarongs) and juicy tropical fruits. Two huge yacht-dotted bays notch the north coast, while the main route into the steeply-sloped interior is through the Opunohu Valley.

Home to mossy green marae (historic sacred sites) with mysterious archery platforms, the road culminates in the Belvédère Lookout from where there are sensational views of the island’s volcanic peaks.

The hot and fertile landscape here is best explored on a half-day 4×4 jeep safari that will also stop at farms cultivating vanilla and pineapples and a fruit juice factory where you can guzzle drinks made from mango, papaya and guava. Inland walks (which are best tackled with a guide) range from a few hours to a full day, with the medium-level Three Coconut Trees Pass and the strenuous climb to the 2,949ft summit of Mt Rotui both popular choices. Horse riding (at Ranch Opunohu Valley) and inland quad bike adventures are also available.

Down at sea level, head to Temae beach and Teavaro beach (between the airport and the ferry terminal) for a dip in the gin-clear water. Boat trips can take you to see spinner dolphins cavorting (year-round) while from August to October there’s the chance to admire and even swim with humpback whales. Choose a vessel that carries a hydrophone so you can hear the males singing, trying to seduce the females in time-honoured fashion.

Hauru Point, in the northwest corner of the island is a top area for kitesurfing and diving – lemon sharks are a star underwater attraction here. This part of Moorea is also where you’ll find good independent restaurants: head to lunch-only Snack Mahana for grilled fish and Le Mayflower for Gallic treats such as magret de canard (seared duck breast) with honey.

If that all sounds too energetic then book a lagoon excursion and spend a lazy day out on the reef sunbathing, snorkelling and enjoying a fish lunch on a deserted motu (islet). Moorea is equally enjoyable for couples and families who just want to tune into the easy-does-it Polynesian lifestyle – which is perfectly summed up by sinking a chilled Hinano beer under a mango tree as the stars come out to the sound of a distant ukulele.

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