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Moorea, French Polynesia

Moorea is an island in the Society Islands archipelago, only a few kilometers off the northwest coast of Tahiti.

Regions:

  • Cooks Bay
  • Opunohu Bay

Cities

Moorea doesn't really have any "cities" although there are several towns and villages. When entering a village you will see an official road sign stating the name of the village you are entering. When exiting the village, you will see the same sign with the village name, but the village name will have an "X" over it.

If you are visiting French Polynesia on a budget, Moorea is the place to be. Moorea is like Tahiti but cheaper and less touristy. It's mostly rural and farming is big. There are chickens everywhere; the roosters crowing at 6 AM can get old after a few days.
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Moorea, French Polynesia

Destination:

Moorea is an island in the Society Islands archipelago, only a few kilometers off the northwest coast of Tahiti.

Regions:

  • Cooks Bay
  • Opunohu Bay

Cities

Moorea doesn't really have any "cities" although there are several towns and villages. When entering a village you will see an official road sign stating the name of the village you are entering. When exiting the village, you will see the same sign with the village name, but the village name will have an "X" over it.

If you are visiting French Polynesia on a budget, Moorea is the place to be. Moorea is like Tahiti but cheaper and less touristy. It's mostly rural and farming is big. There are chickens everywhere; the roosters crowing at 6 AM can get old after a few days.

Mosquitoes can be a problem away from the coast, so bear that in mind when selecting a place to stay.

There are only a few banks on Moorea, and they are in the more populated villages. All banks are closed on Sundays. You can make currency exchanges at the major hotels but at a lower rate. Plan accordingly.

Geography

The island was formed as a volcano 1.5 to 2.5 million years ago, the result of a geologic hotspot in the mantle under the oceanic plate that formed the whole of the Society Archipelago. It is theorized that the current bays were formerly river basins that filled during the Holocene searise.

Mo'orea is about 10 miles in width from the west to the east. There are two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore. The one to the west is called 'Ōpūnohu Bay which isn't very populated but many travelers have come into the bay. The main surrounding communes of the bay are Piha'ena in the east and Papetō'ai to the west. The one to the east is Cook's Bay, also called Pao Pao Bay since the largest commune of Mo'orea is at the bottom of the bay. The other communes are Piha'ena to the west and busy Maharepa to the east. The highest point is Mount Tohi'e'a, near the center of Mo'orea. It dominates the vista from the two bays and can be seen from Tahiti. There are also hiking trails in the mountains. The Vai'are Bay is another small inlet, smaller than the two main bays, on the east shore. This bay has been settled a lot and has a lot of business. The main village is located just south of the bay.

Tourism

Because of its stunning scenery and accessibility to Pape'ete, Mo'orea is visited by many western tourists who travel to French Polynesia. Especially popular as a honeymoon destination, Mo'orea can often be seen in advertisements in American wedding magazines. Arthur Frommer declared in Frommer's travel guide that he considered it the most beautiful island in the world.

History

Like many of the other islands, Mo'orea was first settled by Polynesians from the islands west of Mo'orea. They arrived on canoes coming down from South Asia looking for islands to settle. It is estimated that they arrived on Mo'orea roughly 1000 years ago. There are some ancient landmarks on Mo'orea known as marae, which consists of ancient stone rocks shaped like pyramids. On the rocks are carvings that tell when sacrifices occasionally took place. The oldest marae is the 'Āfareaitu Marae, located in the island's main village. It was made by the early Polynesians in the year 900.

The first European that recorded its sight was Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606. The first settlers who were Europeans arrived during the 18th century. The first European to arrive on the island were Englishman Samuel Wallis and James Cook. Captain James Cook first settled on Tahiti and then he took his ship with Samuel Wallis and went onward to Mo'orea. He first landed in 'Ōpūnohu Bay, Cook's Bay was later named in his honor. Spanish sailor Domingo de Bonechea visited it in 1774 and named it Santo Domingo.

The island was among those visited by the United States Exploring Expedition on its tour of the South Pacific in 1839.

Charles Darwin found inspiration for his theory regarding the formation of coral atolls when looking down upon Mo'orea while standing on a peak on Tahiti. He described it as a "picture in a frame", referring to the barrier reef encircling the island.

Don the Beachcomber lived here briefly in the 1920s until his houseboat was destroyed by tropical cyclones.

On October 7, 1967, construction was completed on the Mo'orea Airport, which opened the following month.

Research facilities

The University of California, Berkeley maintains the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on the west coast of Cook's Bay. The Gump station is also home to the Mo'orea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research Site (MCR LTER). The project, funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), is a partnership between the University of California Santa Barbara and California State University, Northridge that includes additional researchers from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and the University of Hawaiʻi. The Mo'orea Coral Reef LTER is part of the National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. The LTER Program was established by the NSF in 1980 to support research on long-term ecological phenomena. The Mo'orea Coral Reef LTER became the 26th site in the LTER network in September 2004.

The French EPHE (École pratique des hautes études) and now the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) maintain a research station at the end of 'Ōpūnohu Bay since about 1970. This Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l'Environnement (Centre for island research and environment observatory) or CRIOBE is a research site for several international projects, including the monitoring of coral reefs throughout French Polynesia as well as the monitoring of the fish population on the Tīahurā transect of Mo'orea's reef for over 30 years.


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Moorea, French Polynesia: Port Information


Cruise ships anchor offshore, and passengers are transported ashore by tender boats.

Get around Moorea, French Polynesia


As the island is administratively a part of France, the roads are surprisingly good. The main roads are all paved and quite wide. You can rent a moped for a day and drive it around the island in a few hours without fear of death. If you don't know how to ride one, take it slow or you will get hurt. Getting around by rental car or taxi is expensive, minibuses ("Le Trucks") are cheaper. There is also a shuttle bus service to and from the ferry terminal that goes around the whole island periodically. Hitching works with the usual caveats and risks.

What to see in Moorea, French Polynesia


  • Belvedere Lookout. You can see sacred Mt. Rotui, Cook's Bay, and Opunohu Bay. There's also the ruins of an ancient temple located along the road to Belvedere Lookup. 
  • Waterfalls. There are several scattered around the island. None are very big. All require some hiking. Some you are supposed to pay a few dollars to see although there may or may not be anybody around to accept payment. 
  • Jus De Fruits De Moorea. The pineapple juice factory and distillery. Free tours of the factory floor have been discontinued, but the gift shop remains open along with the free sample of various liqueurs.

What to do in Moorea, French Polynesia


  • Snorkeling. You can rent or buy snorkeling stuff but do yourself a favor and bring your own. Just about anywhere in the lagoon is pretty decent. The channel between Motu Fareone and Motu Tiahura off the northwest point is particularly nice. You can swim out to it from the beach but it's a long swim and there are strong currents in this area. Otherwise, hire a boat. A good tour to take is Hiro's tour out of Club Bali. It is a reasonable price and you get to do a feeding with sharks, stingrays and also a picnic on a motu. 
  • Surfing. Reef breaks mostly, not a good place for beginners. 
  • Diving. 
  • Hiking. There is a pretty extensive trail network on Moorea. Bring bug spray and lots of water because it's hot and humid and buggy. It also tends to be muddy. 
  • 4x4 off-road tour. These are guided tours of Moorea's amazing interior. Trips will vary based on the tour company you choose. Most trips are about 4-hours in length and will travel to four distinct locations. Some of the locations visited are listed in the previous section. This is an easy method for visiting multiple locations in a short period of time.
  • Horseback riding. This is a great way to see the beautiful interior of the island. Your guide will pick fresh fruits from trees and pineapples from the ground for you to eat when you reach the high lookout point. Wear jeans and good shoes. 
  • Tiki Village. Instead of paying for your hotel's Tahitian buffet and show, spend the money and go to the Tiki Village for a much better dinner and show. You will be shown around a replica of a traditional Tahitian village, educated about the local Polynesians' way of life, served a buffet dinner, white and red wine included, then entertained by a talented 60-person troop of dancers, singers, and musicians. Transportation and tickets arranged by your hotel activities desk. 
  • Moorea Store (Shopping), B.P. I380/98729 Papetoai/Moorea. The Moorea Store offers many things from souvenirs to lotions to Black Pearls. Xavier and his Partner own the store and are very friendly and helpful. Xavier had the best prices for black pearls than anywhere we visited in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. He was very grateful for our business and gave us many items as gifts, even a beautiful black pearl to be made as a ring. This store is located across the road and to the right of the Intercontinental Resort and Spa.

What to eat and drink in Moorea, French Polynesia


Eat

  • The humid climate can cause a decrease in appetite. Thus locals tend to have many small meals or snacks through out the day.
  • Poisson cru is the way to go. Food trucks (roulottes) are also present though not like in Papeete.
  • Dairy products - Milk is not pasteurized and thus cheeses and yogurts are more flavorful.
  • Across the road from the ferry station is a pizza place well worth a visit. It's run by a French couple that speaks no English, but the menu has English explanations and the ham and pineapple are highly recommended.
  • There are also great pizza places just up the road from Club Bali and the Moorea Pearl Resort. Both are reasonably priced and you will get your money's worth.
  • Baguette. The local bread. Make a sandwich with meat, cheese, etc.. Nothing fancy. Very portable. Along with a beer, this makes for good eats on the beach. 

Drink

Every hotel has a bar and there are lots of little bars and restaurants around. But drinking in bars in French Polynesia is damn expensive. Your best bet is to buy some Hinano bombers at the store and drink on the beach.

You will be charged an additional 60XPF deposit fee when purchasing Hinano bottles larger than 12oz. You can redeem your deposit at any location that sells Hinano. The larger bottles are sent back to the Hinano brewery for reuse/refill.

Tabu is another local beer, only available in 12oz bottles and slightly more expensive compared to a 12oz bottle of Hinano. Tabu is better tempered to the Tahitian heat. Unlike Hinano, Tabu is very drinkable at all temperatures: cold, slightly chilled, or room temperature.

 

Shopping in Moorea, French Polynesia


Buy local souvenirs and jewelry. 

Safety in Moorea, French Polynesia


Moorea has almost no violent crime. Petty theft can be an issue.

Perhaps due to its lack of reliable public transportation and its outrageously expensive taxi fares, Moorea has a serious drunk-driving problem (with both tourists and locals equally guilty). Take particular care when walking or cycling the island's only paved road after dark; it gets pitch-black and can be quite dangerous away from the main villages (where you'll also be more tempted to walk or cycle in the middle of the road due to the amount of broken glass on the shoulders).

Language spoken in Moorea, French Polynesia


Everybody speaks Tahitian and French. Anybody working in tourist services will speak enough English to get by, although it's not well spoken by the general public.

LOCAL TIME

12:51 am
August 17, 2019
Pacific/Tahiti

CURRENT WEATHER

22.87 °C / 73.166 °F
scattered clouds
Sat

25.73 °C/78 °F
light rain
Sun

25.98 °C/79 °F
light rain
Mon

26.05 °C/79 °F
light rain
Tue

26.53 °C/80 °F
moderate rain

LOCAL CURRENCY

XPF

1 USD = 0 XPF
1 EUR = 0 XPF
1 GBP = 0 XPF
1 AUD = 0 XPF
1 CAD = 0 XPF

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