If you close your eyes and imagine a South Seas island, what do you see? A jagged peak rising from the depths of the Pacific, covered in lush tropical forest? Soft, sandy beaches warmed by the sun, as the turquoise waters of a tranquil lagoon beckon? Hammocks strung between palm trees, or pretty thatched huts on the water?
The island you're imagining is Moorea - the quintessential South Pacific island.The island of Moorea, surrounded by its sheltering reef and turquoise lagoon
Moorea is frequently a stopping place for sailors, who brave a long Pacific crossing to reach here. But you don't need to spend weeks on a sailboat to find this island paradise - it's just eight hours on a direct flight from LAX.
Moorea, Tahiti and French Polynesia
Moorea is part of French Polynesia, a far flung set of islands in the South Pacific. The 118 islands in French Polynesia are spread over a million square miles in the Pacific Ocean, yet their total land mass is miniscule. It's equivalent to breaking the tiny state of Rhode Island into 100+ pieces, then scattering them over an area bigger than Western Europe.
The most famous island is Tahiti. You've probably heard of Bora Bora too. Both of these and Moorea are part of the 450-mile long chain called the Society Islands.
It always seemed a bit odd to me to have this English name "Society Islands", when everything else in the country has exotic names like Tuamotu, Huahine, and Nuku Hiva. The answer is that this group was named by Captain Cook in the 1700s, supposedly in honor of the Royal Society which was sponsoring his expedition.Thatched bungalows over the water, in the magical lagoon at Moorea
Moorea is one of the "high islands" in French Polynesia, with a jagged volcanic peak (now extinct) that rises steeply from the waters. Around the island is a ring of coral called an atoll. Inside the reef is the calm lagoon, with its aqua-colored shallow water. Outside the reef, the waves break, and it drops off quickly to the deep blue depths of the Pacific Ocean.
There aren't any cities on Moorea, just a number of small towns. Instead of KFC, you'll see actual chickens walking around. Most of the island is rural, with pineapple plantations, fern covered cliffs, and waterfalls. It's a peaceful place, where you just want to relax and savor the natural beauty.One of the tiny motus around Moorea. How about snorkeling and a picnic here?
What to do - Moorea's lagoon and watersports
When you arrive in Moorea, you may not want to do anything beyond lying in the hammock gazing at the water, or spending romantic time with you sweetie. After all, you're on vacation to unwind and relax, and this is one of the most romantic spots you'll find anywhere.Butterflyfish in Moorea
Sooner or later, you'll want to get out and experience more of the island, and that starts with the beaches and water sports. There are plenty of beaches around the island, and the water of the lagoon is crystal clear and calm, protected from the waves by the surrounding reef. Swimming is easy, and snorkeling is fabulous.
The coral reefs all around the island are teeming with colorful tropical reef fish. There are plenty of places where you can easily swim from the beach to a great snorkel spot, and watch the fish to your heart's content. Depending on where you're staying, you can probably do this right from your hotel's beach.
If you want to head out further, you can take a guided snorkeling trip that will lead you to schools of rays, or a boat trip that drops you off on one of the motus (the tiny islets that are part of the atoll reef) for a picnic lunch. Scuba divers can venture into the deeper waters outside the reef, to see sharks or giant manta rays.Take a tour around Moorea for stunning views of the island
What to do - Ashore on Moorea
Take a day to check out the rest of the island, and you won't be disappointed. You can rent a car and do the circle-island road yourself, or you can take a guided 4x4 trip that visits some more rugged areas.Bright, tropical flowers
Either way, you will discover sleepy seaside villages with pastel-colored houses. You'll find lush forests, tumbling waterfalls, and bright tropical flowers like hibiscus and birds of paradise. You can visit a pineapple plantation, or just pick up some of the harvest at a roadside stand.
You can also take a hike along rainforest trails, past lush valleys and up to lofty overlooks. It may be warm and humid for hiking, but this gives you a close-up view of the island that you just don't get from a vehicle.
Exploring more of French Polynesia
It doesn't take weeks to get to Moorea anymore, but still - while you're here, it's fun to explore more of the islands if you have the time.
The island of Tahiti is close enough that you can take a day trip to Tahiti from Moorea. Bora Bora is further away, but you could catch a flight there to spend a couple of nights.
If you're really adventurous, you could venture further afield to the Marquesas (including Paul Gaugin's island, Hiva Oa), or the Tuamotus (with black pearl farms and great scuba diving). Those islands are way off the beaten path, and getting there is an adventure in itself.
Moorea travel tips
- Where it is - Moorea is part of French Polynesia, in the South Pacific. It's about halfway between California and Australia, and as far south of the equator as Hawaii is north.
- Getting there - You fly into Papeete, the largest city on the main island of Tahiti, arriving at Faa'a International Airport (airport code PPT). It's about an 8-hour flight from Los Angeles.
From Tahiti, you can either catch a very short flight to Moorea (it's only 11 miles), or take a ferry. The high-speed ferry takes just 30 minutes. Flying is easier, but the ferry always seems more fun to me.
- Where to stay - There are a moderate number of choices on Moorea, that cover a wide range, from small pensions to high end luxury resorts. If you want the picture perfect over-water bungalows, it's going to cost you, but it's definitely very cool.
If you're hoping to snorkel right off the beach, then check out what different resorts offer for that. Some have great snorkeling right there, others you'll have to swim further or take a boat.
- Weather - Temperatures are perfect all year round, with highs in the mid-80s (F) and lows around 70. Temps are steady through the year, but rain varies, with the rainiest months being Dec to Feb. See Weather averages for Moorea.
- When to go - You'll find the most sunny days if you visit during the driest months of June to October.
- What to bring - You'll want lightweight beach wear for sure. If you're staying at a high end place, bring some nice resort wear, otherwise you can go casual. A few other items:
- A waterproof camera is great to catch some underwater shots.
- Bring plenty of sunscreen, since you'll pay higher prices for less selection if you buy it there.
- If you want to tour the interior of the island (recommended), bring some bug spray.
- If you want to go snorkeling and already have your own equipment, then bring your mask and snorkel. You can rent gear here, but your own will probably be better.
- Bring a flashlight in case you end up walking at night, since the roads can be very dark.
- What else? - French Polynesia is a pricey destination, though Moorea isn't as expensive as Bora Bora. Booking a package deal with airfare and hotels might save you money. Drinks in a bar can add up, so you may want to get a bottle of wine to enjoy as you kick back on the deck of your little thatched bungalow. Did I mention it's romantic? 🙂
Another wonderful sunset