For Part One of this series, check HERE.
For Part Two of this series, check HERE
For once, we didn't need to return to Tahiti to get to Moorea. There was a direct flight from Huahine to Moorea. The trip took less than half an hour.
Moorea, the sister island to Tahiti, is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in French Polynesia, after Tahiti. It's pronounced MOE-oh-ray-ah. Occupying an area of about 50 square miles, Moorea is located roughly 10 nautical miles west of Tahiti and you can see each island from the other easily. Many Tahitians have holiday homes on Moorea and hop over in their boats or take the 30-minute ferry. It's home to about 16,000 people. Surrounded by a well developed coral reef and lagoon system, Moorea is a 1.2 million year old volcanic island with freshwater streams that flow year-round.
From above, the shape of the island vaguely resembles a heart, with its two nearly symmetrical bays opening to the north side of the island: Cook's (or Paopao) Bay and Opunohu Bay. Moorea has no urban center, but rather the island is home to a series of small villages, such as Paopao and Haapiti, that line its shores. It's easy to visit them during a circle-island tour, which we did on our own. More about that later.
Compared to the other islands we visited, we found Moorea touristy and crowded. And here, we had our first run-in with cruise ships. The only other island where cruise ships were an annoyance was Bora Bora.
We found the hotel situation here appalling. Remember, it's been several years since we visited so I can only speak about conditions as we found them then. We stayed at the Sheraton, now a Hilton, and if the recent photos on their site of the inside of the bungalows are indicative of the improvements since we left, kudos to them. When we were there, the Sheraton/Hilton was the best choice; some friends from Huahine called us when they arrived on Moorea, were unhappy with their hotel and transferred to ours. I don't know if they considered it an improvement or not.
(To be fair, if you're interested in the hotel as it now is, you might like to check Here. There is a lovely virtual tour if you click on "take a tour of our hotel" and choose virtual tour. I can't speak to the service and food however.)
And we did love our over-water bungalow.
Messy, aren't we? :) It wasn't glamorous (they appear to be very much improved now) but it was comfortable and we did have an underwater viewing panel in the floor. The nicest thing about our room was the location.
You can see waves in the distance in the photo...that's the outer reef. It was shallow right out to the edge of the reef. Which made for divine snorkeling. The bungalows, however, did not afford the privacy we found on Huahine. There was a cute bar on the dock, which was fun in the evenings.
So what was our objection? The food and service. One can only hope Hilton has improved the situation. We ate breakfast there each morning, a buffet, thank heaven, which is difficult to screw up too badly!
And lunch outside around the pool (which was a nightmare I hope never to repeat). This photo looks so calm. It wasn't. It was a madhouse, the food took forever and was terrible when it came.
We ate dinner our first night at the hotel; it took over 2 hours before the meal was put in front of us and it was barely edible. We never ate there again.
The problem was, we went to 3 other restaurants and were disappointed with two of them. There was one small advantage though: we were able to get free transportation, courtesy of the restaurant, something quite common here. Rather a lengthy procedure though as everyone was coming and going at different times and from different locations.
I remember one restaurant had some entertainment: an American couple with a guitar singing 70's songs. We couldn't believe it. All the way to French Polynesia to hear American 70's music! The other restaurant was some sort of mixture of cuisines. I don't think they knew what they wanted to be and they failed at everything. We didn't even write down the name of either restaurant, knowing full well we would never suggest anyone go there. But both were recommended by all the respected travel guides. The list of fine restaurants was pretty skimpy when we were there. Doubtless dining on Moorea has improved. One hopes.
However, there was one place we went that was great fun. It was called La Bateau Restaurant, located at Linareva near Haapiti. We had read about it in a tour book. It was on the other side of the island so we had to take a cab and pay for it to wait for us. It was a houseboat. Because it was a real boat, in the water, it gently swayed during our meal. The decor was a hoot. A lot of wood and a multitude of Tahitian decorations. The menu was on a large chalkboard and the food quite good. The evening was a lot of fun; I wish my photos were better. And finally, a poor photo of me on the right....rather blurry too. That's my daughter on the left.
One rather interesting fact: the Polynesian islands don't have a lot of natural wildlife, aside from birds and of course, marine creatures. Why? The answer lies within the origins of the islands themselves. Volcanic in nature, these islands literally sprang up in the middle of nowhere, far from any surrounding land masses. The only mammals on the islands today are those that were brought over by the human navigators who populated these islands.
With its eight mountain ridges, Moorea also boasts some of the most stunning panoramas in the South Pacific. Mount Mouaputa: elevation 2723 ft; Mount Rotui: elevation 2949 ft; Mount Tohiea 3960 ft.: Mount Mouaroa (also called Bali Hai) 2,887 feet.
In the photo above is a view taken from Cook's Bay with Mount Mouaputa (left), Mount Mouaroa, aka Mt Bali Hai (center), Mount Rotui (right).
One day we decided to rent a car because Moorea is an easy island to explore that way. The one coastal road is just 37 mi long and the best part of a day is needed to travel the road and stop off at the villages, bays, little churches, and cafés along the way and to travel into the interior to the Belvedere lookout and the marae (ancient temples).
We stopped to snorkel at a public beach. You won't find too many tracks of endless white sands on Moorea; the top resorts have man-made beaches. There are actually only 2 recognized public beaches on Moorea: one is Temae and the other Faimano beach. This photo is Temae beach.
On our tour, we saw several lovely old churches. Our favorite was the first catholic Church on the island, located near Haapiti. It faces the ocean with Mont Rotui behind it.
We stopped and had lunch at a very funky and ramshackle restaurant on the beach. We had read about it someplace. The owner was a piece of work. The food was excellent, but even if it wasn't the owner made the trip worth while. Unfortunately, neither of us can remember the name! We aren't much help, are we?
(I'm in all three photos here.)
Then we drove to Belvedere point. It is the island's highest point accessible by car. From the summit (720 feet ) there are commanding views of Opunohu and Cook's bays, Mt. Rotui, surrounding peaks, and the valleys below. On the way we saw pineapple plantations and ancient marae.
Tracy tells me the diving was wonderful, but so far, it's been a pleasure at every island. The snorkeling was actually as good as the diving on this island.
I must confess Moorea was not a favorite with either of us. There was no Polynesian charm and way too many people. We'd skip this one another time. Although there certainly was more to do if you're a tourist.
Next stop? Bora Bora.