Moorea Travel Guide

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Panoramic From the Sofitel Resort

Panoramic From the Sofitel Resort

Fabian Soldano

Overview

Moorea, along with Bora Bora , is considered one of the most beautiful areas in the South Pacific (and by extension, the world). It is a laid-back island with white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, and green mountains jutting into the sky.

One can drive around the island in under 2 hours, making most areas easily accessible by car or scooter, a better deal in ultra-expensive French Polynesia . Scooters run about 5500 cfp per day, cheaper for multi-day rentals. Cars are 8500 cfp and up. Most people arrive by ferry in Vaiare,on the east side of Moorea. Ferry is the best way to access the island as it is only a 45-minute ride from Pape'ete and cheaper than flying (about $8 US), with the additional bonus of some beautiful views of both Tahiti and Moorea.


Accomodations

The Sofitel Ia Ora is 2 miles from the ferry, and there is a bus which runs from the ferry around the island for 300 cfp; a taxi will cost three times that for the short ride. The Sofitel also has the best beach on the island, and as with all beaches here, is open to the public.

There are very few places to eat near the hotel though, so a car or scooter is helpful to have for those looking to spend less and eat better. The Sofitel is a great place to stay, but food is not their strength. (As of early 2006 the Sofitel Ia Ora is under renovation, should re open mid 2006).

There are 3, soon 4 luxury resorts on the island: the Sheraton (www.sheratonmoorea.com), the Intercontinental (http://moorea.intercontinental.com/), the Pearl (http://www.pearlresorts.com/moorea/main.asp), and soon the Sofitel (http://www.accorhotels.com/accorhotels/fichehotel/gb/sof/resort/0566/fiche_hotel.shtml). All offer overwater bungalow accommodations as well as (cheaper) garden bungalows. However, these are cheaper to be booked in packages from outside Moorea, and rooms are listed starting at US$350 or $400. All luxury hotels have good bars, but the Sheraton is the only one offering happy hour, and the drinks are quite expensive (a cocktail goes for about 1300 XPF). The second tier of hotels on Moorea is quite less expensive: Club Bali Hai (http://www.clubbalihai.com/) and Hotel Kaveka (http://www.hotelkaveka.com) offer 3-stars like accommodation with beach access and a lot of amenities without the luxurious edge of the typical Tahitian resort- their rooms are anywhere between 12000 and 20000 XPF per night, depending on season and room type. Cheaper accommodations are offered at several pensions on the island: for example, Pension Motu Iti (www.pensionmotuiti.com) offers both individual bungalows and a dormitory style room with 20 beds. In addition, travelers can save money by staying at one of the two campgrounds, both on the west side of the island.


Dining

Pretty much all upscale restaurants will pick you up for dinner. Some of the best restaurants in Moorea are Restaurant Honu Iti in Pao Pao (excellent French cuisine) and the Mayflower, by the now closed Club Med. Meals in the luxury resorts are usually expensive and not memorable, so you’re better off to get out and spend just as much, but eat fabulous Tahitian or French fares! Buying basic groceries will save you money, but be prepared to spend there as well. Cereal alone will run you $6-7 US per box, however a large baguette is about 19XPF (about $0.20). The fish markets on the island offer super-fresh fish (if you shop in the morning) and extremely cheap cuts of tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish, etc.

Cheaper meals on the island include several pizza parlors and a rotisserie chicken stand. The pizza place across from the ferry is pretty standard, better is Chez Luciano on the Western side of the island. Pizzas start at about 1000 cfp. "Allo Pizza" is another very popular pizza place with thin crust pizza and a wide selection. You will find rotisserie chicken trucks parked on the side of the road, make sure you try this delicious and cheap meal! As far as cheap meals are concerned, do not forget to stop for breakfast or lunch at Snack Rotui, at the bottom of Cook's Bay in Pao Pao. This small snack shop is very popular among locals, who will stop and get a tune baguette, or a cheeseburger one, or a chow mein one, at all times. The baguette are very cheap (200 XPF), and incredibly good. Also, the wide selection of Chinese food is excellent, and the quick turnaround of any of their display items guarantees freshness. also, try their chocolate beignet with their coffee, a real treat. You will find some of the best poisson cru on the island at L'Ananas Bleu, the day restaurant at Club Bali-Hai, along with good but pricey (around 1000 XPF) burgers. Open only for breakfast and lunch, this restaurant is hosted in a typical polynesian hut, with several tables outside and a beutiful view on Cook's Bay. If you feel like you're missing out on Polynesian food, the grocery store in Pao Pao (the small one with blue curtain outside, on the hill's side at the bottom of Cook's Bay) offers traditional Tahitian carry-out platters on Sunday morning. However, you need to be there by 6am, as by 7am all the platters are gone. Try the poisson cru, the poulet fafa, and their bread and pastries. 



Beaches

If you are not staying in one of the hotels offering beach access, there are two beautiful public beaches in Moorea offering great snorkeling and pristine views. One is located on the north side of the island, west of the Sheraton between Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay.  It is easily located as a sailing school is based at that beach, so there will be numerous small sailboats visible from the road. 

The other, somewhat more stunning and by far larger, is on the east side of the island just south of the airport. You access this beach at a slight split in the road between the airport and the ferry dock, and drive on an unpaved road for about 2 km. The beach is pristine, with gorgeous view of Tahiti , and with a sandy bottom ideal for children. In order to snorkel at this beach you need to swim out a little, as the coral heads are adjacent to the reef break. 

Additional (and better) snorkeling can be found by walking north (to the left as you face the water) for about 1/4 mile, as the reef comes closer to shore.  Be wary of this area, however.  Due to the shallowness of this reef, if incoming waves are large, the current can be very strong.  This snorkel should only be attempted by experienced snorkelers who are adept at navigating shallow coral reefs.  Many Diadema are also present in this area, adding another level of caution.  However, if the current is not too strong, this is a beautiful snorkel, one that can easily take an hour or more depending on how much you wish to view.  Thankfully, the current runs back toward the main beach, which makes it ideal for drift snorkeling.  Fins are a must, and gloves and/or rash guards/diveskins will make coral scratches less likely.

Other hidden beaches can be found all over the island - it simply takes an eye to spot the sometimes not very clear roads that lead down to them.  Snorkeling along the west side of the island tends to be slightly less rewarding, as the reef breaks are further out, but these areas can provide a relaxing swim.

As always, be careful of currents.  Due to the nature of the reef breaks and channels, currents can be very strong, quietly sweeping unsuspecting swimmers towards the channels, where the water rushes out back to sea.


Diving

Do not pass the chance to dive in Moorea: the reef is terrific, with beautiful corals and an incredible amount of fish, and the lemon sharks are quite an attraction- and a favorite among divers. Even on an entry level dive you’ll be able to see clown fishes in their anemone, reef sharks, and a multitude of brightly colored tropical reef fishes. Top Dive Moorea has excellent equipment, well-trained dive masters, and a nice boat. Other dive shops are available in Moorea as well.  Perhaps the best dive location is the area known as the Rose Garden, just outside of the entrance to Opunohu Bay.  The actual Rose Garden is approximately 85ft in depth, making this dive trickier for new divers, but the accompanying spur-and-groove formations at about 30-40ft are also beautiful.



Other Sights

The Bellevedere lookout is one of the most stunning views from the island.  Situated several hundred feed above sea level, the lookout is positioned so that both bays (Cook's and Opunohu) are clearly visible.  Driving to Bellevedere is suggested, as the road is long and can be steep; however, it is bikeable.  There are two access points, one at the foot of each bay.  In Cook's Bay, it is just across from the supermarche Are, and turns into a dirt road that takes you past pineapple plantations.  In Opunohu Bay, there is no easy landmark, but it is clearly visible and marked with a sign.  This road is paved.  Along the way, you will pass an Agricultural School that sells their own ice cream - it's a treat that shouldn't be missed!  Be careful of your timing though; sunsets are beautiful from Bellevedere, but the store closes at 16:30, well before sunset.

The University of California, Berkeley, runs a research center located along the west side of Cook's Bay.  Gump Research Station (http://moorea.berkeley.edu) is home to several ongoing projects conducted by numerous researchers from all over the world.  Although tours are not always possible, it never hurts to e-mail ahead or even simply stop in to ask researchers what they are doing.  Projects range from coral growth and fish habitat to butterfly DNA research.

Just a short distance from the Gump Station is the factory for Jus de Fruits de Moorea, where pineapple, passion fruit, and other fruit cocktails are produced.  Jus de Fruits also distills their own liqeurs, including Vanilla Creme and Ginger Rum.  The factory is open to tours (but was closed in mid-2006 for renovations).  The gift shop provides free samples of their liquors, and you can purchase non-alcoholic fruit juices for about 100XPF less than in the stores.

The Afareitu Waterfall is also a beautiful sight.  Located along the eastern side of the island, it does involve somewhat of a hike along a path that is not always the clearest and takes you across private property.  The easiest access point is at approximately PK11 on the clockwise route.  Park on the side, and proceed up the road.  The road eventually turns unpaved, and then becomes grass.  You will pass a plantation on the left, and it widens into a sort of clearing.  It is at this point that a narrow trail will appear in the underbrush; follow this all the way to the end.  If it has recently rained, the waterfall will be much stronger and can provide a fantastic, cool shower.  Conversely, recent rains also mean the trail will be muddier, so be sure to bring sturdy sandals for the hike.

Contributors

September 08, 2006 change by mahka42 (4 points)

July 01, 2006 change by vanessa66 (4 points)

January 07, 2005 change by maclean

February 28, 2006 change by xaviermarchant

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