As you may know from my prior posts, Dan and I took an almost proper vacation to Mo’orea in August on our summer getaway to French Polynesia (after Georgia, Azerbaijan, Puerto Rico, and Puglia were cancelled …I know it could be much worse)! We had an absolutely lovely trip and recommend Mo’orea to others for sure! This details how we spent our four days on Mo’orea and provides some logistical information that is hopefully helpful. I would 100% do this exact trip all over again!
For those new to the French Polynesia landscape, Mo’orea is an island in the country of French Polynesia that is located 17 kilometers northwest of French Polynesia’s main island, Tahiti. Mo’orea is accessible via a 45 minute ferry from Pape’ete, Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia. There is also a small airport on Mo’orea with connections to various islands, including Bora Bora, in French Polynesia.
Formed by a volcano forever ago, Mo’orea is a triangle shaped island with two gorgeous bays: Opunohu Bay and Cook’s Bay (like Captain Cook!). Mo’orea is quite lush and green and feels like a jungle in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Very much like you have been dropped off on the set of Moana! Tall mountains populate the interior of Mo’orea, while crystal clear turquoise lagoons surround the island. Not joking: even the water at the ferry terminal was crystal clear (though not turquoise because it’s not a “lagoon”). Where else does that happen?!
Unlike some other French Polynesian islands, Mo’orea is not exclusively for tourists. Lots of locals are out and about, restaurants and shops are easy to frequent, and there are tons of lodging options, from AirBnB rentals, to reasonably priced apartments, to lavish international hotel chains. There is only one road in Mo’orea and it circles the island, so visitors can really explore on their own. In fact, it’s quite popular to rent a car or moped to explore the island.
As mentioned, we spent four days on Mo’orea and absolutely loved it. It was chill, less expensive than Tahiti or Bora Bora (the other two islands we visited), and totally gorgeous! We recommend Mo’orea for tourists looking for something more than just “laying on a beach,” for tourists not wanting to purchase a pricey intra-French Polynesia flight on Air Tahiti, and for general budget travelers. Also, since the ferry is so easy to use, its easy to hop over from Tahiti, even for a day trip!
Day 1. Tahiti to Mo’orea on the Aremiti Ferry, a long wait for check-in, and our first shark sighting!!
The third leg of our French Polynesia trip, from Tahiti to Mo’orea, started with an unnecessarily early ferry from Pape’ete to Mo’orea at 7:30 AM. Dan and I left our hotel at 6:15 A.M. at our hotel’s suggestion (I am NOT a morning person!), even though the ferry terminal is only 8 kilometers from our hotel, the Intercontinental Tahiti. Apparently school traffic can be brutal in the morning. We arrived at the ferry terminal with plenty of time to purchase our roundtrip tickets ($30 per person, credit card accepted) and buy the tastiest cappuccino from the ferry terminal restaurant; it had a piece of chocolate at the bottom! And side note, the ferry terminal restaurant/bar is super reasonably priced, possibly the most reasonably priced establishment in Pape’ete!
The ferry ride to Mo’orea was uneventful and we grabbed a taxi to our hotel, the Hilton Mo’orea Lagoon and Spa, on arrival. Taxis line up to meet the ferries – no need to book ahead. We intentionally arrived on Mo’orea early to take advantage of our Hilton Diamond member status, which gives us free breakfast and early checkin (*when available*) at the Hilton. Unfortunately, however, the Hilton Mo’orea Lagoon and Spa front desk staff is pretty terrible and they let us do neither, nor would they give us a towel to use at the pool…LOL. In fact, they didn’t even welcome us, patrons holding the highest status, on arrival! It was a bit unbelievable, especially after our lovely time at the Conrad in Bora Bora… The Hilton eventually did cave on the breakfast, but we were not at all impressed with our welcome, and it didn’t get better from there. Side note – despite the negativity, we still had a great time on Mo’orea and an absolutely beautiful bungalow at the Hilton, just drastically downgrade your expectations of the Hilton front desk staff!
After breakfast, we lounged around the pool until our room was ready around 2:30, at least 30 minutes after promised… Luckily our room was gorgeous (which kind of made up for the poor welcome of the front desk) – a panoramic overwater bungalow right in the middle of the crystal blue lagoon looking out toward the ocean, with a glass cut out in the floor for fish and shark watching! We were happy. And no that note, I’ve heard from many sources that the Hilton is the nicest hotel on Mo’orea in the best location. The location was excellent, but the front desk, again, could use a refresh. I’ll be writing more on that in a later post.
After getting into our room and enjoying our private balcony, our day ended with Golden Hour drinks (many cocktails half-priced) at the Hilton’s outdoor bar, a FANTASTIC place for sunset, and dinner at the Creperie, one of the Hilton Mo’orea’s three restaurants. The Creperie is an open-air French crepe restaurant located overwater in the middle of the Hilton lagoon; huge stingrays and reef sharks visit around 9 PM every night without fail! We saw both sharks and stingrays our first night and it was quite the sighting! The Creperie’s food was just ok, not bad but nothing to write a blog post about. The the setting, however, is unbeatable. We went to bed after dinner, as we were exhausted from a long day of travel (and waiting to check in to our room….).
Day 2. Realizing food on Mo’orea is amazing with Tahiti Food Tours!
On our first full day in Mo’orea, we had a quick coffee at the Hilton and then went on a food tour with Tahiti Food Tours (also known as Moorea Food Adventures), the only food tour in Tahiti! Heimata, our guide and a Mo’orea local, was super cool and he took us to seven different spots on Mo’orea, including a snack shop, a fruit stand, a local restaurant serving fresh tuna, a pizza restaurant, and a fresh jam stand! The food tour lasted the majority of the day and it was one of our favorite activities on our trip! I will be writing a whole post on it, duh. = ) In short, highly recommended. Here’s a few pictures:
We ended the day with more Golden Hour cocktails and a quick dinner at Eimeo, the Hilton’s other outdoor restaurant (also the location of Golden Hour). Spoiler alert for the Mo’orea Hilton, food “off campus” is much better and not more expensive (if not less expensive). This would be our last meal taken at the Hilton. Once again, we went to bed after dinner, as we were exhausted after a long day of eating and drinking!
Day 3. Swimming with sting rays and sharks, homemade poisson cru and Pina Coladas, and an average dinner at the Mo’orea Beach Cafe.
Our third day in Mo’orea again started with breakfast at the Hilton and then a pick up in the back of an open-air jeep for a day of snorkeling in Mo’orea’s gorgeous lagoons. Snorkeling and diving are extremely popular activities on Mo’orea, so don’t miss out while on the island. Also, pro tip on tours – almost all tours will pick up and drop off at hotels and guest houses on Mo’orea, so no need to figure out how to get to the start location of the tour. A few minutes post-pick up, were were dropped on a traditional boat, received a safety lesson, and were off sailing around Mo’orea. Our first stop was near Cook’s Bay for a sea turtle sighting! The tour guides also serenaded us and played local instruments during our boat ride.
Next up, swimming and snorkeling with sting rays and black tip reef sharks – the highlight of the day trip! AHHHH! I was a little concerned about the sharks, but they were totally friendly. The sting rays were what actually scared me. All I could think of was Steven Irwin (RIP). We were in the water with the stingrays and sharks for about 30 minutes and one of our guides was in the water with us. The boat provided snorkels, and the water was probably about 3 feet. The sharks were pretty tame and just swam around. The stingrays, however, were very friendly and they were easy to touch. It was definitely a cool experience!
We later moved on to snorkeling over a coral reef, and our guides cut up some fresh coconut and pineapple and handed out the local Hinano beer! As they are often $10 US, I was in for the beer! This area was also much less crowded. Again, we used the company’s snorkeling equipment.
After snorkeling, we stopped for lunch at a small islet. Our guides prepared fresh poisson cru, which was AMAZING, and fresh Pina Coladas made out of fresh coconut pulled from the water that morning! SO GOOD. I AM NOT KIDDING. Also served was grilled chicken, rice, more fruit, bread fruit, and homemade brownies topped with some of that fresh coconut, all prepared by our guides! I was quite skeptical about this lunch, but it turned out to be so tasty! My only complaint about the tour is that it probably lasted an hour longer than necessary on that islet… After lunch our guides made us all coconut accessories, taught us how to peel a coconut, and showed us how to tie a Tahitian sarong. I could have done without these demonstrations.
Whatever you do in Mo’orea, get out on the water on a tour similar to this. The views are unparalleled.
Our evening once again ended with Golden Hour drinks and dinner at the chic Mo’orea Beach Cafe, or “MBC.” MBC is an open air restaurant on the water seemingly sponsored by Veuve Clicquot. Its very Instagrammable. While the location is cute, the food was only fine and the staff was a little snooty. For example, we asked for a decanter for a 2015 bottle of red Bordeaux, which normally I agree wouldn’t need a decanter, but this one absolutely did. The waitress really questioned us, which was so odd. We insisted and our wine was much better after breathing a bit. The one thing MBC does well is pizza, very similar to American pizza for those from America looking for a taste of home.
Day 4. A Difficult Hike Up Two Coconuts Trail, Sunset Drinks, and Dinner with new friends at the delicious Rudy’s Restaurant!
Our next morning started off with sunrise and a tip from our Tahiti Food Tour guide, Heimata. Heimata gave us the number of a woman who goes to a Sunday “street fair” (for lack of a better definition) and delivers orders to local homes and hotels! We messaged her on Facebook pretty randomly and ended up enjoying crispy pork (a Mo’orea Sunday speciality), a pain au chocolat, a croissant stuffed with coconut, and Tahitian donuts! Absolutely delicious. We also grabbed coffee…and a hash brown…at the Hilton breakfast buffet = ). I’m not sure if this Sunday delivery happens year-round or if it was just due to COVID. Comment below for more info!
Next up was a hike up the Two Coconuts Trail with two friends that we met on our tour the day before! We also had some drinks with them the night before! The tour started to a drive to Belvedere Point and then a two hour hike up the Two Coconuts Trail, which is NOT for the light hearted. We hiked over creeks, through mud, and at points were using our hands and feet, LOL. We made it, and only two of us took a tumble. Views were great though! In all seriousness, it was an awesome hike and I would recommend it, with a guide. If you are not down with the hike, at least take a taxi up to Belvedere Point for amazing views of Mo’orea, including both of its beautiful bays!
We ended our day with more Golden Hour drinks and dinner at the BEST restaurant, Rudy’s!! Like the Mo’orea Beach Cafe and many other restaurants on Mo’orea, Rudy’s sent a shuttle to pick us up and drop us off. And, the food was fantastic. I had the best escargot ever at Rudy’s, and all of our other food was delicious too! Don’t come to Mo’orea without eating here. The owner is also the sweetest man!
Day 5. Finally Pearl Shopping, Sea Kayaking, and Leaving French Polynesia (UGLY CRY!).
On our final day, we had more breakfast and sadly said goodbye to our new friends. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, saw a shark swim under our balcony!!!
We had next arranged for Pai Moana pearl shop to pick us up for a visit to their store, which deals exclusively in black Tahitian pearls! Moana Pai had gorgeous pearls and I took home two pair of earrings! We arrived back to the hotel in the early afternoon and spent our final hours sea kayaking and lounging on the beach, possibly doing some carb-loading…
We took the ferry back to Mo’orea late in the afternoon, again uneventful, had dinner at the Trois Brasseurs Brewpub, just across from the ferry terminal, and hopped a taxi to the Pape’ete airport to fly to Los Angeles. And just like that, out trip to Mo’orea and French Polynesia sadly ended.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Aremiti Ferry: One of two ferry companies operating from Pape’ete to Mo’orea. No need to buy tickets in advance – just arrive about 30 minutes before your ferry (and that’s probably more than enough time, unless you are driving a car). Cost is approximately $30 US per person round trip. Budget tip – the restaurant at the ferry terminal is quite reasonably priced.
Teravu Ferry: The other ferry company operating from Pape’ete to Mo’orea. The two companies use the same terminal.
Air Tahiti: Intra-Tahiti flights. Booking works better in Safari than Chrome.
Hilton Moorea Lagoon and Spa: Beautiful overwater bungalow. Worst front desk I have ever experienced. Mediocre hotel. Go for the gorgeous overwater bungalows and activities off-premises.
Tahiti Food Tours: A/K/A Moorea Food Adventures. Awesome food tour around Mo’orea! Book in advance, as this tour sells out. The cost was 100 euro per person.
Miti Tours: Awesome snorkeling tour with lunch. Pro tip, buy the lunch option; its delicious. Cost is 83 euros per person.
Three Coconuts Trail Hike: We found our tour on Trip Advisor, but you can find a number by Googling. Our guide was great, but you can do this hike on your own (though I would not recommend it). Bring water on this hike!
Mo’orea Beach Cafe: Pk6 Maharepa cote mer, 98728, French Polynesia. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open other days 11:30 – 21:00. Call for a resy and complimentary shuttle.
Rudy’s: PK 6,9 Coastal Road, 98728, French Polynesia. Open daily 17:30 – 22:00. Call for a resy and complimentary shuttle.
Pai Moana: Moorea-Maiao, French Polynesia. Open 8:30 – 18:00. The Tahitian pearl shop we visited with complimentary shuttle to and from hotel, just call. A family operation with reasonable prices that are negotiable. Comment below if you want more information on pearl pricing!
ON A BUDGET
If you’re on a budget in French Polynesia, Mo’orea is the island for you! Avoid big hotel chains, visit the grocery stores, and eat delicious food from the various snack stands around the island. I can personally recommend Snack Routi and Golden Lake. Also, read by budget tips here.