Tahiti's Secret Paradise
Let’s face it, when you think about Tahiti, Bora Bora steals the show, but should it? Like that sibling who simply must be first at everything, Bora Bora earned its allure by being the secluded playground of celebrities, and therefore draws the lustful eyes of tourists dreaming about a glamorous Instagram post laying on its soft sandy beaches. But did you know there’s another Tahitian island that’s equally as beautiful, if not more so? One that’s much easier to get to, and not nearly as expensive? Sitting quietly in the shadow of its famous sibling, hiding its beauty as though the locals didn’t want you to discover their secret, the island of Mo’orea holds a wealth of adventures and stunning, rugged views that rival any tropical paradise, all within a short ferry ride from the main island of Tahiti. Just look at all of these bucket-list adventures:
Imagine a complete caldera, with a steep, enclosed circle of cliffs and a dramatic peak in its center. Now imagine if half of this caldera fell away into the sea, leaving two large bays and a rugged, majestic pinnacle rising like a cathedral out of the ocean between them. That is Mo’orea. Make your way up the inside of the caldera wall to Le Belvedere lookout for a commanding view over the island. It’s like nowhere else on earth.
Snorkel or dive with sharks and stingrays
Mo’orea is surrounded by a quarter-mile of reef on all sides, making for warm, shallow, calm water in which to swim and explore. For the more adventurous , hire a guide to take you by boat out to places on the reef known to attract sharks and stingrays. It can be a little intimidating, to say the least, jumping in the water with a couple dozen sharks. If you can get over your fear, swimming with these powerful creatures is an experience you’ll never forget.
Stay in an overwater bungalow
Though expensive, this is one experience that many consider a bucket-list item, and it certainly delivers. Falling asleep with a view of exotic fish underneath you, only to awake to your own private deck with steps down to the water, is an experience like no other. If you have the chance to stay in an overeager bungalow, soak it up. Stay in, order room service, and lounge in this luxurious setting.
An exciting way to experience the inside of the island is to take an ATV tour. Explore some of the local farms and villages, stop to sample some pineapple preserves, then continue on through the jungle, forging streams and sliding through the mud. ATVs are also a great way to get to some of the other sights on this list.
Explore ancient ruins
As you travel around the island you’ll discover, not far from the road in many cases, sacred sights and ancient ruins, called marae, built by the local population ages ago to communicate with their gods. These foundations made of rounded stones are mostly untouched, with little fanfare to keep you from experiencing them in their original state. Though there isn’t much for posted rules or guidelines, be respectful as you explore so others after you can enjoy them too. To disturb them is to disturb the gods. A couple of the best is known are Marae Ti’i-rua and Marae Ahu O Mahine.
Shop for black pearls
A treasure unique to Tahiti, the black pearl shines with a deep, lustful radiance. It conveys a sense of mystery, drawing you in before capturing you under its spell. Grown in the local waters, Tahitian black pearls have undertones of green, red, blue, yellow, and even silver, meaning no two are the same. There is ample opportunity to shop for the perfect piece in shops around the island, or buy an un-mounted pearl to have placed on your favorite jewelry from back home.
Hike to Afareaitu Waterfall
Admittedly difficult to find, but a fun excursion nonetheless, Afareaitu Waterfall has made a spectacular cut through the dense jungle with a dreamy pool at it’s base. To find it, start by looking between the Catholic Church and pharmacy for a road that takes off up into the center of the island. Ask around for directions, as Mo’orea isn’t known for its signage (we’ve included a helpful map below). The trail is fairly easy to follow, especially after you hit the stream, and good for kids. If it hasn’t rained recently the waterfall might be a little disappointing, but the rock face is still impressive.
Discover Traditional Polynesian Culture
To experience a piece of the traditional culture, visit Tiki Village. Shop local handicrafts, wander through a reconstructed village, or experience a traditional dinner and dance show. There’s even the opportunity to learn traditional skills such as weaving, dyeing, cooking, music, and dance.
It isn’t an uncommon occurrence that after landing in Tahiti’s international airport in Papeete, travelers have to spend the night in order to align their schedules with the inter-island flights going to Bora Bora, or other, more difficult to reach, islands in the chain. Mo’orea doesn’t have this problem, as it’s a short ferry ride over a few kilometers of ocean from Papeete. Landing at the airport in Papeete, take a quick taxi to the docks and hop on one of the ferries for a 30-minute cruise to Mo’orea. Both Aremiti and Terevau offer ferries, both ranging in price from about $10-$15 for a one-way ticket, depending on the exchange rate. Seating is open, and plentiful, so no need to make a reservation. Just get in line and pick your favorite spot. The trip is short enough that even if you are afraid of suffering from seasickness, like me, it’ll be over before it sets in. Just make sure to grab a spot up front, and facing forward, with a view of the horizon.
If you add up the cost of a taxi from the airport to the ferry and back (about $35 each way, for a total of $70), round trip ferry tickets ($30), and a shuttle to your hotel on Mo’orea (let’s say about $30), for a conservative total of less than $150, and compare that to a flight to Bora Bora or other island of between $200 to $500, plus the cost of a boat transfer from the airport to your hotel, and financially the decision to head to Mo’orea is an easy one.
You don’t need to rent a car for the duration of your stay on Mo’orea as most resorts will have shuttles to transport you to and from the ferry, and restaurants will even pick you up for a reservation, but a one or two-day rental can be a nice way to see some of the sights around the island. Driving around the island takes no time at all, and is the preferred way to get up the steep hills to some hikes or Le Belvedere lookout. If you don’t need the horsepower of a car, rent a bike instead for a great ride around the ring road with views of the ocean the entire way.
Where to stay
Located on the most beautiful stretch of white sand beach on Mo’orea, the Sofitel Mo’orea la Ora Beach Resort offers you a personal piece of paradise. Choose from Garden, Beach, or Overwater bungalows, each equipped and oriented to maximize your relaxation and seclusion. Walk out into the warm, turquoise lagoon for world-class snorkeling. Relax by the infinity pool with views of the main island of Tahiti in the distance. The only downside, and it is worth mentioning, is you don’t get to see the sunset from the hotel. The sun sets in the west, and the Sofitel is on the east side of the island. For everything else, the Sofitel is the only place to stay.
Where to Eat
Being a small island in the middle of the Pacific means that food in Tahiti is expensive, but it’s absurd if you only eat at your resort. Thankfully, there are a few restaurants around the island that are more reasonable, and you don’t need to walk or rent a car to get to them. Most restaurants, if you make a reservation, will offer a shuttle service to and from your resort. Use this to your advantage, and don’t get stuck paying $50 for a hamburger.
For a can’t-miss dining experience, be sure to book a table at Te Honu Iti. Classic, delicious French cuisine is served up in this corner of paradise, from a chef who decided to bring some of the world’s finest cooking to the world’s most beautiful bay. Make sure you get a table on the terrace over the water. Stingrays are known to swim up to the shore here, probably due to diners tossing some food out to them. We don’t encourage that behavior, but the restaurant lights up the water to allow for easier viewing of the rays cruising by, adding to the already top-notch ambience.
Are you convinced that Mo’orea is worth at least a stop on your Tahitian vacation? Let us know in the comments, and check out the map below for all of the places mentioned in this article.