Moorea Circle Island Tour
Moorea is only ten nautical miles and a quick and easy 30-minute ferry ride from its big sister island of Tahiti but seemed worlds away. It was also our other island stop in French Polynesia after a few days in Bora Bora. We decided to rent a car on our first day to do a self-drive tour around the island. See the interesting and scenic sights we saw as we made our way around beautiful Moorea.
Moorea has eight mountain peaks that jut out from its very lush interior and clear, turquoise lagoon. In line with its reputation as an ideal honeymoon destination, the island actually looks heart shaped from above. The twin bays of Cook and Opunohu were a very picturesque scenery during our drive.
The island is 37 miles and has one main road. We didn’t encounter any traffic lights during our drive. There are over 18,000 residents here and we were told only about 10 cops throughout the island. This has got to be one of the safest places in the world to maintain such a small police force. Moorea means “yellow lizard” in Tahitian which stemmed from a local legend.
Our first stop was a group of maraes or ritual shrines. There were a couple visible from the parking lot. But, we decided to hike a bit on the trail and ended up seeing more of the maraes. The towering trees provided a nice shaded canopy for exploring. There were many maraes throughout the French Polynesian islands but were mostly found in Tahiti and Moorea. There are over 100 listed in this area and around the Opunohu Valley.
These complexes and platforms were used for rites and assembly places where warriors, chiefs and priests met to discuss various issues affecting the surrounding community. It’s always fun to try and imagine how these stone remains may have looked during their heyday. The marae here was built on ancient remains that go all the way back to the 17th century.
One of Moorea’s most popular attractions is the Belvedere overlook. Located on a winding road in the middle of the island, this was the best place to see some beautiful panoramic views and the lush Opunohu Valley.
The majestic mountains surrounded us and we could see the two bays from here too. Mt. Mouaroa isn’t the highest mountain but is the most photographed due to its shape and “shark’s tooth” reference. It can be found on many postcards and even on one side of the local coin.
We were here around 9 AM and had this place to ourselves along with one other family. I loved how undeveloped this whole area was and its overall raw natural beauty. Some of the peaks were shrouded in fog and we never got to see the tips on a couple of them.
The mountains and valleys pictured here are also accessible with guided hikes and 4×4 vehicles. We passed by a couple of ATV tours as they made their way up to the overlook. We’re filing those adventures for next time.
On the way down from the Belvedere overlook, we stopped at the Farming High School of Moorea. We didn’t venture to the plantation area. They had a stand that sold locally made jams, fruit juices and sorbets. The sorbets were delicious and made from locally grown fruits. They had exotic and tropical flavors that ranged from pineapple and coconut to passion fruit and guava. This was the perfect place for refreshments on a hot and humid day. No wonder it was a popular place for a tour stop.
We stayed at the Hilton Moorea and loved it but it was also great to see the other properties around the island. These hillside properties with some enviable ocean views were the Legends Resort and certainly piqued our interest.
The Intercontinental Pacific Beachcomber Moorea was also a beautiful property. Postcard scenes like this made us just want to just stay here and play in the water.
The main reason we actually visited the Intercontinental property was the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center. They work in collaboration with the Te Mana O Te Mona which is a non-profit organization that preserves French Polynesia’s marine wildlife and environment. The turtle center helps and rehabilitates sick and injured hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles to eventually release them back into the wild.
It wasn’t a very big area but we did see a few turtles swimming around. My kids were more fascinated with the baby turtles we saw in another area. There was also a scientific lab and educational center but was closed during our visit. Though, they had plenty of information around the area. This was a wonderful stop for the kids to learn about the turtles and stretch their legs.
The rental car agent recommended some local hotspots for us to try. We were in its vicinity during lunch hour so we ended up at Snacks Mahana which he highly recommended. It was a little house with tables set up on its backyard right by the beach. We were so close to the clear water we could see the fish swimming. We ordered their garlic shrimp and seafood dishes which were their popular dishes. They were delicious!
We passed a nearby area with a few fruit stands after lunch. Great and healthy dessert options! You can’t get any fresher than these fruits which were probably picked just a few hours before. We were here during the start of mango season. It made me wish I had a knife or they sold cut slices. We also found plenty of papaya, bananas, coconut and passion fruit. Moorea is known for their sweet pineapple. They’re a bit smaller than the the Hawaiian versions.
Moorea’s Tiki Village is the place to go for a Polynesian feast and dance show. The current area is a reconstruction of a traditional Polynesian village that includes their marae for worshipping and the various ‘Fare’ or traditional houses. There was hardly anyone here but a group of senior citizens on a tour during our visit. We found some local women making beautiful floral leis and braiding coconut palms into baskets. The village offers various cultural workshops from learning how to cook a local delicacy or making a colorful pareo or sarong to the basics of a Tahitian Dance.
There is a free 20-minute mini-show at 1PM between Tuesday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we missed it during our visit. There is also a preview of their night performances that includes fire dances, which is in an actual outdoor amphitheater. This whole event was similar to a Hawaiian luau. We didn’t attend the night show either since the Hilton Moorea had their own Polynesian show we saw twice. Entrance to the village and a walk around was free during the day. Don’t miss the Gallery Gaugain with reproductions of the famous painter’s French Polynesia scenes.
One of the wonderful things about this drive is that we got to see many of the quaint and charming villages. Village life was simple and some parts of it reminded me a lot of growing up in Guam. Moorea was just way less populated and developed than Guam. We loved seeing the occasional church and the small houses tucked behind coconut plantations.
Moorea has two public beaches. We stopped at Temae Beach which was the largest one and near the Sofitel resort. There weren’t any services here other than restrooms but it did have a beautiful white sand beach and crystal clear waters. The rain clouds were nearing our location so we opted not to swim here. We visited on a Thursday afternoon and there was no one around.
Rotui isn’t just a mountain in Moorea. We got our taste of the Rotui pineapple juice on our flight here and were served various flavors throughout our stay in French Polynesia. We were excited to find that their fruit juice factory was near our hotel and they offered complimentary tastings. This was our last stop and was so worth it.
There were many juice varieties, jams and liquors available for sampling. These were made from fruits grown on the island. The pineapple juice is addicting! The factory is also available for a tour but arrangements must be made. Their store offered a lot of products and souvenirs great for taking home.
Sure, we probably missed on some things doing this DIY tour but we were happy we did it. We were on our own timeline and schedule and stopped at interesting things we saw along the way. Moorea is a fantastic place to enjoy activities on land and water. A tour around the island, whether on self-drive or an excursion, is a great way to sightsee and learn a little bit about the attractions and culture.
Moorea Island Tour Tips
- Getting There: We arrived in Moorea via a 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti. We were here for 5 days but this is also a doable day trip from Tahiti. There are also flight connections from Tahiti and the other islands via Air Tahiti.
- Pack some snacks and drinks. Though, there were some convenience stores and gas stations along th way.
- Renting a car. We rented our car via Albert Transport. We were picked up at the ferry terminal and driven to their office. They were very helpful with telling us the road conditions, local recommendations and where to gas up. Rentals are pricey. We paid about $100/day for a compact car but is still cheaper than doing a tour. Avis had an office across from the ferry terminal too.
- Put on mosquito repellant. Depending on the season, there may be plenty of mosquitoes around the jungle area.
- Start your tour early. It’s cooler and less crowded since you’re beating the tour group crowd.
*Have you visited Moorea? Is it on your travel list?
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