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Moorea - Tahiti's Little Sister Island

Moorea - it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from its more famous island neighbor -Tahiti, yet so many people have never heard of it. For the sake of simplicity, many that visit Moorea just tell people that they “went to Tahiti”. It’s so much easier than trying to explain that Moorea is the second largest (after Tahiti) of the Windward Islands of the Society Islands which are part of French Polynesia which is an island chain in the South Pacific…. But who knows what continent that makes them part of?!?

And, for the most part, the way to get to Moorea is via Tahiti. From the Tahitian capital of Papeete you have the choice of either taking a 10 minute flight on Air Tahiti Nui (it takes longer to board and prepare for the flight than it actually takes to fly it!), or you can catch the catamaran ferry which will take you “wharf to wharf” in 45 minutes to an hour depending on ocean conditions.

So why go to Moorea instead of Tahiti? Because it’s less crowded, of course! Almost 70% of the total population of French Polynesia lives on the island of Tahiti. Moorea has one-eighth the land mass of Tahiti, and less than 8% of the population. And it’s exquisitely beautiful! It’s the picture postcard tropical island – one that, according to local legend, James Michener said was exactly what he envisioned when he invented the island of Bali Ha’i in his “Tales of the South Pacific”. Which is probably why it’s such a popular destination for honeymooners.

But don’t let the small size of the island fool you. There’s still plenty to do and see on Moorea, or in the waters around it. It’s an ideal destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. I did 10 dives from the island – two dives a day for 5 days, and saw something different and new every time we got in the water! Superb visibility in crystal clear waters made it easy to enjoy the hundreds of different tropical fish swarming the coral reefs, along with the manta rays, eels, black-tip reef sharks, sea turtles, and even the occasional large lemon shark. I unfortunately missed the dive when they spotted the humpback whale! If you’re not yet into scuba diving, the snorkeling is still fantastic. Plus there are some unique day trip offerings – like “swimming with the sharks” where they take you out and let you snorkel off the boat while they’re feeding the black-tip reef sharks. Or the chance to “get up close and personal” with giant manta rays – standing in waist-deep waters as the velvety creatures swim all around you, or even up you! And there’s also the Dolphin Center – where you can get in the water with well cared for bottlenose dolphins, get a firsthand view of their intelligence, and learn how to help protect them.

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And when you’re not in the water? The lushly forested peaks of Moorea rise up to almost 4000 feet. Although only really serious mountaineers are going to climb the scraggy peaks, there are definitely trails for hikers to enjoy that will take you past small waterfalls up to some spectacular viewpoints looking out over the dual bays that make the island look almost heart-shaped. And if you’re high enough, you can see the spectacular “lagoon” - the ring of shallower water surrounding the island inside the protective reef, one of the most distinct lagoons in the world. For those who want a more leisurely approach to these amazing views, there are drivable roads too. And along the way you may want to stop and explore some of the “maraes” – historical Polynesian sites. Moorea also boasts some of the sweetest pineapple I’ve ever tasted, so you might want to take some time to tour the pineapple plantations on the island.

And if you really want to do Moorea right – splurge and stay in one of the amazing over-the-water bungalows. You can’t get closer to the water than that, and the water lapping at the poles of your bungalow will be one of the sweetest lullabies you’ve ever heard.



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