- Coastline Big, blue bays; vast verdant valleys
- Coast life Snorkelling, surfing, swimming and sunbathing
Shaped like a heart or an angel (depending on your mood), the high island of Moorea combines lush jungle with blissful bays for a magical marriage made in Polynesian heaven.
Visible from the shores of larger sister Tahiti in the Society Islands, Moorea is just a hop west by boat or plane. On arrival your gaze will constantly be drawn up, up and away to the summit of vertiginous emerald peaks clad in thick foresty coats. Slicing between them, dramatic Opunohu and Cook's Bays mark the crater floor of an extinct volcano (yes, Captain Cook did anchor here). Voluptuous valleys sweep inland to lofty lookouts and ancient hidden marae temples, laced with hiking trails. Once home to coconut and vanilla planations, Moorea is now a major pineapple grower (cue pina coladas). Less developed than Tahiti or Bora Bora, local life is all about watching canoes skim through the lagoon, diving off fish-flocked reefs or lazing on snow-white beaches such as Teavaro or Temae. Mini motu (islets) promise private picnics offshore or just order cocktails on the balcony of your overwater bungalow. Did someone say sunset o'clock?
Do go/Don’t go
You'll usually get the best weather in the dry, cooler winter period from May to October. November to April sees hotter summer temperatures, rising humidity, cloudier skies and heavier rains, although storms are usually brief. Peak season falls in line with the northern school holidays, especially July and August, and Christmas; the island also books up for the July Heiva festival, so get in early or look for off-season bargains. Surfing and diving are good year-round.
Planes All international flights to French Polynesia touch down at Tahiti's Faa'a Airport (www.tahiti-aeroport.pf), five kilometres west of compact capital Pape'ete. National carrier Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui.com) covers the key routes, taking around five hours from Auckland, linked by Qantas code-share from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Los Angeles (with connections from Paris) and Tokyo. Also look out for flights to Tahiti with Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com), Air France (www.airfrance.com), Hawaiian Airlines (www.hawaiianair.com), Lan Airlines (www.lan.com), Japan Airlines (www.jal.com) and Air Calédonie International (www.aircalin.com). Inter-island travel is normally by plane, with Tahiti the main hub. Book via domestic carrier Air Tahiti (www.airtahiti.pf), which offers money-saving AirPasses if you plan on visiting several islands. Planes are small and sometimes stop at several islands en route. Watch out for weight restrictions (usually 20kg, but you can get discount deals on excess baggage), and aim for window seats for stunning views (ask the air crew which side to bag). Flights from Tahiti to Moorea take 15 minutes with several options a day. Air Tahiti's Bora Bora Pass offers flight deals between Tahiti and neighbour islands Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti and Ra'iatea/Taha'a. The Bora-Tuamotu Pass adds on Rangiroa, Tikehau and three other islands in the Tuamotus.
Boats Catamarans (Aremiti 5 and Moorea Express) or ferries (Aremiti Ferry and Moorea Ferry) are the most popular way to reach Tahiti's sister-island Moorea, with regular departures in both directions taking just 30 to 50 minutes respectively across the Sea of the Moon. From Tahiti's capital Pape'ete, ferries leave from the terminal at the north end of Boulevard Pomaire, arriving at Vaiare quay on Moorea's east coast (buy tickets just before you depart). Various mixed cargo/passenager and cruise boats ply their way between Tahiti and the other Society Islands, but flying is Smith's tip for speed, cost and comfort. French Polynesia is a popular yachting destination, with a marina in Pape'ete, Tahiti, and a hot sailing scene between the islands.
Trains There isn't a train service in French Polynesia, where planes, boats and cars are the main forms of transport.
Automobiles Moorea, like most of the other islands in the Society group, has one main, paved road running around the perimeter of the island. Hire a car at the airport, at the ferry quay at Vaiare or through your hotel if you fancy circumnavigating the isle. Alternatively, ask your hotel about renting bicycles or scooters to roll around the island. Local taxis are fairly expensive, but the local round-island bus service is good value, and often meets incoming catamarans at the port.