Travel Guide: The Sensuous Island of Moorea

This Edenic island of Moorea, only 12 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti, is a visual roller coaster of needle-sharp peaks and plunging valleys filigreed with green.

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This Edenic island, only 12 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti, is a visual roller coaster of needle-sharp peaks and plunging valleys filigreed with green. Rumor has it that this spectacular island of Moorea was the model for author James Michener’s mythical Bali Hai. Since it is one of the most visited French Polynesian islands, there’s plenty of action on the beaches and in the many resorts.

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If you happen to be island hopping along the French Polynesian islands and even if your itinerary doesn’t call for a stay at Moorea, you can shuttle over in a matter of minutes from the harbor in Papeete or from the airport. Once there, explore the island by motor scooter, bicycle, or Le Truck, or plop down along Tenae Beach, a white-sand strand dotted with dozens of palm trees, where you can wade far out into the lagoon.

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Polynesian culture comes alive at Tiki Village, where you’ll see demonstrations of traditional crafts such as stone carving, weaving, and tattooing. You can even try your hand at fishing.—Polysnesian style, from an outrigger canoe – and have your catch prepared for lunch. Make reservations through your hotel to stay for the evening dinner show, where you’ll witness fire dances and other amazing rituals.

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Two of the most spectacular sights in French Polynesia are the bays on the northern side of Moorea: the much-photographed Cooks Bay, and equally dramatic Opunohu Bay. Both appeared in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando. You can see them best from Belvedere Lookout. Stop on the way up to learn a bit about the early Polynesians at one of the many stone marae (worship centers) you’ll pass. Over 500 historical sites have been found on Opunohu Valley and many have been restored. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may take a mountain bike excursion into the valley or a horseback riding along the beach.

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A cruise offers an enchanting perspective of Moorea, especially as the sun’s gilded afternoon light casts its glow across the mountains and sea. To enjoy this best, book an excursion offered by some local groups or by some established tourism agencies where you can be picked up at your hotel and spirited away for a sunset cruise, motu picnic, or moonlight champagne cruise.

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The waters of the blue-green lagoon embracing Moorea will be impossible to resist – and happily, you won’t have to. Whether you simply want to swim or are eager to dive in, you’ll find the sea warm and welcoming. Beginning divers will appreciate the almost negligible currents; experts will explore the 75-foot depths of Le Tiki to feed 60-pound Napoleon fish.

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Shannon Richey
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marinel macaraig
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