8 Memorable Experiences in Moorea, French Polynesia
It is impossible not to gush about Moorea. There is a reason this heart shaped island, located about 10 nautical miles or a short 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti, is known as the Magic Island of French Polynesia. Its beauty is stunning, its vibe relaxed and its people extremely welcoming. How could you not fall in love?
The fact that Moorea, which means yellow lizard in the Tahitian language, is far less known and visited then famed Bora Bora, makes it all the more special. The island is still a popular honeymoon destination but also a great place for a memorable family vacation if you don’t mind the long trek from the U.S. (or any other part of the world for that matter).
Our family had a seriously amazing and unforgettable time. We spent most of our vacation chilling at the incredible Hilton Moorea Resort & Spa in awe of our surroundings, but we still managed to enjoy several memorable experiences around the island. Here are 8 things we recommend when visiting Moorea.
8 Best Things to do in Moorea with Kids
1. Stay in an overwater bungalow
Cross this one off your bucket list! You may not know this, but the island of Moorea is actually THE place where the overwater bungalows were first invented in the 1960s.
I cannot rave enough about our overwater accommodations at Hilton Moorea. Our bungalow was spacious and modern, yet cozy, and above all, it was very private. Our kids loved the glass pane in the middle of our bedroom floor through which we observed tropical fish and at night, (gasp!) sharks. My husband and I most enjoyed the private deck off the back for secluded sunning or simply relaxing and the fact that we could jump into the ocean off our mini private dock equipped with a freshwater shower any time we felt like it.
All of us loved falling asleep with the sound of the waves and gentle Pacific winds. In the mornings, our unobstructed views to the east from the water allowed us to witness incredible sunrises, which were often followed by at least one rainbow as it often rained on the island’s interior in the early hours of the day. Similar magic happened in the evening when sunsets, looking like the most vibrant Instagram filters, colored the skies.
2. Rent a car and explore the island
While we loved our home base at Hilton Moorea Resort & Spa and could easily and happily have spent an entire week on its grounds, it would have been a shame not to see more of the beautiful island of Moorea. An easy way to do this is to rent a car on Moorea for the day and simply drive around the island on the road that wraps around it in a 37-mile circle. We loved exploring at our leisure!
Some worthwhile stops include the Belvedere lookout from which you are able to see both Opunohu and Cook’s Bays; Lycee Agricole Opunohu, the Agricultural High School which sells amazing jams, honey and sorbets made by its students; the Rotui juice factory, where you can sample some of the most delicious fruit juices you will ever taste; the spectacular beach by Les Tipaniers; and Moorea Tropical Gardens.
More adventurous types can veer off the main road into the lush interior and marvel at the tall volcanic peaks, magnificent waterfalls, pineapple fields full of ripe fruit, and all kinds of beautiful tropical vegetation. If you are looking for an ATM, a grocery store, gas station or perhaps some souvenir shops, there are a few villages scattered around the island. You will also encounter many cute roadside stands selling fruit, coconut water, honey, flowers, pareos, pearls (yes, pearls!) or other food items.
3. Enjoy some of the world’s best snorkeling
You simply cannot visit French Polynesia without snorkeling in its picturesque lagoons filled with coral, colorful fish in every hue you can imagine, and other amazing sea creatures. Snorkeling on Moorea is actually considered some of the world finest.
The best part is that you don’t need to sign up for any excursions to do this; there are many spots around the island where you can simply take a few steps into the ocean and marvel at the incredible sea life. The island is surrounded by a giant barrier reef which makes the shallow water very calm, and the visibility is incredible. We were lucky to be staying at Hilton Moorea since it offers some of the best snorkeling on the island right off its beach or yes, from the back deck of the overwater bungalows.
If for some reason snorkeling is not your thing, you can admire Moorea’s amazing lagoons and sea life from a glass-bottom kayak with Lagoon Explorer. They offer several different tours, including one at sunset.
4. Swim with stingrays and sharks
This adventure is one of the things Moorea is famous for. There are different tours that offer the experience, but I highly recommend a sailing excursion with Voila Moorea. If you happen to be staying at Hilton Moorea, they will pick you up at the property’s pier and bring you back to the same spot. Everybody in our family ranked our half-day excursion with them as their #1 experience during our vacation!
We loved catching the wind on Taboo, a small and intimate sailboat, which took us past the gorgeous coastline to two spots. At the first, we swam with stingrays and black tip sharks and at the second, amidst hundreds of colorful fish.
Our kids squealed with delight when Arnaud, our lovely host and captain, gave them bread to feed the fish which came rushing up in giant clusters, jumping out of the water and pecking at their hands. I nearly did the same when he served me a killer mai tai along with a giant platter of delicious tropical fruit while I relaxed on the boat, waiting for my kids and husband to finish snorkeling and taking hundreds of underwater pictures. The scenery around us, including the intensely turquoise water and the lush green island with its famous eight volcanic peaks, was incredible!
5. Sample Moorea’s most famous dish
Or better yet, take a class on how to make Poisson Cru, which literally means raw fish and can be best described as Polynesian ceviche. We did just that at Hilton Moorea and even had a coconut cracking lesson. (It ain’t as easy as it looks.) It was incredibly delicious and yet another testament that the best dishes often come from few and simple fresh ingredients, in this case raw tuna, coconut milk, shredded carrots, cucumbers and spring onions. We then added some lime juice, salt and pepper, and our taste buds were in heaven.
6. Visit Snack Mahana
If you ask around Moorea where to have the best meal on the island, the natives will promptly send you to Snack Mahana. Having visited this tiny Mom’s-kitchen-in-a-beach-shack place which only serves lunch and is closed on Sundays and Mondays, we absolutely agree. The ambiance is so authentic and serene and the food so simple, yet spectacular. We immediately joined Mahana’s long list of fans.
You must try the famous coconut mahi mahi and curry or garlic sauce shrimp. For desert, I highly recommend the flambéed bananas in rum raisin sauce served a la mode which was so good I refused to share. Our kids did not mind, they were too busy devouring their own, a giant brownie topped with vanilla ice-cream.
7. Buy a hei, a flower crown, and learn the Polynesian “flower language”
A flower crown is a sure way to instantly feel like an island princess and a great way to absorb some of the Polynesian culture and traditions. Flowers are a beautiful and important part of the island way of life. There is even a “flower language:” a code on how to wear flowers properly for different occasions and settings to communicate with others without speaking. Every lei or hei vendor and even resort employees will be happy to explain the basics, just ask.
We learned that the official flower of Polynesia was the snow-white and sweet smelling tiare and behind which ear we should be wearing it (left for the married and right for those “available”); the meaning of a lei (a warm welcome); when a hei should be worn (usually by a bride or a groom or on special occasions); and how to correctly dispose of leis (never, ever throw them in the trash, but rather cut the string and scatter the petals on the ground or into the sea).
By the end of our vacation, all of us, including on occasion our teenage son who at the beginning of our vacation rolled up his eyes and uttered “So cheesy!”, proudly wore flowers behind our ears, like all the natives around us. It was a sign that we were truly relaxed and “on vacation.”
8. Wrap up your vacation with a beautiful and exquisite souvenir
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to bring home your flower crown, but you can certainly bring Tahitian pearls! Produced by the black-lipped oyster and often called black pearls, they are a beautiful and exquisite souvenir for which French Polynesia is famous. Just like flowers, Tahitian pearls are worn by everybody in the islands: women, men and children. “What better way to remember our fantastic vacation,” I thought.
There are many ways to buy the Tahitian pearls on Moorea: from simple road side stands with relatively cheap offerings to souvenir shops and several high end local jewelers which sell only the highest quality pearls.
To make your pearl shopping interesting for the kids, have them research how long it takes for an oyster to produce a pearl, what gives Tahitian pearls their signature dark color, which shade (blue, gray, green or silver) is most valuable, and the four main categories of their shape.
No matter where you buy them and what type, your black pearls will be a fantastic memory of your incredible vacation on Moorea.
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