Tahiti is one of those dreamy destinations that you never expect you’ll actually set foot on . . . but in a somewhat spontaneous opportunity I found myself on a Hawaiian Airlines nonstop flight to Pape’ete from Honolulu last spring. It was one of the best weeks of my life, made only better by the four days spent on Tahiti’s often overlooked neighbor island: Mo’orea.
The lush volcanic isle is a 40-minute ferry from Tahiti’s capital (check here for the Aremiti ferry departure times). Mo’orea (which means yellow lizard in Tahitian) is a true escape. The clear blue waters are still wild and teeming with colorful life, jagged green mountains seem to pierce the sky and there is only one road that circles the island.
It’s the perfect place to disconnect and relax, but this little heart-shaped isle in the South Pacific is also bursting with adventure for those who seek it.
Lagoon Boat Tours
On this (admittedly touristy but worth it!) adventure, you’ll explore Mo’orea’s surrounding lagoon by boat where you can swim with and feed sharks and stingrays before stopping for lunch on one of the nearby motus, or uninhabited little islands. With Dolphins and Whales Spirit Adventures, dolphin-lovers can have a unique encounter swimming with dolphins as they hold onto ropes on the sides of the moving boat while dolphins surf in the vessel’s wake.
Beginners, try an introductory dive in the reef-protected lagoon with ScubaPiti in Papetoai. The owner, Henri, provides the perfect discovery scuba experience hanging out at about 40 feet where you’re likely to see beautiful coral formations, tropical reef fish, hawksbill turtles and the occasional spotted eagle ray cruising through the calm cerulean waters. Certified divers can venture into deeper waters outside the lagoon for close encounters with blacktips, lemon sharks and even the occasional tiger.
Experienced hikers can climb the Mt. Rotui (but don’t go alone or during rainy season–it’s super dangerous!) and there are plenty of guided hikes to Three Coconuts Pass. The four-mile trek starts at Belvedere Lookout, which is worth a visit even without a hike! The lookout offers expansive views of the entire island.
Swim with Humpback Whales
Between June and October, book an excursion with a tour operator and experience these majestic creatures up close! Tahiti, a Marine Mammal Sanctuary, is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with humpbacks.
For another way to explore Mo’orea’s crystal clear blue lagoon, rent a kayak or paddleboard. You have more freedom to explore and hop in for a snorkel if there’s some stingrays or sharks hanging around!
Let’s not forget about adventurous eating! In between the crêpes and coconuts, try Tahiti’s signature dish, the French Polynesian form of ceviche called poisson cru. It’s made with fresh fish, veggies and coconut milk.
At Tiki Parc in Papetoai, kids and grownups alike can embark on a jungle adventure through the Opunohu Valley across a series of ziplines, treetop bridges and aerial rope courses. Choose from six varying tracks (for the most ziplines, opt for “tiki nui” and for the greatest challenge, “tiki aito”). Don’t forget the bug spray!
After all that adventuring, you’ll need a drink. Head to this Tahitian juice distillery for samplings of their tasty alcoholic juices, all of which really pack a punch. Jus de Fruits de Mo’orea is the largest exotic fruit liquor manufacturer in the South Pacific. Nothing beats their original Tahiti Drink, which is a blend of pineapple, passion fruit, orange and vanilla.
We stayed on Mo’orea in Tiahura in a house called Fare no Tehau, which means House of Peace in Tahitian. The beautiful thatch-roofed home situated on a canal leading to the lagoon felt like a real-life Robinson Crusoe treehouse, especially when climbing the wooden staircase up to the lofted bedroom!
And one more fun picture, just because Mo’orea is so beautiful . . .
Looking for more tropical inspiration? Check out this travel tale of Wailua Falls in Kauai!
–The Wandering Alligator