I found myself living in a postcard – a picture perfect vignette of a tropical Polynesian paradise, palm trees swaying in the wind, the sun’s rays pouring down on the island, and luxurious white sand beaches. Lying in the hammock at my private Tahitian “Villa Cook,” steps away from the turquoise waters of the South Pacific Ocean surrounding the Island of Moorea, I had not a care in the world. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me back up a bit…
Only two days prior, I crossed the International Date Line, as I flew across the Pacific Ocean from Auckland, New Zealand to Papeete (the capital of Tahiti). I came to French Polynesia to sail away on Windstar’s “Dreams of Tahiti” cruise.
For seven days I would be cruising among the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Huahine) aboard Windstar’s luxury yacht “Wind Spirit.” (See my full story “Sailing Solo in the South Pacific.”)
I decided to give myself some extra days in Tahiti both before and after the cruise, to broaden my island experience and gain a better appreciation of the people and the place. I chose to spend a few nights on the island of Moorea, the nearest of the Society Islands to Tahiti.
The Island of Moorea
Considered to be Tahiti’s little sister (population 16,000), Moorea reflects an authentic Tahitian lifestyle, exuding charm and character throughout the island. Moorea is only 10 nautical miles away from Tahiti, with daily frequent ferry services that shuttle both foot and vehicular passengers between the two islands on a 30-45 minute ride (approximately $22USD return for a passenger, $105USD return for a car and passenger).
Two days all to myself on Moorea, and I couldn’t wait to explore the island. Upon disembarking the ferry, passengers are greeted with the customary Tiare flower (the Tahitian gardenia), a white fragrant flower, which is worn either behind the right or left ear, depending upon your “availability.” If tucked behind the right ear, this indicates to others that you are single; on the left ear, it signals that you are taken or married. The flower is a national symbol of Tahiti, and you will find perfumed products on all of the islands infused with the hypnotic Tiare fragrance.
Accommodation in Moorea
Accommodation options abound in Moorea, from camping to world-class resorts. Most vacation rentals on the island require a minimum stay of 3 nights or longer. I decided on a private luxury beach villa called “Villa Cook” on the north shore of Moorea.
Villa Cook is situated along a private beach of Opunohu Bay in Robinson’s Cove and is the crème de la crème of Robinson’s Cove private beach villas, of which there are four.
Villa Cook is built in Polynesian style with a high-peak thatched roof (covered with a metal roof), floor to ceiling glass sliding doors looking out into Opunohu Bay, and decorated with local artwork and fresh tropical flowers. The villa has a large wrap around lanai complete with lounge chairs and couch, dining table and an inviting hammock!
Accommodating up to 8 people, the villa has two double bedrooms (each with air conditioning), a 3rd loft bedroom reachable by a ladder, two outdoor washrooms and one indoor toilet.
The master bedroom has glass sliding doors that open up to the beach and lagoon. Without even needing to step out of bed, the view and sounds of the water rippling against the shoreline are enough to make you want to lie in bed the entire day. Sipping a cup of tea on the lanai, in the early morning, I felt as though I had the entire island to myself. No traffic, no people, no man-made noise. Just me, myself, and I… in this Polynesian paradise.
Villa Cook is well appointed, with all the comforts of a home-away-from home: full kitchen, dishwasher, washer and dryer, free wi-fi, TV and DVD player, and a well-stocked library with novels and local travel information. Snorkel gear and a kayak are available for guest use, and a small boat can be rented to explore the area. The owner, Denis Laxenaire, left nothing to be desired (except the desire to stay longer).
Let Me Show You Around the Villa…
Exploring the Island of Moorea
While Bora Bora may be the better-known “typical” Tahitian destination, with its striking turquoise waters and luxurious resorts, Moorea retains its laidback Tahitian lifestyle throughout the island, offering visitors a more authentic island-life experience.
A rental car (or scooter or bicycle) is a must while visiting Moorea, without which you will absolutely miss out on many of the island’s hidden gems. There is only one main road (37 miles) that rings around the island, no traffic lights, a handful of stop signs, and a maximum speed limit of 40mph. This makes driving in Moorea extremely easy and nearly impossible to get lost.
The entire drive around the island would normally take about an hour, but if you’ve got all the time in the world and want to be guided by your curiosity, give yourself at least a half-day to explore.
There is no major “centre” in Moorea; instead there are several small villages along the shorelines. The majority of the hotels and villas are found on the northern half of the island (where the sun shines), leaving much of the southern and interior parts to be explored and discovered.
Things to See and Do in Moorea
One of the main sites to visit on the island (and one of the most photogenic) is Belvedere Lookout high atop a mountain, which on a clear day gives spectacular, out-of-this-world views of Opunohu Bay, Cook’s Bay and Mount Rotui.
Plan for at least one hour when you’re heading up to Belvedere Lookout, as you’ll want to allow yourself time to stop at various sites along the way. Only a one-minute turnoff from Villa Cook, Belvedere Lookout is accessible by one inland road. Be sure to pay special attention to the narrow road, as it becomes steep and curvy as you head up the mountain.
Opunohu Agricultural High School is the first stop, where you can visit tropical plantations and purchase refreshing fruit juices and jams, such as pineapple coconut. Further up the road are two of the island’s important archaeological sites (called “marae”) where ancient customs took place, including human sacrifice, political meetings and major social events. It is impossible not to feel the weight of history as you walk among the moss-covered sacred stone structures, sheltered by the towering “Mapé” (Tahitian Chestnut) trees.
If you have the time and you’re out to explore, you’ll come across stretches of white-sand beach, fruit stands on the side of the road and little shops selling handicrafts and the ever-popular Tahitian (“black”) pearls.
Only a few minutes away from the villa, you’ll find “Natural Mystic,” a shop owned by four artists selling local artwork and handicrafts made on the premises, including brightly coloured hand-painted pareos.
Feeding Your Belly in Moorea
Having a car is also very handy when it’s time to seek out dining options. While you can always buy basic groceries at one of the small grocery stores and prepare your own meals at the villa, or buy fresh fruit from one of the stands alongside the road, I found it more exciting to go out on a hunt for the local fare and specialities.
One of the owners of Natural Mystic recommended “A L’heure du Sud” roulotte (food truck) just outside of their shop. Oh boy! What a find this was! For less than $4.00USD, I had a freshly made baguette well-stuffed with grilled mahi mahi fish, pesto and tomato, along with a small salad and banana. This is the kind of food that I love to discover – simple, fresh, local and affordable!
I also ate at Snack Mahana, a well-reviewed restaurant that offers flavourful dishes, generous portions and warm service with a smile. For $18.00USD, I enjoyed the popular breaded mahi mahi cooked in coconut milk with rice and a large fresh pineapple juice. Open only for lunch from 12:00-3:00pm, be sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait in line and accept what is left on the menu.
While you can’t see the sunrise from the villa, you definitely won’t want to miss the sunset. Pour yourself a glass of French red wine and enjoy the sun set behind the jagged mountains from the comfort and privacy of the lanai. What a perfect way to end a day in Polynesian paradise.
As the song says, “changes in latitude, changes in attitude.” Fast-paced tours and itinerary checklists have no place here on the islands. The more time you spend on Moorea and interact with the people, the more you’ll fall in love with this island and find yourself dreaming about your next visit.
Planning a Visit to Polynesian Paradise
With frequent flights (Air Tahiti Nui) between Los Angeles and Tahiti (and Auckland and Tahiti) and a 40-minute ferry ride from Papeete, Moorea is one of the more affordable and accessible islands in French Polynesia.
Most accommodation throughout the island requires a minimum stay of 3 nights or longer. For Robinson’s Cove Villas, you’ll want to secure your villa up to ten months in advance, depending upon the season; high season is July-October.
Whether it’s for a honeymoon, a family dream getaway, or a solo escapade, if you’re after comfort, privacy and luxury, Robinson’s Cove private beach villas offer undeniably attractive options for extending your stay in paradise. For more information about their accommodation options, visit their website.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual escape to French Polynesia. If you missed “Part 1” to this story, you can read it here at Sailing Solo in the South Pacific. (Based on the original story published in Vacation Rental Travels Magazine, Fall 2016).
Do you have a favourite tropical paradise destination? Do you have one on your bucket list? I’d love to hear about it (and I’m sure others will too!) Please share in the comments.