Moorea – Bali Hai

It  is,  without  exaggeration,  one  of  the most  eye-poppingly  gorgeous  islands  in the world. In fact, Moorea is such a stun- ning  South  Seas  locale  that  it’s  been  featured in countless movies that aren’t even set here. When you actually see it for yourself,  you  may  find  it  hard  to  believe  that the   scenery   isn’t   computer-generated: The jagged mountain contours of Moorea are  so  dramatically  faceted  as  to  seem man-made,   and   the   dense   vegetation blanketing every surface of the island has the lush look of green velvet. Writer James Michener  called  Moorea  “a  monument  to the prodigal beauty of nature” and was so inspired  by  Moorea’s  captivatingly  good looks that he based the mythical island of Bali  Ha’i  (in  Tales  of  the  South  Pacific)  on this real-life French Polynesian gem.

Nearby Bora Bora  and its irresistible lagoon tempt you with ways to get out on the  water.  Moorea,  on  the  other  hand,  is more  about  experiencing  nature  on  the island  itself  and  moving  at  a  slower  pace. The  island  is  shaped  roughly  like  a  heart, but  with  two  clefts  instead  of  one.  Those clefts are Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay, both deep, fingerlike bodies of water that are surrounded by soaring, pointed peaks. The  trademark  mountain  on  Moorea  is Moua  Roa,  the  cathedral-like  incisor  of black  stone  that  rises  880m  (2,887  ft.) above  sea  level  at  the  end  of  a  series  of smaller rock “teeth.” Equally photogenic is the 830m-tall (2,723-ft.) Moua Puta, which has a tiny hole at the top. At 1,207m (3,960 ft.), Mount Tohiea is the highest point on the  island,  but  the  best  peak  to  climb  is Mount Rotui (800m/2,625 ft.), which commands  the  South  Pacific’s  most  magnificent  vista,  from  its  Belvedere  lookout over the twin bays of Cook and Oponuhu.

The best way to get around Moorea is by rental car (or numerous outfits on Moorea can provide a four-wheel-drive vehicle and driver/guide  for  you).  The  circle  drive around the island is a must; you can do the quickie  version  in  a  few  hours,  but  if  you have the time, allow several days to see all the sights along the 62km (39-mile) circuit. Stop for the short hike to Atiraa waterfall (near Afareaitu), where the water cascades 32m (105 ft.) down a glistening black rock cliff  to  a  small  pool  where  you  can  swim. Experienced   hikers   can   also   take   to Moorea’s many nature trails, but be sure to bring plenty of water and bug spray.

Though  sea  activities  aren’t  nearly  as central   to   vacationers’   enjoyment   of Moorea as they are on Bora Bora, Moorea still  offers  plenty  of  ways  to  dip  into  that crystal-clear  Polynesian  water.  For  a  lazy day  on  the  beach,  Temae  Plage  Publique  is  Moorea’s  best  stretch  of  public sand.  At  the  Moorea  Dolphin  Center,    visitors   can   swim   with   docile   cetaceans. Another unforgettable South Seas adventure,  swimming  with  and  petting  rays,  can be arranged at the Moorea Lagoonarium, at  Haapiti  near  the  Intercontinental  Hotel.

As   for   accommodations,   luxurious over-water bungalow resorts can be found all along the dramatic northern coast near Cook’s  Bay  and  Oponuhu  Bay,  but  the island  is  also  full  of  casual  fares  (guest houses)  for  a  more  authentic  Polynesian experience.