Moorea is called the "sister island" of Tahiti and its proximity—just 19 km (12 mi) away across the Sea of Moon—has assured a steady stream of both international and local visitors. Many Tahitians have holiday homes on Moorea and hop over in their boats or take the 30-minute ferry. The draw is South Seas island charm and a relatively slow-paced life. Moorea is an eighth of the size of Tahiti but packs all the classic island features into its triangular shape. Cutting into the northern side of the island are the dramatic Opunohu Bay and Cook's Bay, the latter backed by the shark-toothed Mt. Mouaroa and home to many resorts and restaurants. Between the two bays majestic Mt. Rotui rises 2,020 feet (616 meters) and steep, jagged mountain ridges run across the island. From the Belvedere lookout there are awesome views of these bays and mountains, including the tallest peak—the thumb-shaped Mt. Tohiea reaching 3,960 feet (1,207 meters) into the clouds. Moorea is ringed by a coral reef enclosing a beautiful and quite narrow lagoon. Unlike other islands in the Society group, Moorea has only a couple of motu (islets) and they are located off the northwest corner. The island's rugged peaks and deep bays are said to be the inspiration for James A. Michener's mythical isle of Bali Hai, although historians dispute this claim. It's also believed to be the "birthplace" of the legendary overwater bungalow: a trio of Californian guys who came to Moorea in the 1950s and became known as the Bali Hai boys reportedly dreamt up this unique style of hotel room. Today there are seven resorts and about 24 smaller hotels and pensions, acres of pineapple plantations, and one of only two golf courses in French Polynesia. Moorea is an easy island to explore by car. The one coastal road is just 61 km (37 mi) long, and the best part of a day is needed to travel the road and stop off at the villages, bays, little churches, and cafés along the way and to travel into the interior to the Belvedere lookout and the marae (ancient temples). The lagoon and bays can be discovered on organized excursions that may include a picnic lunch on one of the motu at the island's northwest corner. There are also small motorboats for hire for a half or full day, with no license required. You won't find too many tracks of endless white sands on Moorea; however, the top resorts have lovely man-made beaches and the lagoon-side pensions and lodges always have at least a little patch of sand. Half-day and full-day 4WD tours take in all the sights and some areas inaccessible to motorists, while hiking is a great way to see the pineapple and fruit plantations and lush valleys.
When it comes to dining in Moorea you'll be spoiled with choices, but you won't have to break the bank. There are some expensive French restaurants, but there are also quite a few mobile roulottes (caravans selling hot food and traditional poisson cru) and pizza and hamburger joints, Chinese restaurants, and restaurants with live music several times a week. Resort hotels have lovely lagoon front restaurants and usually stage one Polynesian buffet a week followed by a traditional dance show. In an attempt to appease various palates, some resort meals can be quite bland. If you like variety in your dining life, eat at independent restaurants and don't buy the resort meal packages. Most restaurants will pick you up for free, a few may ask for a small transport charge. You'll find most restaurants around the Cook's Bay-Maharepa and Hauru Point districts.
Moorea is said to have one-third of French Polynesia's total hotel capacity with more than 900 hotel rooms, bungalows, family-run lodges, and pensions. However, it still manages to be laid-back and peaceful. There are just three international resorts—Sofitel, InterContinental, and Sheraton—and French Polynesia's own Pearl resort, which are the only accommodations with overwater bungalows. The rest run the gamut from mid-range hotels (some with pools) with between 15 and 37 rooms and bungalows, and family-run pensions, lodges, and self-catering bungalows. Most are located on the lagoon, with one or two in the interior. The new Legends Resort Moorea, which opened in July 2008, is on the hillside overlooking Hauru Point and is a 10-minute drive from the beach. There are a handful of villas and houses available for weekly and longer rentals, plus a couple of camping grounds.
While Moorea doesn't really rock well into the wee hours, there's more entertainment here than any other island, with the exception of Tahiti itself. Some restaurants have live music—singers and bands—while the resorts (and some smaller hotels) stage Polynesian dance shows. The Pearl Resort has traditional performances on Wednesday and Friday, and Bali Hai stages its cultural shows on Wednesday as well. It's best to check with individual resorts. The Tiki Village turns on a cultural extravaganza, complete with fire dancing, four nights a week.
Many creative people have made Moorea their home, choosing its peaceful environment over bustling Pape'ete. They include painters, sculptors, wood carvers, and tattoo artists, many of whom have studios and galleries. Boutiques sell the famous black pearls and others sell pareos (Tahitian sarongs) and original-design clothing and jewelry.
Apart from black Tahitian pearl jewelry, there are many local crafts including wood carvings, basketware, and hand-painted pareos.
Galerie Van der Heyde
This gallery displays the work of resident Dutch painter Aad Van der Heyde, who has lived in Moorea for more than 30 years. Other displays include Marquesan wood carvings, shell jewelry, tapa cloth, and other South Seas souvenirs.
Ron Hall's Island Fashion
This black pearl and clothing boutique has been run by American Ron Hall and his Tahitian son for the past 20 years.