Why this lesser-known South Pacific island is a perfect spot for a family vacation of a lifetime
Set in the South Pacific, French Polynesia is one of those exotic locations that you dream about: crystal blue waters, swaying palm trees, and exclusive one-of-a-kind resorts. While Tahiti is well known, it’s also become far too commercialized, losing some of its Polynesian charm. Geared more toward honeymooners,Bora Borais exotic for sure, but it also requires an expensive flight (or ferry ride) from Tahiti to reach, and you’ll pay more for accommodations. That’s why I think that Moorea is a perfect family destination.
Equally as beautiful as other French Polynesian islands, Moorea a short 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete, Tahiti.
If you’re arriving in Papeete in the dead of night, consider spending two nights at a more budget-friendly downtown hotel, like Hotel Tahiti Nui. You can recover from your jet lag, take a surfing lesson with Michel Demont, and then have dinner at the roulettes, or nightly food carts. The following morning, you can board the ferry to Moorea.
KidTripster Tip: Book your ferry tickets with Aremiti in advance online. Youth (2-12) $12; Adults $22 round trip. Alternatively, you could take a 10-minute but more expensive flight.
What to do?
No matter what resort you choose, there’s likely to be plenty of water sports to keep you busy: snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and pedal boats. And you’re likely to have a pretty fabulous pool for lounging. But don’t miss out on the best snorkeling on the island at Lagoonarium de Moorea.
Lagoonarium is located on a very small island called Motu Ahi. It’s not too far from the ferry docks; you buy your tickets at a hard-to-find jewelry store on the shore. Then you board an outrigger canoe that delivers you to the island. Quickly grab one of the adorable changing huts to stash your belongings for the day. Bring your own snorkels and towels; water shoes are supplied. If you bring a picnic lunch, you can spend the whole day; there’s no food service on the island (theres' complimentary coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, though). However, short on snacks, we spent a few hours and then headed back to shore.
The sea life here is spectacular: beautifully-colored fish, sting rays, and Blacktip sharks. (Don't worry, the sharks are harmless.) It was comparable to the Great Barrier Reef though very shallow and perfect for little ones. You can even pet the rays. Don’t miss feeding times at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. There’s also a few kayaks, but you’re sharing them with quite a few people. Cost: about $32/person.
In order to get there, I would recommend renting a car on the island for about $40/day. Albert Transport and Activities will deliver the car to your hotel. This option is actually less expensive than paying for a taxi. Then after you visit Lagoonarium, you can use the car to visit the shopping district near Paraoro and Belvedere Lookout for the best view on Moorea. You’ll see the jagged peak of Mt. Rotui, plus Cook’s Bay and Ōpūnohu Bay, site of scenes from the movies Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando and Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re a golfer, you may be tempted to tee up at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, Moorea Green Pearl. Skip it. The conditions are typically very windy and not all that enjoyable.
You also may be tempted to rent scooters and throw the kids on the back for a 36-mile spin around the island. Unless you’re an experienced motorcyclist, I implore you to not do it. We did. When the scooters arrived at the hotel, I had a bad feeling. No Vespa here. The bikes were more like motorcycles - heavy and hard to maneuver. The ride took a terrible turn when we stopped for lunch and pulled into a gravel parking lot. I wiped out, taking my son down with me. We survived with some bad scrapes, enough to keep us out of the salt water for the following two days. Seriously, we’re not the only ones! On the ferry and at the airport, we saw at least three other injured people - far worse than us - all the victims of scooter accidents.
Where to stay?
A trip to French Polynesia is probably a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, so why not go all out? I’d recommend staying at a resort that offers overwater bungalows. Honestly, there’s nothing like being able to snorkel right outside your door. The bungalow was the highlight of our trip. Granted, in order to reserve just one (very pricey) bungalow, we had to request a roll-away cot for my older son; my younger son slept on the couch. But still, it was paradise.
Summer and holidays are high season in Moorea. If you can, save a little by staying in the shoulder season: April to June and September to November. Still overwater bungalows start at roughly $600/night.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah’s sons have never let her live down that scooter accident on Moorea.