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Back in 2013, my wife and I traveled to the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia for our honeymoon. When we started the process of planning the big trip, we made a dream honeymoon checklist with some pretty lofty goals! I can confidently say that the small, lesser-known island of Mo’orea covered every item on our list!
Our dream honeymoon list looked like this:
- Overwater bungalows!!
- Crystal blue water/Beautiful scenery
- Great snorkeling
- Land-based activities – golf, hiking, etc.
- Solid dining options
Our search started with the Maldives, because of the gorgeous resorts with overwater bungalows. We ended up ruling that out, because the trip there would take 32 hours, and the inter-island flights were very expensive. Next, we looked at Bora Bora, which hits most of the items on our list. However, Bora Bora is mostly water, which limited the options for land-based activities. My wife is not the strongest swimmer, and 11 days of water-only did not really appeal to her.
Our Bora Bora search led us to notice its neighbor island. No, not Tahiti – the tiny island of Mo’orea, which lies between Tahiti and Bora Bora in the South Pacific Ocean.
- Air Travel/Transportation – How we got there and how we got around.
- Accommodations – Where we stayed on the island.
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit.
- Advice – Helpful advice from lessons we learned on the island.
We booked this trip before we got deep into the points game. At this time, I had only earned Hilton points through work, and I think our largest airline point balance was around 12,000 with US Airways (what an old-timey sentence!) Since we didn’t have airline miles, we had to **gag** pay for our flights…
If we had known then what we know now, we would have accrued miles and booked flights on Air Tahiti Nui or Hawaiian Air using one of their partner airlines. The primary options I see are:
- Air France Flying Blue Miles – 60,000 RT on Air Tahiti Nui or Air France
- Korean Air Miles – 60,000 RT on Air France (LAX only)
- American Airlines Miles – 75,000 RT on Air Tahiti Nui or Hawaiian
Air France is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, and Korean Air is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also transfer Starwood points to either airline. Finding availability and booking these flights can be tricky and will be covered in a future post.
Hilton Mo’orea Resort & Spa – 37,500 HHonors Points x 10 nights
We spent a glorious 11 days and 10 nights at the Hilton Mo’orea Resort and Spa in a panoramic overwater bungalow. If you check the resort map, we were in bungalow #74! Due to the infamous Hilton Honors point devaluation, this resort has become much more expensive to book on points. Currently, rooms go for a minimum of 70,000 per night. Be sure to take advantage of the 5th night free if you do decide to book.
Our room at the Hilton was incredible! We were at the very end of the walkway, giving us maximum privacy. Inside the room, we had a huge bathroom with an open shower and garden tub. The bathroom had dual vanities and a window into the bedroom. In the bedroom, we had a seating area with a glass-top coffee table, which looked down through the glass floor, directly into the water below! Every night, turn-down service would adorn our bed with flowers and chocolates. Out the back door of the bungalow, we had a deck with lounge chairs and a seating table/chairs for enjoying lunch outside. We could then walk down a staircase to a lower deck and dive directly into the crystal blue waters!
Due to my Hilton Diamond status, we were given free breakfast every morning and a couple free drink tickets. We took full advantage of our morning meal, especially the array of fresh juices and fruits. They also had eggs, pastries, cereal, yogurt, and an assortment of meats. Another perk of the resort was free gear rentals. We tried our hand at kayaking and paddle boarding in the lagoon, and then we borrowed snorkel gear and enjoyed the beautiful fish living around our bungalow.
Mo’orea is mostly protected by a reef, which creates large areas of relatively shallow water along the coast. This is why the island is prime for overwater bungalows. The water is perfectly clear, pleasantly warm, and usually shallow enough to touch the bottom. These factors create an ideal snorkeling environment.
We snorkeled in two primary areas. The first snorkel spot was right off of the back deck of our room. Roll out of bed, throw on a mask & snorkel, and you’re ready to go! The support legs of our bungalow were covered with coral, which provided a home to hundreds of tiny, colorful fish. Around the resort, we discovered beautiful coral formations, spiny urchins, large schools of fish, and even a few reef sharks (don’t worry, they are harmless).
The second snorkeling area is called the Lagoonarium. It is absolutely fantastic and was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. Upon arrival, a boat picks you up on the shore and whisks you to a tiny island. Here, you drop your pack in a personal hut, and jump into the water. Ropes are attached to buoys spanning a large coral reef. Pull yourself along the ropes to see all of the unique creatures living in this incredible space. We honestly felt like we were swimming in a giant, open water, tropical aquarium! Twice per day, Lagoonarium staff feed the fish. The feedings bring in huge sting rays, black-tip reef sharks, and too many fish to count. We were able to feed the fish, hitch a ride on a sting ray, and touch a reef shark! When you tire of swimming, you can purchase lunch and coffee (or eat your own packed lunch), before returning to the shore. We highly recommend this activity!
Motu Picnic Excursion
The Motu picnic excursion included a tour of the island by boat, dolphin watching, sting ray feeding, and a picnic on a small, uninhabited island (motu). The island tour was very relaxing, and we saw quite a few schools of dolphins swimming and jumping. We anchored the boat on a sandbar, and our guide allowed us to feed and pet the rays. They were very gentle and soft to the touch, and they reminded us of excited puppies who just want to play.
After 30 minutes, we boarded the boat again headed for the motu. Here, our guide taught us how to make an authentic Mo’orean tuna ceviche dish with fresh coconut milk. The excursion staff then set up a buffet with barbecue, fresh fruit, desserts, and local beer. We thoroughly enjoyed the food, drinks, and friends we made on the tour. This tour is offered through the various resorts.
We wanted to explore the island by ourselves, outside the bounds of a specific tour. The second day of our trip, we decided to rent a car. Cars on Mo’orea are not fancy, and I never saw one with an automatic transmission. Be aware of this if you cannot drive a stick! (The rental company never mentioned this, but fortunately it was not a problem.) We drove around the entire perimeter of the island during our day trip. We also made stops to check out some ancient ruins, and to visit the Belvedere Overlook. This is a spot high on the mountain, where you can see both of Mo’orea’s beautiful bays. We were also able to do some shopping and find what became our favorite restaurant on the island.
Car rentals are expensive on Mo’orea, so we opted to get a scooter to visit the grocery store, the Lagoonarium, and do some additional shopping. I really enjoyed zipping around the island on our little two-wheeled beast! It was less than half the price of a rental car, and provided all of the same freedom to do as we pleased. I definitely think scooters are the way to go. The only drawback is that scooters would probably struggle to climb the mountain with two riders.
Along the mountainside, in the tropical jungle, we found the ruins of an ancient Polynesian tribal temple. We parked the car along the road and hiked in a little deeper to explore. Jungle paths connected what remained of two temples. We overheard a tour guide in the distance telling his group about the human sacrifices that took place here. Creeeepy!
Mo’orea features a beautiful 18-hole golf course – The Green Pearl Golf Course. The course has some gorgeous coastal and mountain views. Be sure to keep a towel handy or pack a golf golve, because your hands will be rather sweaty in the tropical heat!
One of the few items produced on Mo’orea is fruit juice. They do it VERY well! Visit the juice factory for tours and samples of the delicious pineapple, guava, mango, and papaya juice. They also offer juice cocktails and frozen drinks. YUM!
Almost all food on Mo’orea is expensive! Other than fish, most of the food has to be imported, which adds a lot of cost to the ingredients. Expect to spend quite a bit on food during your time on the island.
This seaside café is rated #1 by TripAdvisor, and it was our favorite dining spot on the island. Perched on the water’s edge, this small restaurant serves some delicious, authentic Mo’orean dishes.
The Hilton features an awesome crepe restaurant over the water. The restaurant itself is situated in the middle of the over-water bungalow section of the resort. Crepes on the menu include savory and sweet options, and you can watch sharks swim under your feet as you enjoy your dinner!
Luau Dinner Buffet
Since we were on a Polynesian island, we decided to check out an “authentic luau” dinner show and buffet. We booked this through the resort, and it was actually pretty fun. The show included fire dancing, gymnastics, human pyramids, and even some awkward dance lessons for me. The food array was massive!
Lilikoi Garden Café
In an effort to save some money on food, we decided to consult Yelp and TripAdvisor for restaurants near our resort. Fortunately, one popped up – The Lilikoi Garden Café! This tiny café was a two minute walk from the gates of the Hilton, and they served delicious and reasonably-priced sandwiches, fresh fish, ice cream, and smoothies. The owner is a very sweet French lady who speaks perfect English and always greeted us with a huge smile.
Another relatively inexpensive food choice on Mo’orea is pizza. We found a lot of places offer pizza as a menu option, and even a pie at the resort was only around $19. We were able to share the pizza as a light lunch.
If you are feeling adventurous, you may want to check out the small “burger shack” near the Hilton. I call this a burger shack, but really, it is just a shirtless dude and his dog, who live in a shanty near the resort. If you walk out of the resort, turn left, and walk for about 3 minutes, you will arrive at the house. The burgers here were nothing to write home about (ironic that I’m now writing about them here), but they were very cheap ($2.50)… and actually pretty tasty. I am not sure whether this place is still in “business,” but it’s worth a look, especially after a few cocktails!
Tips about Tips
Tipping is not expected on the island. At restaurants, tips are built into the cost of the food and drink. As a result of no tipping, you will notice that most of the wait staff is on “island-time.” Know this going in and don’t be in a hurry to get in and out of a restaurant.
Liquor at LAX
Buy your liquor duty-free at LAX before you leave. We bought a couple bottles of vodka and a bottle of rum for around $30 each at LAX, compared to $65+ per bottle if you buy them on the island. We bought fresh fruit juice at the island’s local grocery store for a few bucks and mixed our own drinks. This was a much better option than paying $20 per cocktail on the resort.
Tahiti and Mo’orea are known for their beautiful black pearls. These pearls have colorful hues ranging from mint green to deep blue to dark purple. We learned that the pearls are mostly grown in pearl farms in nearby motu’s (groups of islands). The process takes many years to produce a high quality pearl, and most pearls have imperfections. The larger pearls are generally older, and the fewer imperfections, the higher the price. I recommend buying your diamond at one of the island’s reputable dealers (not at the stalls near the cruise port). We purchased her’s pearl at a the Albert Store, directly across from the Intercontinental Resort, and they mounted it for us free of charge.
Mo’orea was an absolute dream destination! We loved literally every second of our honeymoon, from relaxing on the deck of our overwater bungalow, to eating fresh ceviche and making new friends, to swimming with actual sharks, and much more… this trip will be one that we remember forever. If you are considering an island getaway, we encourage you to visit Mo’orea! Cheers!