Stand-up paddling Mo’orea – My journey back to my roots
A clear candidate for ‘Paradise on earth’ is Tahiti’s little sister island Mo’orea. It’s a passionate heart shaped island with eight volcanic peaks in a sleeping beauty landscape with all the magic you would expect from a fairy tale existence.
And surrounding the heart is a protective barrier reef. Yes, it’s enchanting and is easily deserving of its reputation as French Polynesia’s ‘magical island’. Consistent with the rest of French Polynesia, Moorea is a lovely parcel of European and Pacific cultures. And its world class waves, shimmering seductively in their turquoise aquamarine colours, invite nothing but wonder. It’s five star luxury in or out of the water, without exception.
My love affair with Moorea began on a trip through French Polynesia in 2016. It was a cheerful, sunny day in Tahiti and I recall catching the 30-minute ferry from Papeete to Moorea. As the boat approached the seemingly wild Moorea, I asked my Mum, excitedly commenting on its beauty, if we could just sit in silence for a moment so I could take Moorea in. It wasn’t so much its sapphire waters that captivated me, but how it’s majestic giant peaks rose out of the blue waters on the horizon. Most people fall in love with Moorea the moment they step off the boat or plane. I fell in love with its sheer beauty at first sight, still on the boat! It heightened my attention to detail and I have since felt this gravitational pull to go back. My return to Moorea on this trip was much the same. As the ferry drew closer to the island I felt a world away from the big island. It was as if I’d travelled back in time with a sense of stillness; of joy. There’s something for everyone in Moorea. If you’re an avid surfer, Standuppaddleboarder and Freediver like me (and plan your trips around places you can do all three), this is one place you will visit and won’t want to leave! It’s a snorkeling, freediving and paddle-boarding heaven. I hope this post inspires you to travel to this special place, and once there, assists you on your heart journey.
Top tips for Moorea whether you’re a Top Standuppaddleboarder, Surfer or just going for a holiday I’ve divided this into four parts:
(1) General tips for all
(2) General tips if you’re going to catch a wave
(3) Where to Stay – Hilton Moorea
(4) Packing list if you’re travelling to SUP or surf.
(1) General tips for all
- Save time on adjusting your watch to island time and simply take it off. While you’re at it, turn your phone off. Replace your daily schedule with a daily practice of patience and living in the moment. Wander and explore empty roads, secluded beaches and night skies littered with millions of stars. Moorea is a place to breathe, relax, unwind and appreciate what nature has created. Become in tune with the natural rhythms and feel connected to the environment.
- Hire a car or bike. With only one major road going around the island, you can’t get lost. If you are travelling with boards you will definitely need a hire car. We hired a car from Avis with roof-racks. Avis was directly opposite the ferry terminal (2min walk). The car won’t come with roof-racks unless you request it in advance. Although many people drive around Moorea’s 60-kilometer coastline (it will take you about an hour without stopping), we never did this. I’ve done this before and felt it was unnecessary as there was so much to do and explore without having to do the full loop. I’ve always been one to prefer to spend time exploring roads leading inland off the beaten track as this allows you to get a real feel for ‘island life.’ If the grass is already perfect, you don’t need to go searching to find the greener version!
- Feel like an island princess by purchasing a traditional Tahitian flower crown (known as Heipua). I purchased the most incredible flower crown from a lovely lady selling them in the morning on the side of the road for approximately $20 AUD.
- Swim with the sharks & stingrays.
There are few places I’ve visited in the world with the same spellbinding shades of blue/sapphire/aqua as my home island Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. The colours in Moorea’s spectacular lagoon match this. With such pristine clear water, swimming with sharks and stingrays is an absolute must. I’m an avid Freediver, fearful of nothing underwater – I’ve travelled all over the world and through many parts of French Polynesia and I’ve never found a place better to swim with sharks or stingrays – it’s a truly surreal experience. One of my favorite snorkeling secrets is on a sand bank off Moorea in just three feet of water. Just outside Cook’s Bay, you find yourself face to face with dozens of friendly and elegant stingrays and sharks. Take scraps of squid or bread with you in your hand and this will allow you to caress the stingrays’ velvety undersides. To find the spot, park in the parking lot opposite ‘Les Tipaniers’. Walk down to the beach where it says, ‘Reception’, and then paddle to the right about 2km towards red and green buoy As you get closer to the channels you will see a white buoy to anchor. Anchor and wait for the magic to happen. Make sure you don’t wear reef shoes, as the velvety skin of the stingrays swimming past your feet feels amazing.
5. Explore Tropical Nature by Foot
Get a Magical view of the island. Moorea is famous for its mountains, including Mt. Rotui that offers spectacular views of Opunohu Bay and the rest of the island. Any nature lover will love the wide variety of fauna and flora. Moorea rewards those who get off the beaten track with some serious views. Choose from a number of hikes and get to know the island’s natural landscape from up close, and up high. If you are on the hunt for a cascading waterfall, only go in search of one if it has rained a lot as these are far off the beaten track and not easily accessible. There won’t be much of a waterfall unless there has been a lot of rain! Alternatively, you can climb up to a ridge with panoramic views. The hikes in Moorea are among the best in the South Pacific. Most tourists climb to the ‘belvedere’. Although this hike is amazing, on this trip the surf was good and the sun was out, so I wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible. So the compromise was to drive up Mt Rotui, to where you start the belvedere walk. and go exploring up some of the tracks in search of a pineapple plantation. The views were incredible.
6.Nights in Moorea are very quiet which suited me perfectly as I love a good night’s sleep and being able to fall asleep to the sound of the wind and the waves. If you like clubbing or drinking, don’t expect to find it here. The island lives by the sun. Locals wake early and go to bed early.
7.How to get to Moorea You will need to fly to Faa’a International airport in Papeete. If travelling from Australia or New Zealand, you can fly with Air Tahiti Nui. Air Tahiti Nui flies non-stop to Tahiti twice a week on Thursday and Sunday from NZ. After arrival you can catch the ferry (30mins) to Moorea. The only airline that flies between these islands is Air Tahiti (Air Tahiti and Air Tahiti Nui are different airlines, in case you get confused). The flight ticket to Moorea is a lot more expensive then the $20 ferry. If you are travelling with boards, I’d recommend getting the ferry to Moorea. The plane that travels from Papeete to Moorea is only small and you risk not getting your boards on otherwise. Once in Moorea getting to other islands with your boards is easy – I travelled all over French Polynesia with a 7’8 board. This said, don’t go bigger than 7’8.
8.Learn some French phrases. This will earn you instant respect. And also learn some Tahitian. Tahitians are some of the warmest and most beautiful people you’ll ever meet. For me, the locals of Moorea were one of the highlights of my whole trip through French Polynesia.
9.Leave something behind for the locals when you leave Moorea. This could be leashes, fins, your surfboard if it’s old and clothes you don’t need back home. Things that don’t mean much to you, make a huge difference to locals.
10.What to eat. The emblematic and sacred fruit of Moorea is pineapple. They even have a pineapple road. It would be rude to not at least sample this sweet and refreshing fruit. You can purchase beautiful lush pineapples, fruits and chilled coconuts on the roadside. Even petrol stations sell bunches of quality pineapples. It’s easier to buy a bunch of pineapples than it is apples. The sweetest pineapples I have ever tasted are from Moorea.
And then there’s the fresh local fish. You can find fresh tender quality fish, white tuna, red tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish and more, on the side of the road. Supermarkets also sell fresh filleted cheap fish, but the best by far is the fish you will see hanging on the side of the road. It’s the freshest AND the cheapest! I adore buying from the local people but the only tricky thing is finding somewhere to cook it when staying in 5-star accommodation. But I was still determined to eat the fresh fish I purchased one morning so we went on a mission that evening to find someone to cook it for us. This ended up turning into one of the highlights of my whole trip. We found a lovely local family cooking a bbq by the beach and asked if we could pay them to cook the fish for us. The generous lady, who only spoke Tahitian, cooked it to perfection, sautéing it in rich soy sauce. Her husband cut up cucumber to complement the dish. Then our attempts at offering more money for their hospitality was graciously refused. The fish was incredible: succulent, tender and prepared with so much love. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had – truly.
Fish was our staple breakfast dish every day. It’s a Tahiti thing and a lot healthier then eating croissants, pastries and baguettes (another Tahitian thing). At the Hilton Moorea, where I stayed, my introduction to the best poached eggs of my life was scream material! And then there was either fresh grilled fish or Tahiti’s signature dish – ‘poisson cru’. With its sweet, tender, refreshing and exotic taste – its flavor truly defines the essence of French Polynesia. In French, “poisson cru” literally means “raw fish.” It consists of sushi grade fresh raw tuna cooked in limejuice and mixed with a delicious blend of diced vegetables and coconut milk. I make this all the time at home but without the coconut milk to make it even healthier.
(2) Tips if you’re a Standuppaddleboarder/Surfer and keen to get waves. Moorea has a lot of high quality reef breaks, mainly lefts. Although a ‘natural footer’, I’ve only ever been able to surf lefts in Moorea – the right options seem to be twice as fast and shallow. 2012 World Champion, Joel Parkinson, visited Moorea for his honeymoon. Parko spent three days getting some of the best waves of his life. Bethany Hamilton filmed her movie #surfslikeagirl in Moorea’s Haapiti. Moorea is only for experienced surfers. I surfed on my 7’8 High performance Naish SUPSurfboard, but didn’t do any fancy tricks. Every wave you try and get barreled, means you need to pull off before your board makes love with the reef. The waves are very aggressive and powerful. Currents can get exceptionally strong and most of the waves break onto shallow reef. To surf them, the best way is to be guided by a local who will explain the spot. The only person I know of that actually does this in Moorea is Tama, the owner of Moorea Surf Inn. All waves are a long paddle out (around 2km/1mile, 30mins) so you will need to pay for a boat out if you’re not SUPsurfing and can easily paddle out.
A brief summary of the main breaks
Club Med Left and Right, North shore (by the Intercontinental): These breaks were formerly in front of Club Med, which closed nearly 20years ago. The closest hotel to the breaks now is the Intercontinental Moorea & Spa. You can pay for a taxiboat from the hotel to the breaks, or if you wish to SUPSurf, simply paddle out. I am yet to see ‘Club Med Right’ work. Seems to always be straight and one super fast closeout. The left however can be lovely and long. Unless you’re a local and know the right well I would recommend giving it a miss.
Haapiti, Southwest coast (by the white church and Moorea Surf Inn) This is where you will most likely see surfers. This is the Teauhupoo of Moorea and holds more size then the other waves. It is my personal favourite wave in Moorea and where I surf most often. It is less shallow then the other breaks but still very aggressive and fast. With a southwest swell it is very fast with big barrels and with a southeast swell it’s a perfect long left. I have got some of the best and most terrifying lefts of my life here. Make sure if surfing here that you sit near the reef pass, as this is where the waves will break into an opening in the barrier of coral, allowing a safe ride into a deep channel.
Temae, South East coast (go to Temae golf course, search the beach and look for it breaking) Temae is a powerful and technical right, I’m yet to surf it, as it works very rarely and requires a very good technical level of surf and much experience. Many surfers are scared by this one because of several accidents. It breaks onto the shore but in order to even get onto a wave you need to be prepared to launch between rocks and sea urchins.
(3) Where to Stay – Hilton Moorea.
I would like to think of myself as a low maintenance intrepid traveler with a voracious passion for the ocean and nature, immersing myself in local culture and custom. I do love the finer things though, and believe you only live once. On my return to Moorea this trip, I decided to live like a princess and stay at the Hilton Moorea. By day I’d explore Moorea: surf, paddleboard, swim with the manta rays and black tip sharks and go on crazy adventures. And by night I’d get lost staring up at the stars in my overwater bungalow, before getting lost in a big pile of pillows listening to the ocean. I love a good bed and had heard the Hilton Moorea had the best. Set amidst abundant tropical gardens and velvet green majestic mountains, rimmed by a white sandy beach and spectacular ten-acre glistening aquamarine lagoon, I had heard magical stories about the Hilton:
- ‘There is no better place to enjoy views of a full moon.’ This rumor proved to be true, and exceeded all my expectations. I remember waking after my first night at the Hilton, excited to paddleboard off my overwater bungalow deck into the sunrise, after getting distracted from the sunrise by the black tip reef sharks swimming under my board. Don’t worry, they are super friendly and safe to swim with. I look up turn my head and on the other side of my bungalow see the full-moon still in the sky. This is one of the most magical sunrise experiences I’ve ever had.
- ‘It’s mesmerizing cerulean lagoon is the best place on the island to snorkel and swim with fish.’ Avid snorkelers go as far to say it’s the best place in the whole world they have ever snorkeled. This also proved to be true. The resort’s lagoon boasts abundant species of fish
- ‘That although lavish and outstandingly luxurious it has retained French Polynesia’s mana with its contemporary polynesian style, and is anything but a typical 5-star sterile resort’ This also was factual. Upon arrival to my stylish overwater bungalow with panoramic views, I felt instantly at home with its soft creams and browns, thatched roof, room numbers carved into shells, luxurious marble bathroom with a claw-foot bathtub and a private deck for when you’re ready to take a dip into heaven. To top it off, the overwater bungalows have glass floor-viewing panels. I was instantly cemented to the floor gazing in awe of all the exotic marine life swimming freely beneath my feet, I found myself stuck in the same spot later that night watching a school of black tip sharks swim underneath me. Surreal. I couldn’t think of a more idyllic place to fall asleep.
- That they serve the best breakfast.’ This is unquestionably true. We enjoyed the Hilton’s buffet breakfast each day. For me this was out of my usual routine as I’ve never been a big fan of buffet meals. I’ve always felt they compromise quality with quantity. However, The Hilton won my taste buds over and proved that this is not always the case. I was provided with the ultimate buffet breakfast with both quantity and quality. I’m the fussiest eater – pescatearin – I don’t eat gluten. I buy organic wherever I can and only eat fresh fish (caught the day I’m eating it), fruit and vegetables. The breakfast was heaven. All the healthy choices and everything was divine. They had fresh tender fish and as stated earlier in my blog, they had several varieties of the poisson cru and grilled fresh fish. In addition, there was seaweed salad; all the fruit and vegetables you could think of and an omelet and egg bar. My partner also eats healthy but has a particular weakness for French croissants! He loved that he could spread these with an amazing selection of homemade jams, with flavors such as pineapple, vanilla and lemon. Each morning at breakfast his face lit up like a little kid in a candy store – he loved the banana and pineapple jams in particular.
- ‘Most importantly that they treat their staff well, resulting in outstanding customer service (as the staff are happy); helping the resort ambience retain the Polynesian ‘mana’ spirit. ‘This was definitely the case. We were welcomed with open arms. The staff with their big authentic smiles, seemingly as happy to be working at the resort as I was staying there, offered us fresh chilled pineapple juice and draped flower leis over our heads. They went above and beyond. If they couldn’t help, they would find someone who could. And on our last night they delivered a lovely personalized card from the manager and chocolates. This was so thoughtful. Yes, it’s the little things which truly make an amazing stay an unforgettable one.
So the rumors were all true. The hotel oozed with class and exclusivity and was nothing short of magnificence. It captivated my senses and my heart. It is an experience in itself and as I departed, I left with a rejuvenated spirit and a hunger to return.
Packing List – if you’re travelling to surf or Standuppaddle If you are travelling to Moorea for a surf or Standuppaddle trip, make sure to take everything you need! There are no surf shops, no surf schools and only one person I know of who rents surfboards (at The Moorea Surf Lodge). You can purchase leashes, deckpads and wax from petrol stations but you’re looking to pay at least twice what you normally would. Here’s my list:
- Inflatable StandupPaddleboard (I travelled with my Redpaddle 10’6 inflatable, which rolls nicely into a check-in bag with pump). Most hotels have paddleboards for flat water, but you will be confined to paddling around your hotel and I don’t know of anywhere in Moorea you can hire a paddleboard unless you are staying at the place that holds them. If you’re wanting to explore the surf-breaks or swim with the Manta Rays and Sharks without having to pay for a boat to take you out, take your own inflatable Standuppaddleboard or SUP Surfboard (outlined below), you only need one SUP.
- SUP HIghperformance Surfboard – If you’re like me and love to surf on a paddleboard, you will definitely have to take your own board. There is no- where in the whole of French Polynesia where you can hire Standuppaddleboards to surf on. In Moorea you won’t be able to surf anything bigger then 8’0 and the waves are for advanced, very experienced SUPsurfers only. I travelled with my 7’8 Naish Hokua. I wouldn’t take anything bigger then this, especially if you expect to get them on the plane to any other islands in French-polynesia.
- 2 x leg-ropes. Leg-ropes come in handy if you wish to paddle and then snorkel, freedive, surf or go swimming with manta rays/yellow tip reef sharks. You can paddle out to where the boats anchor and use your leg-rope to anchor your own board.
- Snorkelling equipment/Goggles (if you’re only staying in the main lagoon you don’t need flippers as it’s under head high standing).
- Dermalogica sunscreen. I’m in love with Dermalogica’s protection 50 sport spf50 and the Solar Defence boaster SPF 50. Both products are light, with no harsh chemicals and are the only sun protection products I have had good experiences with these as the sunscreen doesn’t go into my eyes when I’m in the water or clog up my skin.
- Tropical Clothing. “Pareo” (a kind of wraparound sarong cultured in beautifully bright floral shades).
- To charge your phone a 2 round prong adapter (for Europe)