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French Polynesia: The Most Awesome Cruise We've Taken

French Polynesia: The Most Awesome Cruise We've Taken


avatar   Scott
Trip Date 03/20/2014
Posted On 02/07/2020 16:30:00

Destinations | Cruise | French Polynesia | Tahiti | Papeete | Moorea | Pacific Princess | Snorkeling | Fish



As frequent cruisers, we are often asked, "What is your favorite cruise itinerary?". For so many reasons, my answer is always the same - "French Polynesia". We sailed aboard the Pacific Princess from Papeete, Tahiti around the islands and back again. Although we always like to travel to places we haven't been before, French Polynesia is one destination that we'd definitely like to return to.

Prior to embarking on the cruise ship, we spent two full days on the island of Moorea. All of the French Polynesian islands are expensive, however the culture, history and tranquility are hard to beat. We highly encourage anyone who enjoys snorkeling or diving among vibrantly colored fish and sea life, relaxing near pristine blue waters or experiencing unique cultures to plan a stay on Moorea.


The Beautiful Island of Moorea

The Beautiful Island of Moorea

Getting to the Island of Moorea

Our trip started with a long flight to Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Because Stacy had frequent flyer miles that significantly reduced our out of pocket costs, we flew Air Tahiti Nui. The flight was okay ... if you forget about the fact that the seats in coach seemed to be curved forward. After many hours in the air, this became increasingly more uncomfortable. We survived, but were not looking forward to our return flight!



When landing at most international destinations, our first priority is to get some local currency. Our arrival into Papeete was no different. The currency used on all of the islands within French Polynesia is the French Pacific Franc (XPF or CFP). ATMs are available at the entrance to the airport and also near the Air Tahiti Nui counter. At the time, the fees for withdrawals charged by Banque de Polynesie were less than half of what Banque Socredo charged.

Once we were ready to leave the airport, we needed to make our way to our hotel on the neighboring island of Moorea. When possible, we like to travel like the locals and this was our first opportunity. We pulled our large suitcases (filled with clothes for our cruise) out of the airport, through the parking lot and across the street to the nearest bus stop.

The public bus came by after a short wait, and once we confirmed that it was headed to where we wanted to go, we hopped aboard. We exited at the Gare Maritime stop (aka the Ferry Terminal).

After finding the ticket window, we purchased one way tickets for the Terevau ferry. The ferry makes regular 30 minute trips between the islands of Tahiti and Moorea throughout the day. It's a relatively inexpensive way to travel, plus you get a view of both beautiful islands from a distance throughout the journey.


Riding the Ferry

Riding the Ferry

Upon our arrival, we were supposed to have prearranged transportation to our hotel. Although there were multiple mix-ups and some confusion about the promised pricing, the shuttle all worked out in the end.



Lodging in Moorea

Thanks to points that Stacy had built up from her work travel, we stayed at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa. We decided to splurge to check off a bucket list item - we reserved an Overwater Bungalow. Our stay was awesome, but for us, it was a once in a lifetime experience that we would not repeat as it was too expensive. (We could have stayed for more than a week in many other cities for the same number of points ... or less ... than what we used for our two night stay!)


Overwater Bungalows

Overwater Bungalows

Sunset at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

Sunset at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

We might consider staying in a Garden Suite with Private Pool as they looked wonderful and were much more affordable. By staying in a garden suite, you trade off the glass floor viewing panel for a private pool in an enclosed terrace. While the glass panel is cool, in reality, we mostly saw the sea floor with an occasional fish swimming by.



We did take advantage of the easy access to the beautiful water by snorkeling off of the back of our bungalow. While certainly convenient, since the coral in the area wasn't great, the snorkeling wasn't either. There were much better snorkeling spots around the island, but hey - you can't have everything!


Snorkeling off our Overwater Bungalow

Snorkeling off our Overwater Bungalow

The Toatea Creperie & Bar, located at an intersection of the over the water boardwalks, is a great venue to reminisce about the day's activities. Each evening a school of the blacktip reef sharks swim in under the bar. We sat, enjoyed drinks and maybe a dessert, and watched the sharks swarm in the water just below us. (From the garden suites, you can easily walk along the boardwalk to the overwater bungalows to enjoy the atmosphere.)


Scott at the Shark Bar

Scott at the Shark Bar

Stacy enjoying a Cold Drink

Stacy enjoying a Cold Drink

Blacktip Reef Sharks

Blacktip Reef Sharks

Dining

We ate breakfast each morning at Arii Vahine Restaurant, the open air dining room in the hotel. The buffet style meal with spectacular views was an enjoyable way to start each day - especially since it was included in our room rate due to Stacy's hotel loyalty status!



As on the island of Tahiti, the best bet for inexpensive meals on Moorea are roulottes. Roulettes are outdoor meal wagons (aka food trucks) which are very popular in all of French Polynesia. Moorea has several outdoor eateries that we heard were standouts.

Lilikoi Garden Cafe is located in Papetoai diagonally across the street from the Hilton. The purple and aqua truck sits in a garden and they whip up everything from grilled sandwiches and Japanese-style soba noodles with swordfish to mango tiramisu. We ate there more than once and never had a bad meal.


Lilikoi Garden Cafe

Lilikoi Garden Cafe

La Paillote is located in Hauru Point. Their rotisserie chicken and poisson cru (raw fish) come highly recommended. You can even eat at outdoor tables with your "feet in the sand".



Getting Around Moorea

Renting a scooter for 24 hours allowed explore the island on our own. Due to Moorea's size, we were actually able to drive the perimeter several times. Making more than one visit to the same site helped us to truly take in the history and atmosphere of the Polynesian culture. Our hotel even had a scooter parking area where we were able to safely keep our ride overnight!


Scott on the Scooter

Scott on the Scooter

Points of Interest on Moorea's Perimeter Drive

There are plenty of interesting sites to see when exploring the island. "PK" milestones are located along the perimeter road making it easy to find sites. Although the milestones (actually kilometer markings) begin at the Aeroport de Moorea Temae, we generally traveled counter-clockwise from our hotel. The markers are numbered from PK 0 at the airport to PK 35 on the north coast. At that point, they begin increasing up to PK 24 along the south coast until reaching Haapiti.



Here's some of the sites that we found along our ride with a nearby marker number:

  1. PK 5.4 - Cook's Bay area including the White House (a former vanilla plantation mansion); This is also a great place for views of Mount Tohiea (the island's highest peak) and Mount Mauaroa (the peak shaped like a shark's tooth).


    Mount Mauaroa

    Mount Mauaroa

  2. PK 7 - Galerie Baie de Cook (an art gallery filled with art from local artists)
  3. PK 10 - Moorea Fish Market, Opunohu Bay and the road that leads to Belvedere Lookout; The oldest Marae on the island, Marae Umarea, is also located here. (A Marae is an ancient historical religious site and a symbol of the Polynesian islands. As this, and all other Maraes are spiritual and honored places, it's important that all visitors act respectfully.)



  4. PK 12 - Jus de Fruits de Moorea, a factory and distillery that turns the island's famous produce into juices, smoothies and alcoholic beverages
  5. PK 14 - Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa (Even if you are not staying here, it is worth taking a look at the grounds of this exceptional hotel property.)


    Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

    Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

  6. PK 15.5 - the often photographed Robinson's Cove with its many yachts in the harbor
  7. PK 17.5 - Jardin Kellum, a great tropical botanical garden
  8. PK 18 - the beautiful black sand beach


    Moorea's Black Sand Beach

    Moorea's Black Sand Beach

  9. PK 21 - the octagonal Papetoai Temple located in the village of Papetoai


    Papetoai Temple

    Papetoai Temple

  10. PK 22 - the village of Papetoai, the oldest on the island
  11. PK 31.5 - located near Haapiti is the Marae Nuurua, a three-tiered Marae with a petroglyph of a turtle
  12. PK 33 - a fun photo stop with a huge cement Tahitian warrior


    Milestone Marker On The Road

    Milestone Marker On The Road

    The Stone Warrior

    The Stone Warrior

  13. PK 35 - the twin-towered cathedral Eglise de la Sainte Famille


    Eglise de la Sainte Famille

    Eglise de la Sainte Famille

  14. PK 35/24 - at this point, the numbering begins its descent back toward Temae Airport
  15. PK 20 - the island's southwest coast has retained the atmosphere of old Polynesia
  16. PK 9 - a great view of Mount Mouaputa, the peak with a hole in it that is said to have been pierced by Pai's spear; The first unpaved inland road located north of the hospital leads to the 100 foot Atiraa Falls (also referred to as Afareaitu Waterfall).
  17. PK 4 - Vaiare Wharf located further toward the airport



A Word of Warning

If you decide to make a stop to hike and explore the area of Atiraa Falls, do be careful! We hiked up and down a rocky hill with no problem. Once we neared the bottom just down stream from the waterfall, I decided that I wanted to get a photo.

About a second after telling Stacy "stay here, I'm just getting a photo", I took one step and went down head first. The stone was covered with slime or something of the sort and my feet went over my head as I tumbled down the embankment toward the stream. I landed hard on my right wrist, but didn't think that my wrist was broken or even that I was really hurt.


Atiraa Falls through the Trees

Atiraa Falls through the Trees

After a short amount of recovery time (really just trying to shake off and forget what just happened), we continued our drive on the scooter. Everything seemed fine, and we both thought that I probably had a slight sprain and would be back to 100 percent within a day or two.



Returning to Tahiti

Unfortunately, the sweet beginning of our trip had to come to an end. Embarkation for our cruise around more of French Polynesia was starting soon, so we needed to make our way back to the big island of Tahiti so that we could board our cruise ship. The same Terevau ferry that got us to Moorea took us back to Papeete.


Leaving the Beautiful Palm Trees & Blue Waters of Moorea

Leaving the Beautiful Palm Trees & Blue Waters of Moorea

After disembarking the ferry, we had just a short walk to the dock where the cruise ship was waiting for us. Just as we were about to check-in for boarding, I realized that my passport was not in the place where I normally keep it. After a short panic, I found it in my luggage. We could have gotten massively screwed up if I really lost it, or had already checked my luggage onto the ship before retrieving my passport!



Cruising around French Polynesia

Don't miss our post titled "French Polynesia: The Best Snorkeling Ever!" filled with suggestions on what to see and do when cruising around the islands. Along with the details and contact information for some great private excursions, you won't want to miss the rest of the story about my wrist!

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Moorea

What tips or recommendations do you have for anyone visiting the French Polynesian island of Moorea?


French Polynesia: The Most Awesome Cruise We've Taken




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