Iconic Moorea

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Iconic Moorea
Follow the watery path of Captain Cook, explore ancient temples, dine on fusion French-Polynesian fare, and swim with sharks and stingrays. Moorea is loaded with tropical Polynesian charm and serves it up in comfortable style.
Photo by Jochen Schlenker/age fotostock
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    The Ancient Marae of Opunohu Valley
    This steep valley shaded by tropical chestnut trees is home to around 500 ancient structures that date as far back as the 13th century. The larger marae (temples) are marked from the main road and have panels in English explaining what type of events may have happened at these sites so long ago. The best thing to do is take the trails that run through the woods from these main areas to smaller sites deep in the trees. These trails wind in many directions and you can find yourself at other large temples and spectacular viewpoints—but it's easy to get lost, so keep track of your path.
    Photo by Jochen Schlenker/age fotostock
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    Lycee Agricole's Exotic Jams
    Stop at the little hut just off the main road leading up to Opunohu Valley where you can taste and purchase jams made from local fruits and tubers. Lycee Agricole (Agricultural High School) is where teens from all around the islands come to learn farming, and the jams have been made by students with produce they've grown themselves. The stall may be tended by a friendly student or by an adult who probably helped in the whole process. Every now and then the school also sells ice cream in exotic flavors like passion fruit and taro. If this is on offer when you visit, definitely don't pass it up!
    Photo by Matthias Hoffmann/age fotostock
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    Magical Mountain by ATV
    Take an ATV tour to tool around dirt tracks and paved roads on fun four-wheeled buggies. Most tours run through a scenic pineapple plantation, a deep caldera bowl in the center of the island, up the Opunohu Valley to Belvedere Viewpoint, and then to Magical Mountain Viewpoint—which is nearly impossible to access on your own (for starters, you need permission to go there). While you can get up to Magical Mountain on a 4WD tour, the bumpy, curvy roads aren't much fun when you're in the back of a truck. The outrageous view over the lagoon, mountains, and bay looks even better when you've had so much fun getting there.
    Photo by N. Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Sailor Culture at Cook's Bay
    While Captain Cook actually anchored in Opunohu Bay during his legendary discovery voyages, the bay that's named after him is a favorite anchorage for modern sailors. If you're not a sailor but want to hang out with some card-carrying salty sea dogs, your best bet is to go and have a cocktail or a meal at Bali Hai Club. This hotel and restaurant combo is one of the oldest on the island and retains a lively, old-school ambiance where it's easy to make friends. Look for the fellows spinning yarns over cold Hinano beers as the sun sets in the background. On occasion there are special dinners and performances by local dancers, but you can always count on lots of characters to keep you entertained.
    Photo by Ulla Lohmann/age fotostock
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    Fruit-Infused Tropical Tipples
    Stop in at the Fruit Juice Factory just off the coastal road between Cook's and Opunohu Bays to refresh yourself with a tropical drink—both alcoholic and non-alcoholic are available. Juices range from insanely sweet pineapple to thick mango nectar, but it's the distilled beverages that most people are after. The rums, some infused with pineapple or vanilla, are smooth and perfect for tropical tipples, while the eaux-de-vie (try the ginger or passion fruit) have a serious kick. It's all free, including optional tours of the distillery that last around 40 minutes. That said, it's hard to leave this place without buying something.
    Photo by Eva Gruendema/age fotostock
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    Snuggle Up with a Dolphin
    Dolphins, dolphins everywhere. Look out over the lagoon long enough and you'll see them. They often follow boats, frolic in the passes, and you can go on tours to find pods of them. If this isn't enough, the Intercontinental Moorea Resort and Spa lets you get into an artificial lagoon and swim with their domesticated dolphins (most are retired from the U.S. Army). There are plenty of photo ops and a chance to cuddle and generally have some quality personal time with these amazing marine mammals. Kids love this, of course, but few grown-ups shy away from the opportunity.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Feed Stingrays by Hand
    Hand-feeding stingrays is not for everyone. Dozens of stingrays congregate at a sandbar where, for years, boats have stopped to feed them (and some reef sharks) scraps of fish. Brave visitors can get out of the boat and into the chest-deep water, where the enthusiastic rays will actually swim up onto you, rubbery downturned mouths in your face, to get their nibbles. The sensation is incredibly bizarre since the animal's texture is so unlike anything else—something between neoprene and a slick bathtub. Meanwhile, some reef sharks might dart around your legs, grabbing morsels in the water. It's deemed entirely safe although it doesn't always feel that way when you're in the thick of it.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    French-Polynesian Fusion Cuisine
    Perhaps because it has a large French expat population, Moorea boasts the best collection of French and French-inspired restaurants outside of the Tahitian capital of Papeete. Most chefs take what they know (crepes, duck breast, grilled meats and fish, salads, and more) and add some local flair, be it vanilla or mango sauce, or perhaps some taro alongside the freshest local fish. Not all the best food is served with a view of the sand, and there are a few upscale restaurants in garden-side buildings (try the Mayflower or Rudy's) that make for an exotic-feeling and delicious night out.
    Photo by Douglas Peebles/age fotostock