Moorea Beyond the Beaches

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Moorea Beyond the Beaches
For all its sleepy, tropical charm, Moorea is actually a pretty happening island. Hike the interior or try myriad water activities, from scuba diving to kite surfing.
Photo by Tom Pepeira/age fotostock
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    Whales and Dolphins
    Humpback whales migrate to Moorea between the months of July and October, while dolphins frolic here year-round. The best person to connect with for an unforgettable excursion is American expat Dr. Michael Poole, who has been studying the mammals here for over 20 years. During whale season you can expect to see the gentle giants swimming or even breaching from your boat, and if conditions are right you may even be able to snorkel with them. Dolphin sightings are almost guaranteed. You'll also learn all about the biology, behavior, and local significance of these creatures.
    Photo by Tom Pepeira/age fotostock
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    Hike to Knife-Edged Peaks
    Moorea's dramatic, geometric silhouette is legendary; luckily, some of the best hiking trails in the country will bring you right up to the sunny peaks. The most popular DIY hikes include the steep climb to Three Coconut Trees Pass, where there are views over the mythological-looking Mount Mouaroa and Mount Tohiea. You can continue from here to the Opunohu Valley Loop to access more viewpoints, down through an ancient caldera to Opunohu Bay. If you need a stiffer challenge, climb 2,950-foot-high Mount Rotui for panoramas over the whole island. Hiking guides are plentiful and recommended for other routes, especially if you're not good at finding your way on faintly-marked trails.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Learn to Kite-Surf
    Moorea is one of the best places in French Polynesia for all levels of kite-surfing. With good stretches of sheltered lagoon all around, you can kite on almost any day, no matter what the wind direction or swell are like. As an added bonus, the drive from one launching spot to another is rarely more than a half-hour. Lakana Fly offers professional lessons, coaching, and gear rentals. See which way the trade winds are blowing, learn to fly the kite, then let it pull you across the limpid lagoon. Even if you don't try it yourself, the sport is fun to watch. The most popular spot is off the northwest point in front of Les Tipaniers Resort.
    Photo by S. Tauqueur/age fotostock
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    Circle the Island by Bike
    It's 37 miles all the way around Moorea. The terrain is mostly flat so if you want to make a day of it and you're relatively fit, it's not absurd to cycle the whole island in a day. That said, the weather is usually pretty hot so expect to sweat like crazy. Perhaps more relaxing and fitting for a laid-back island visit is tackling the island in a few chunks or simply using a bike for transportation. There aren't that many cars on the road, but some people do drive pretty fast, so cycle with care. It is extremely pleasant to slowly pedal along the bright seafront to pick up a French baguette at the store or a few ripe mangoes from a roadside stall.
    Photo by Kyle Rothenborg/age fotostock
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    Sublime Snorkeling
    You can wander into the water just about anywhere in Moorea and find beautiful corals only a few flipper kicks away. That said, the underwater gardens around Hauru Point, Temae Beach, and Ta'ahiamanu Beach offer easy access and have deep water, and when you're done you'll have a beautiful beach to dry off on. More dedicated snorkelers should consider taking a tour, during which you'll be boated out to reefs farther from the shore and more protected. These trips also may include shark and ray feedings, where you have the option of getting in the water for heart-racing animal encounters.
    Photo by Monica Sweet/age fotostock
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    See the Sights on a 4WD Tour
    A great way to see all of the island's sights in a half-day without renting a car is by booking one of the many 4WD tours available. The typical excursion involves being taken up to Opunohu Valley to explore the archaeological sites (try and find a guide who knows his history), to Belvedere Viewpoint, around Cook's and Opunohu Bays, to the Fruit Juice Factory, a pineapple plantation, and perhaps to a few less-trodden spots in the island's mountainous interior. Many resorts will have their own tours or will work with a particular company (which may offer discounts), but there a few well-known independent operators as well. Ask around for recommendations.
    Photo by Norbert Eisele-Hein/age fotostock
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    Scuba Dive with Lemon Sharks and Rays
    Like so many other activities, Moorea's diving has enticing options for all levels. This is one of the better places in the country to get PADI-certified thanks to the calm, protected lagoon and plenty of areas that have a relatively shallow, sandy bottom. In general, it's the fauna that generate the wow factor here more than the corals, which aren't as healthy as you'll find on more remote islands. Those with a few dives under their belt can get their minds blown by the eagle rays at Taotoi or by the huge, beautiful lemon sharks that can be found in groups of up to 20 at sites like Opunohu Canyons. More advanced divers will enjoy diving down as deep as 130 feet at the Roses coral gardens.
    Photo by Ron and Valerie Tay/age fotostock
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    Surf Tubing Reef Breaks
    Unlike most of the Polynesian islands, Moorea's most well-known surf spot, Haapiti, is a beach break. Still, it's fed by big, consistent swells (best between May and October) that make it challenging for beginners. It's a great spot if you're a fairly seasoned surfer not used to tropical reef-breaking waves or if you want to find your feet before trying the reef. Other well-known waves like Temae and Paopao are reef breaks. All the waves offer amazing views over the lagoon and towards the mountainous island. As with any surf spot in the country, you'll be best received by locals if you smile, say hello, and give priority.
    Photo by Chris van Lennep/age fotostock
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    Explore the Lagoon by Sea Kayak
    Skip the motors and the tours and rent a kayak (or borrow one if your hotel has them on offer). Moorea's clear, calm lagoon is perfect for DIY exploration. Paddle out over the blue to an empty beach on a nearby islet, drop anchor at a sand bank for a swim, or hover over coral gardens and spot fish, sharks, and maybe even sea turtles below. Whisk yourself over to Coco Beach—a restaurant accessible only by water—for a meal or cocktail. A kayak on Moorea is like having a bike on land. It's a chilled out, cheap, and free-spirited way to get around.
    Photo by Monica Sweet/age fotostock