With its overwater bungalows and dazzling sunsets, it’s easy to understand why Moorea is such a popular honeymoon destination. But parents who do their homework quickly realize this island in French Polynesia is also a dream destination for traveling families. From days spent playing in surf that teems with wildlife to off-road adventures that lead to lush mountaintops, Moorea has all the makings for a memorable family vacation.
This tends to confuse folks, so it’s always worth a quick refresher.
French Polynesia is comprised of a whopping 118 islands. The destination as a whole is commonly referred to and marketed as The Islands of Tahiti. But when travelers refer to this region, simply calling it Tahiti is the most common shortcut. However, it’s important to understand that Tahiti is also the name of the region’s largest and most populated island.
Faa’a International Airport (PPT) is the only international airport in French Polynesia. Located on the main island of Tahiti, the flight from San Francisco or Los Angeles takes a bit more than eight hours. (Those looking to break up the journey can plan a stopover in Honolulu — there’s a long list of family-friendly offerings on Oahu.)
Traveling families have a number of options when it comes to selecting airline providers, but the relative newcomer in the mix, low-cost carrier Frenchbee, is offering airfares worthy of planning a trip around. In fact, that’s exactly what I did.
I wasn’t even considering a family trip to French Polynesia this winter until I came across round-trip flights from San Francisco — over the Presidents’ Day holiday, no less — for just shy of $450. In less than a month, we were on our way.
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Frenchbee doesn’t operate like traditional airlines; pretty much everything is a la carte, so you truly get what you pay for. My family’s tickets included a carry-on bag up to 26 pounds and a personal item, but checked luggage, drinks and meals were an additional fee. We never check luggage, so that was of no concern when I booked the tickets, and the flight to The Islands of Tahiti was a red-eye, so no need for meals.
Seating was tight as Frenchbee’s Airbus 350 uses 10-seat rows as opposed to the more typical 9-seat layout, but the new-generation aircraft was one of the quietest planes I’ve flown on in recent memory and my family of three slept most of the flight. Those who consider more space a priority can upgrade to the airline’s Premium Blue for an experience that’s more in line with a business class flying experience.
Once you make it to the island of Tahiti, you have two options to get to Moorea. You can hop on a short flight of 15 minutes or so, or you can opt for a 30- to 60-minute ferry ride. Two ferry companies, Aremiti and Terevau, make the scenic trip between Moorea and the waterfront in downtown Papeete multiple times a day for as little as $25 per person round trip. No reservations are needed; you simply show up, buy a ticket and walk on board. If you have a rental car, select ferries transport vehicles.
If you don’t have a rental car, don’t let that rule out the ferry option. Getting from Faa’a International Airport to the ferry terminal is about a 20-minute cab ride, depending on traffic, and should run around $30 US. (Taxis are plentiful at the airport; if the cab you get into does not have a meter, agree on the fare before departing.)
Rideshare services similar to Uber and Lyft are not available in French Polynesia, but if you prefer to prearrange transportation, Tahiti VIP is quick to respond to queries, and offers private tours of Tahiti along with private transfers.
Whether heading inland to the mountains or diving into the sparkling sea, it’s all about spending time in the great outdoors in Moorea.
School-age kids with a sense of adventure are welcome to join parents on the quad excursion run by Moorea Activities Center. Daily guided tours on all-terrain vehicles with four wheels roll through pineapple plantations, visit panoramic lookouts like Belvedere Lookout and Magic Mountain, and when there’s time, make stops for ice cream at Lycée Agricole, the island’s agriculture school.
For those who prefer to see Moorea from the water, Moorea Activities Center also offers jet ski tours that zip in and out of bays and lagoons with breaks for snorkeling. When migrating humpback whales arrive, typically July through November, whale watching tours are also available.
If your family’s priority is being in the water as much as possible, Enjoy Boat Tours Moorea offers daylong tours packed with splashy wildlife interactions, including swimming with turtles, eagle rays and blacktip reef sharks. The Lagoon Tour includes a picnic lunch served on a moto (islet or tiny island), where kids can play on the beach or spend more time in the water. Bring plenty of reef-safe sunscreen and prepare to be in the sun for extended periods of the day. The boat only seats 12 passengers and shade is limited.
Chasing waterfalls always has a fun ring to it. If rain has been plentiful, ask the front desk or concierge about the hike to Afareaitu Waterfalls. Set in a rural neighborhood after a drive down a rough road, parking is available for the equivalent of about $2 on private property. This moderate hike — I’d only recommend it for tweens and teens — meanders through the jungle before ending at falls with a pool for swimming. Slather on sunscreen and bug repellent, and be sure to wear good shoes.
This beautiful stretch of sand is also the entry point to stellar snorkeling. No boat or tour is required — it’s as easy as putting on your snorkeling gear and walking in. Temae is a public beach that’s studded with coconut trees and offers easy parking, but there are no lifeguards. So, as always, don’t overestimate your family’s ability in the water. Come prepared with the right gear (including reef-safe sunscreen and flotation vests, if needed), and observe but don’t touch any coral or marine animals.
Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort
Overlooking Temae Beach, along with easy access to wonderful snorkeling, the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort offers views at every turn. The property features 110 bungalows, including 38 overwater bungalows. However, the best bet for most families is the Luxury Villa; it features two bedrooms and a sofa bed in the living room.
Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa
Located on the north shore of Moorea, the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa offers 106 overwater, beachfront and garden bungalows. Most room categories, including the overwater bungalows, can sleep three, making an overwater stay possible for small families. Some bungalows even boast private plunge pools.
The resort’s Toatea Creperie & Bar is the only overwater restaurant on the island. Families can enjoy savory and sweet crepes while watching sharks swim below their feet.
Moorea Beach Lodge
Set on the west side of the island, Moorea Beach Lodge is a Tahitian guesthouse offering 13 thatched-roof bungalows just steps away from the water. The Family Villa offers two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Beach and Garden bungalows have a sofa bed that can accommodate one child under 12, but it makes for a tight fit.
Kayaks and bikes are available for guests to use free of charge. Families interested in cooking their own meals or taking French cooking lessons have access to the property’s commercial kitchen.
Public transportation on Moorea is limited. Many tour operators offer hotel pick-ups, but if your family isn’t typically content to relax by the hotel pool, consider renting a car.
Editor’s Note: For review purposes, some of Dana’s hotel stays and activities were organized by Tahiti Tourisme. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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