30 November 2015.
A vibrant knot of jungle shrouded in clouds, a lagoon of brilliant blue and the sweet aroma of rain-soaked ground.
Stepping off the ferry in Moorea less than 24 hours after leaving the wintery shores of Sydney, we knew we had arrived into special kind of island bliss.
But as you might expect, this spectacular paradise comes with a price tag to match.
Moorea had some of the highest prices we experienced during our stay in French Polynesia, and while the offers of whale watching tours, kayaking adventures and snorkelling excursions were tempting, our budget meant we were restricted to a more DIY type of visit.
This guide covers our three-day itinerary, including all the very best things to do in Moorea on a budget.
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Day 1 | Cycle From Hauru Point To Cook’s Bay and Snorkel At Opunohu Bay
Moorea is relatively flat with just a few minor hills, making it perfect for cycling.
We hired bikes from Hauru Point and cycled toward Cook’s Bay on the northern side of the island. Zooming between jagged peaks and startlingly blue water, you’ll find plenty of stunning places to stop along the way.
After reaching Paopao at the base of Cook’s Bay we began the return journey, stopping in at the fruit juice distillery on the way for a tasting of their very refreshing and completely free juices. Their delicious selection of wines and liqueurs are also available for tasting.
Refreshed from our break, we continued on to Ta’ahiamanu Beach (yeah, we can’t pronounce it either) on the north-eastern side of Opunohu Bay for a picnic lunch and our first taste of snorkelling in Moorea’s beautiful underwater world.
This was the only accessible beach we passed on this part of the island and makes the perfect pit stop and place to relax. You can snorkel right off the beach with the reef extending towards the outer edge of the lagoon. Just be aware of the currents which can become quite strong here.
With a healthy dose of relaxation, sunbathing and snorkelling done for the day, we pushed on back to Hauru Point, passing several well-stocked fruit stands on the way and picking up a bag of juicy passionfruits for a post-cycle beach snack – the best reward after sweating it out in the muggy Polynesian heat.
COST: 1,500XPF ($15) for 8 hours bike hire.
TIME: We had the bikes for 8 hours and we used up every minute of it. But having said that we really took our time, stopping every few hundred metres in some areas to take photos or to watch the people go by. It’s best to start early to make use of the cooler mornings and so you can really relax during the lunch stop knowing you don’t have to rush right back.
- Take a packed lunch to avoid being stuck for choice on the road. There are several shops on Hauru Point but along the way there are few budget-friendly options to pick up food.
- It’s pretty hot out there and most of the road is unshaded so be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection.
READ NEXT: How To Travel French Polynesia On A Budget.
Day 2 | Hike To Moorea’s Magnificent Belvedere
The belvédère on Moorea has to be one of the most spectacular viewpoints we’ve ever visited. The stark forested peak of Mont Rotui fringed by the sweeping bays that give Moorea its heart-like shape is a sight certainly worthy of the arduous hike up.
From Hauru Point we had planned to take the bus, though we soon realised the locals weren’t joking when they said ‘the bus comes when it comes’. This just so happened to be an occasion when it decided not to come at all.
Stuck without a ride, we instead decided to hitchhike to the base of Opunohu Bay and then hike up the valley to the belvédère. As luck would have it though, we quickly managed to get a ride all the way up to the viewpoint.
As beautiful as the island is from below, taking in this verdant panorama from up high is definitely one of the best things to do in Moorea on a budget.
Facing away from the lookout, a path to the left will take you to Three Firs Pass, and the path to the right will take you to Three Coconut Trees Pass, both of which are meant to offer stunning views of the island. We opted for the right which lead down to Haapiti from where we would get a ride back to Hauru Point.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we missed a turn-off and found ourselves deep in the forest rather than following the upper ridge. Apparently missing the correct path is not unusual though so be sure to keep a lookout for any side detours early in the hike.
COST: If you hitch or hike your way up to the belvedere, this won’t cost you a dime, while the bus will cost you 300XPF ($3), although this may leave you waiting by the roadside for a while.
TIME: Start early, especially if you are intending to walk up to the belvédère, as it gets hot fairly early in the day. Take your time with the hike but plan to get back to the road before late afternoon.
TOP TIPS: Bring lunch, snacks and plenty of water as there isn’t much available along the way. Generally, you’ll find some cold coconuts for sale at the lookout.
Day 3 | Discover The Joys Of Snorkelling Right Off The Beach In Moorea
With two action-packed days behind us, when deciding what to in Moorea for our final day, waterside was the clear winner. Spotting colourful reef fish amongst the coral, feeling the sand between our toes and enjoying the sunny warmth kissing our cheeks.
With the turquoise lagoon sprawled out before us, we did strongly consider joining a snorkelling tour, especially as it was whale watching season, but after baulking at the price and discovering a decent string of reef right on our doorstep, that thought was quickly pushed from our minds.
You’ll find the best snorkelling in Moorea along the northern shores but check at your accommodation if there are any suitable reefs nearby.
We were lucky to have beach access on Hauru Point where we could while away the day relaxing on the sand and snorkelling in the shallows. If you brought your own equipment this is an excellent, budget-friendly activity for your time in Moorea.
COST: If you have your own snorkelling equipment and beach access, this will be another completely free day. If you aren’t close to a beach, take the bus to a snorkelling spot anywhere around the island for 300XPF ($3).
TOP TIP: The currents can get strong as you swim away from the coast so take note of where you entered the water. Also, don’t forget to lather up the backs of your legs in suncream, this is not a fun place to get sunburnt.
Ideally, a costly rental car is the easiest way to get around on Moorea but if you’re on a tight budget, the local bus is by far the cheapest option at just 300XPF ($3) per trip.
Moorea’s local bus drives in a loop around the entire island, water on one side, mountains on the other.
As we mentioned though, the rickety old bus is in no hurry to get anywhere, but, since you’re living on island time now, what’s the rush.
The buses meet incoming ferries arriving at Vaiare and from there two buses will ply the north and south roads meeting again at Vaiare for the next ferry. The whole trip takes about 3 hours or about 1.5 hours to Hauru Point.
Again, being on ‘island time’ the schedule is more of a rough guideline and the buses will come when they jolly well feel like it.
Ferry Tahiti To Moorea
Several times a day there is a passenger and vehicle ferry from Tahiti to Moorea, leaving from the Papeete port and arriving in Moorea’s Vaiare marina on the islands east. Prices start at 1,500XPF ($15) per trip and the timetable is available here.
Flight Tahiti To Moorea
The scenic 15-minute flight from Tahiti to Moorea leaves daily with prices starting at $115 return in the low season. If you plan to visit other islands in French Polynesia as part of your trip, this flight can be taken in conjunction with one of the Air Tahiti Multi-Island Passes which offer considerable savings on multi-island flight itineraries.
Although Moorea is known for the opulent overwater bungalows and luxurious resorts that sprinkled its azure coast, there are a number of affordable accommodations available as well.
If you’ve brought your own camping equipment, Camping Nelson on Hauru Point is a basic spot to set up camp but is beautifully situated right on the water and close to a bus stop. During our visit, there was a kitchen area under construction though no word on whether this is now complete.
In the bulge between Opunohu and Cook’s Bay, there are two budget-friendly guesthouses offering dorms for under $30 – PainaPaoao Backpackers which has a fully equipped kitchen and is set back from the water, and Pension Motu Iti which, despite having rather lacklustre reviews, is right by the water.
For those seeking a bit more privacy without the extravagant price tag, there are a handful of comfortable private options scattered around the island for around $100. Search here for rates and availability.
Prefer to stay like a local? Airbnb has a range of rooms on offer, especially along the beautiful north coast. Check rates and availability here.
New to Airbnb? Sign up here and receive up to $30 off when you make your first booking.