Magical Moments in Moorea

After a few days in Tahiti, I boarded a boat for nearby Moorea. Some people fly, but the ferry ride is only 30 minutes long, and it’s beautiful. I don’t doubt the view from a plane is nice, but for me, it’s a bit detached from the splendor. I want to be enveloped in the scenery at ground level. In my view, it’s the best way to meet Moorea.

While Tahiti (with funny inflatable Santas and the Marche Municipale) is the administrative capital of French Polynesia, Moorea is its wellness retreat.

Immediately, I was struck by the jagged mountain peaks jutting in all directions, groves of palms, the scent of jasmine, and the jewel colored reef.

I rented a car during my 3 day stay and spent time exploring. What’s better than driving down side roads, turning corners into tropical unknown, and discovering what rests beyond?

Lovely tree framed streets

St Joseph’s Church on Cook’s Bay

Bungalows over water

Mountain peaks towering over Cook’s Bay

In addition to wanton drifting, one of my favorite experiences in Tahiti was snorkeling and feeding manta rays (See gregarious boat captain below). At the time, I didn’t have an underwater camera, and while I’m a little sad there’s no “evidence” of this adventure, I’m also glad that I could live so fully in the moment without fiddling with a camera. Swimming in crystal clear water as these animals glided and danced around was an amazing sensation.

One of the common reasons that travelers decide against French Polynesia is that it’s an expensive destination. Unlike Southeast Asia (very affordable) and Hawaii (moderately affordable), for example, there are fewer options for accommodations that fall into the budget category and the price for everything from gas to food is high. However, here are the practical ways that I saved money during my trip:

1. I prioritized where to spend and where to save. For me, staying in a nice place on the water was something to splurge on… and it was worth it. I did not sleep in a bungalow over the water, but opted for a garden bungalow at the Sheraton Moorea with easy access to the beach day and night.

2.  Even though I stayed in resorts, I avoided meals there. I bought breakfast and lunch from a grocery store with a wonderful selection of fresh cheeses, meats, salads, baguette, French wines, and Tahitian specialities. I ate my dinner out in small restaurants in town. (Hint: many local restaurants offer a free pick-up service from your hotel)

3. Taxis are expensive in Tahiti, so I relied on walking and the free le truck shuttle in Papeete and had a car rental in Moorea. I took the ferry to Moorea instead of flying.

4. I didn’t do any spa treatments or buy souvenirs. While tempted at the time, I have no regrets now.

5. Except for manta ray feeding, I did not pay for any water or sports activities. I opted for freebies only such as visiting free cultural centers or museums, people watching, and swimming in the ocean.

While I certainly saved money by budgeting, I do regret not splurging on one thing. At the time I booked the manta ray excursion, I also considered a dolphin encounter. But it cost $200 US, and I thought it was just too expensive. Then right before leaving Tahiti, I met a couple who participated in the dolphin excursion and loved it so much that they did it twice. Oh to this day I’ve thought to myself, “Why didn’t I just spend the money?”

I don’t often have travel regrets, but in this one case, I did… What about you? What have you regretted doing or not doing while abroad? How do you save money when you travel?

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20 thoughts on “Magical Moments in Moorea

  1. Hi Mary! Incredible scenery with those towering peaks at Cooks Bay and that crystal clear water. For me I regret not going to Mount Bromo for a sunrise. I’ve always wanted to photograph it but passed it up last time we were there. I’m making a point to get there and do that when we go back this next year. We like to save money while traveling by eating at the local food stalls, we took a train across Java rather than fly (great experience) and I let my wife make all the hotel arrangements as she was able to get a local rate whereas I would have gotten the double rate. I love your idea of buying your own food from local grocery stores. While in Bali we had friends there bring us home cooked food while they hung out with us at the hotel.

    • Dear Matt,
      Hope you make it to Mount Bromo next time! I love local food stalls too, and I’m sure taking the train was a way more colorful and interesting experience than a flight! Lucky you that you had local friends who would bring you home-cooked goodies. I’d love that!

      • Hi Mary! Yes the train was great. Such a fun experience. There was a movie being shown on a small TV the whole trip. It was Cheaper by the Dozen with Steve Martin. So funny to have that movie playing on an Indonesian train. Then I got to sit next to a whole SWAT team and tried speaking in broken Indonesian to one of the commanders. I didn’t even realize they all had automatic weapons until the stood up. I just love the people I meet during my travels. But the best part was watching the countryside pass by. Such a beautiful place.

  2. Oh, I love your tips! I really believe in #1-3, especially, myself (it’s always nice confirmation, though, to see someone else mention it too!) Thanks for sharing all these, and I adore your photos – so happy and travel perfect 🙂 Hope your week is off to a terrific start!

  3. I don’t have any travel regrets, but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to pay that much for a dolphin excursion, especially if you’re in an expensive part of the world. Luckily for me, I travel with people who make sure I splurge on good things.

    As for saving money while traveling, I don’t really. I try to be moderate in spending, but I don’t go overboard on trying to save. I do a lot of saving while I’m at home. I figure I do most of my spending at home so there are more opportunities to save. And more saving means more traveling.

    • Dear Steve,
      You make an excellent point that maybe traveling isn’t the time to be saving, especially when there are once in lifetime opportunities in front of us! In my own experience, I am always tempted by souvenirs and spa treatments, but afterwards I feel disappointed by them, so I make a point of not buying them generally as they do add up…

  4. We did a combined shark feeding and swimming with the rays excursion, and it’s still one of the highlights of Tahiti for me. I was surprised the rays were so warm. I expected them to be cold creatures!

    Some all inclusive resorts tends to be good value. Sadly, Club Moorea is no longer there. It used to be great place to stay.

    • Corinne,
      I have to admit I was afraid to touch the rays! Seeing them up close was awesome though! My hotel Sheraton Moorea is no longer there also… I wonder if many of those resorts get bought out, lose business, etc all the time.

  5. Tahiti has been on my travel list forever, your mountain pix are breathtaking. $200 was too much for the dolphin excursion, I’ve done it a few times (in the Bahamas and Grand Cayman) and it is amazing but I think that price is ridiculous. It’s all relative, I suppose. One recent regret I have is not taking the ferry from St. Thomas to British Van Jost island for a concert to see the group Third World. It was super cheap to go but I was on an adventure travel press trip and I had to get up early to kayak, which I was afraid of oversleeping for. I heard about the concert for days afterward and I regret not going and grabbing a great local experience on an island I’ve never visited.

  6. I love the way you look at things! Every time I’ve gotten home from Italy, I wish I had done all my Christmas shopping, even it was in July… oh, and bought another pair of shoes and a purse for myself. Not really a regret, I think it’s just that when we’re experiencing a place, part of us is always thinking, “oh I’ll be back next year.” Thanks for sharing your money saving strategies – I’m with you on the spa treatments and souvenirs!

    • Dear Margo,
      It’s funny you mention the Xmas shopping… I often think the same thing! You’re right that when we’re in a place, it seems like it’s easy to return another time. Then life gets in the way, and different things happen, and who knows if we ever make it back? It helps me to live in the moment more if I convince myself it’s the only time I’ll be there. But then you never really know. The last time I visited Japan, I thought that was it, and now I’m living here…

  7. Pingback: Delicious Tahitian Food « World Curious Traveler

  8. Ashley

    Mary,
    The trip sounds great! I’ll be sure to try it when I go to Tahiti next year! Like you, I love to travel!
    How was the ferry ride?

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