*Updated July 2011*
As we reached Moorea in French Polynesia we began to appreciate the beauty of this Pacific island, perhaps the most amazing I have seen in the world (so far) and were excited about spending a week there. While getting there from Tahiti you can see that the water is as crystal clear as it can be, with coral reefs everywhere and spectacular sunsets put an end to every day. Cheap (relatively) accommodation is available in Moorea, and is of excellent value when compared with similarly priced in other places. If on a budget look no further than camping Nelson- it is located in the north side of the island right by a superb beach. Tent sites cost 14€/night per person and dorm rooms cost 18€/night per person, although the dorms are actually two person cabins which means that you’ll be sharing it with one other person at most. With plenty of space and good facilities you don’t really need anything else. Some people don’t leave the camping the few days they spend on the island, but I strongly suggest otherwise. Car rental is very expensive (over 100€ per day) but the good news is that hitch-hiking is quite easy and very safe.
Foodwise, there are a couple of supermarkets nearby with prices slightly higher than those in Europe or the US, but not much more, and items such as fish (tuna) and local fruits are cheaper. If possible I suggest you bring some sealed food (pasta?) from home to cook at the camping and you’ll be set for a few days.
We did not miss the opportuity to participate in a few trips and activities, some of which are a must and you should not miss; make sure you find your way to Belvedere in the mountains for breathtaking views. Getting there is quite easy by hitchhiking, even if it takes several cars to get there as you’ll have to get off the main road; join a shark and manta ray feeding tour with snorkelling time and and an all-you-can-eat BBQ included (shop around, but we did ours with Hiro’s Tours at 40€ per person and were busy for over four hours. I highly recommend it); make sure you find your way to Cook’s Bay for some nice pictures; visit Tamae beach for a few hours and swim for free in the same beach that the guests staying in the overwater bungalows are paying over 1000 USD/night for; and if you’re brave try surfing one of the several surf breaks the island has, although finding a board to rent will not be easy!
The climate is hot and humid, and try to avoid the rainy season (December-April). This said we were there in mid December and only had rain 2 nights and one morning for a couple of hours.
And two final tips:
1) Do not forget to bring a camera, hopefully one that is water proof- you’ll be rewarded with superb water shots every morning (unfortunately I did not have one and my Nikon D90 isn’t waterproof. I really wish I would have had a compact water proof camera even if just for this part of the trip).
2) Wanna make some easy money while there? Alcohol and cigarettes have an import tax of about 500%, which means that the Jack Daniels bottle that costs around 12€ at the duty free shop of your departure airport is worth around 60€ in Tahiti. Customs allows tourists to bring two bottles of alcohol per person. You do the math, but if you’re not greedy you can easily get a few camping nights for free (the answer to the question you’re thinking is yes. Unplanned, but yes).
It is unfortunate that many travellers don’t use their stopover in Tahiti because of cost fears, like we almost did. Moorea is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world, and there is a very affordable side to it if camping is OK with you- you are very much guaranteed the trip of a lifetime. Liza and I caught up with my sister and her boyfriend while there, and we all agreed that it is one of the few places in the world where reality corresponds with the pictures you see in magazines and elsewhere; had we known what we do now we would have planned differently and spent another week there. My sister and her boyfriend did and got an air pass that took them to 7 other islands in French Polynesia for 21 more days (she later commented that again camping is mandatory if on a budget and mosquitoes are present everywhere, but underwater life is much better than that in Moorea which is spectacular already). In Confucious’ words “An image is worth 1000 words” so I’ll stop describing the island and let you see the pictures. Have fun and enjoy paradise- I’m pretty confident I’ll go back!
(See Tahiti and Moorea on a budget Part 1 with more tips on how to enjoy French Polynesia on the cheap!)
Have you been to Tahiti or any other South Pacific island? Did you enjoy it? If you liked this post please remember to share it…and check out part 1 too!