The most beautiful place I have been during the past year is Mo’orea where I met a man who came here and simply didn’t leave until he died. This Society Isle is sometimes described as symphonic. Dominated by 8 perfect mountain peaks, it was no surprise to me that it was author James Michener’s inspiration for Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific.
Those who travel up through Mo’orea’s Opunohu Valley to the Belvédère, this island’s highest point accessible by car where the road ends at a spectacular scene, are on one of the few paved roads in all of French Polynesia that doesn’t just circle a perfect island. It goes inland and upward. On it, travelers pass an agricultural college, pineapple fields, abundant forest, and they see evidence of much archaeological research. There were at one time temples and maraes and lots of contented natives living here. Marae are ancient stone and coral constructions shaped like pyramids on which ceremonies, including many sacrifices, were held. The oldest one on Mo’orea is more than 1,000 years old, and experts are finding that this was an island with a steady population for centuries because it’s so inviting.
This is by no means to discourage visitors from circling Mo’orea too. This allows them to see places like the Manutea Resort, which has an extensive conservation program with an emphasis on restoring coral reefs. Totoa, another roadside viewpoint, has a memorial to the 20 victims of a 2007 airplane accident. The 20 died when a Twin Otter crashed here. Mo’orea is shaped like a baseball glove or a fat bird with upraised wings in flight. Circling Mo’orea is amazing in that you pass empty beaches and are never in traffic despite the many resorts, shops, and restaurants passed. This is said to be the perfect place to get a tattoo because the best artists who specialize in them live on Mo’orea. This island seems underpopulated because there are no major towns on it.
The driest time to experience Mo’orea is May to October. Mid-summer months, however, can be windy and November to April can be wet for hikers and splashers.