French Polynesia Cruise

Two Days in an Overwater Bungalow in Moorea

After seven wonderful days on our Windstar Cruise in French Polynesia, we sailed back into port at Papeete, Tahiti. Fortunately, we had decided beforehand to extend our stay in French Polynesia by booking rooms at the Hilton Moorea property on the north shore. Having seen many dreamy pictures of overwater bungalows in exotic locales, we decided to give the bungalows on Moorea a try and we were not disappointed. Our budget would only afford two nights, but that was better than nothing (rooms can run about $1,000/night or more, depending on location, meal plans, season, etc.).

We chose Moorea because its proximity to Papeete (only a short ferry ride away), rather than an expensive flight back out to Bora Bora.

The uncrowded ferry to Moorea. The ferry terminal was right next to the cruise ship terminal.

From the ferry dock in Moorea, we found a taxi to take us to the Hilton, about a 20 minute ride to the northwest around the coast. The luggage claim was a bit of a zoo, I wish I would have gotten a photo of the chaotic scenes of several ferries and luggage stacked up at the terminal–almost comical. No problem finding our bags however.

View of Hilton Moorea property from the beach.

There is no lack of things to do in this setting – hit the beach, hit the pool, have a casual lunch, paddle board, jet ski (a blast in the nearby stunningly scenic bays), snorkel, take an island tour, etc. (See our post on our cruise stop in Moorea). Our hotel package included a wonderful buffet breakfast. We ate dinner one day at the hotel in a beachside cafe and the second evening we got a taxi to a restaurant on the beach a few miles down the coast.

There’s nothing like waking up in the morning, stepping down to your own private swim platform and jumping into the calm water for a quick swim and watching rays and other fish swim by.

Our bungalow for two nights. The room had a glass floor so you could look down and see the water and fish.
A short video showing our bungalow room.
It’s a surreal setting – it does feel like a dream!
It was funny watching our very cruise ship pass by the Hilton Moorea (exactly one week later after our cruise!)
A sunset on Moorea–the end to another perfect day!

Raiatea – the Birthplace of Polynesia

After Moorea, our next stop was Raiatea. Although it is the second largest island (of the Society Islands) and home to the “second largest city” in French Polynesia, the island is blissfully undeveloped. Waking up early and walking out onto the deck as we sailed along the coast of the island and into the port of Uturoa was the way I’d love to start every day! (More information below about Raiatea’s significance to the history and exploration of Polynesia).

My wife Robyn taking in the beautiful coastline of Raitea as we arrive for another day in paradise.
Coming in to Uturoa, on Raiatea.
Our cruise ship, Windstar (on the left), docked in Uturoa.

Geographically, Raiatea shares the same lagoon with Taha’a (our next stop) and both islands are close to Bora Bora.

Raiatea was one stop where we decide to “wing it” from a tour standpoint. We got off the ship, found a small tour desk and eventually we were able to secure a guide who gave us a fabulous tour of the island.

Our tour guide explains the growing of breadfruit and other crops on Raiatea.
Breadfruit, not my favorite fruit!
Raiatea has the only navigable river in French Polynesia – one of the cruise ship tours takes kayaks on the river for a few kilometers.

Raiatea has significant cultural and spiritual importance to the native population because it is the geographical center of eastern Polynesisa (a triangle can be formed between New Zealand, Raiatea and Hawaii), and it is considered the ancestral homeland of the Maori people, most closely associated with New Zealand. A traditional name for the island is Havai’i, which sounds very similar to Hawai’i, which also has a close link anciently to Raiatea. It is believed that ancient Polynesians set out to explore the Pacific from this island. Learn more here.


We visited the sacred temple site of Taputapuatea, where our guide gave a great history and navigation lesson in the sand (taking a stick and drawing out symbols, maps, and terms in the packed sand). This sacred spot was the launch site for exploration and a worship center for Polynesians across the Pacific.

Some of our guide’s drawings in the sand – fascinating information on how the ancient Polynesians navigated on the ocean.
Our tour guide explaining the history at the thousand year-old Taputapuatea Marae.

We also visited the home of a friend of our guide (I’m sure everyone on the island knows each other). This gentleman was from San Francisco originally and has lived on Raiatea for many years, in a very simple fashion. His home was essentially a small wood framed structure with metal siding and swing out “windows”. He lives largely off the land with what he can produce. He offered us some lovely fruit dishes and we enjoyed visiting with him. Not a bad way to retire!

The gentleman whose home we visited is on the left, partially hidden by my mother-in-law.

Before heading back to our cruise ship, our guide took us to a pretty spot with a nice view of the southern part of the island, where he shared a little more about this wonderful slice of paradise.

View of the coral reef protecting the south shore of Raiatea.
Another view of the southern part of Raiatea.
One more view of Uturoa, Raiatea, as we depart in the evening.

Our next stop was just a few kilometers across the strait which separates Raiatea from Taha’a. Our next day was going to be all about playing in and enjoying the water – stay tuned!

The Island of Moorea – Does Life Get Any Better Than This?

There is often a debate of “should we go to Moorea or Bora Bora?” Let’s just say you can’t go wrong with either island – both are stunningly beautiful. Moorea has the advantage of being closer and easier to get to from Papeete, Tahiti. We left Papeete in the evening (see our first French Polynesia post for more information about our cruise) and sailed over to Moorea, just a short distance away (10 nautical miles or ~18 km). I could hardly wait for daylight the next morning to check out what is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I wasn’t disappointed. Our ship anchored in Cook’s Bay, one of two main bays on the northern shore of Moorea.

Cook’s Bay from the deck of Wind Spirit.

We signed up for a 1/2 day photography tour with the cruise line, the idea being to make us great photographers – ha. The tour guide was from “mainland” France and living the dream in Moorea. We made 4 stops on this tour.

First Stop: North Shore Lookout

We drove up a very steep, narrow little ‘road’ to get to this lookout, and it was worth it.

Overlooking the entrance to Cook’s Bay.
Another view of Cook’s Bay (our cruise ship was just behind the nearest hill).
Overlooking the village of Pihaena and northern reefs of Moorea, just to the west of Cook’s Bay. The reefs provide the islands with protection from the constant pounding of the ocean waves.

2nd Stop: Belvedere Lookout

This is probably the most photographed spot on Moorea, with the stunning Mount Rotui in the background, and picturesque bays on either side of the mountain. This lookout is in the volcanic crater known as Opunohu Valley (the heart of the volcano that became island of Moorea).

A view from Belvedere Lookout, with our cruise ship in the distance in Cook’s Bay.
Another view from Belvedere Lookout, with Opunohu Bay on the west side of Mount Rotui, in the distance.

3rd Stop: Opunohu Valley

From Belvedere Lookout, we drove down into the Opunohu Valley, which has a very remote feel, with a few dirt roads and overgrown pineapple fields.

The Opunohu Valley, with fields of pineapple. From this spot, it would be easy to imagine that you are the only person on the island.

4th Stop: Vanilla Bean Plantation

One of the main cash crops in French Polynesia (more specifically the Society Islands) is vanilla. French vanilla is the world’s best, and learning how they grow these beans gives one an appreciation for why it is so expensive (and flavorful!). Most plantations are small and family-owned. The effort to grow vanilla beans is intense, and mountainous nature of these islands makes it hard to find suitable areas for growing this crop.

The vanilla beans are grown on stocks, not unlike pole green beans (the vanilla beans can be seen growing just to the right of the path). Each flower must be individually pollinated.

After our photography tour, we were able to spend the afternoon at leisure. One of the advantages of Windstar cruises is their swim platform and free water sports activities. We took out a couple kayaks and then I did some wakeboarding in Cook’s Bay! What a blast. Wakeboarding in Moorea – an experience I’ll always remember. Unfortunately I did not get pictures!

Robyn enjoying Cook’s Bay in a kayak. As is typical in the South Pacific, we had a little rain shower pass by while we were out–just adds to the adventure!

It wasn’t too sad for us leaving Moorea that evening, because we knew we were coming back after our cruise for a stay at the Hilton Moorea Resort, also located on the north shore. I’ll do a separate post on that part of the trip.

Leaving Moorea at sunset – on our way to another island adventure!

Here’s a 30-second video of our departure. Enjoy!

Our departure from Moorea, with a little Beach Boys music in the background!