Renting a slice of heaven on Moorea

Chris Carter heads to French Polynesia in search of his own private paradise

Temae Beach, Moorea
Still waters at Temae Beach

When you rent a villa or a holiday cottage, you can stay almost anywhere. You are free to find your own quiet tropical beach, Alpine retreat, or sleepy hilltop town on the Mediterranean – whatever takes your fancy. Bora Bora, for example, is a French Polynesian ideal. Its luxury resorts are no doubt very fine. They cater to the legions of honeymooners who come in search of its white sand and clear waters every year – and it is a cliché.

If only there was somewhere less busy and more authentic – somewhere a little less commercial, and not too far out of the way. As a matter of fact, there is. It’s called Moorea. And it lies just a short ferry hop from Tahiti and its international airport. It’s also arguably better for watersports.

Bora Bora has just one opening in its reef, as my guide Francky Franck of Franckyfranck Moorea Tours, explained. “So, if you want to take your Jet Ski in the lagoon, you have to go all the way around to get back to the ocean. How many outlets to the ocean does Moorea have?,” asked Francky, holding up a map showing the reef.

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He counted off the outlets through the coral reef. “One, two, three, four…” There are 12. Why? Because of rivers. Moorea is a verdant volcanic island, and its rivers and waterfalls flow towards the waves. Where the fresh water meets the salty, no coral grows – and no reef. So, if you want to Jet Ski in the lagoon, you’re really better off in Moorea.

Opunohu Bay, Moorea

Opunohu Bay is nestled in lush surroundings
(Image credit: Opunohu Bay, Moorea)

Our jeep had pulled halfway up “Magic Mountain” (so called because driving up it feels like a Disney World ride) for this quick geography lesson. Over Francky’s shoulder, Opunohu Bay spread out below, nested between forested hills on either side. We continued to the top of the mountain and surveyed the wide Pacific.

From this vantage point we could see a mother humpback whale and her calf swimming away in the mouth of the bay. On the edge of the shore, there sat a small octagonal red and white church. When the missionaries arrived here in the early 19th century, they cast the locals’ eight “idolatrous” tiki statues into the bay, where they remain.

Moorea hilltop vista

Stunning views abound on Moorea
(Image credit: Moorea hilltop vista)

There was one for each of the eight legs of an octopus, which the Polynesians venerated, and so the church was built with eight sides, illustrating how Polynesians embraced the new ways, including Christianity, without giving up the old.

On the other side of Opunohu Bay rose Mount Rotui and behind it is Cook’s Bay. If you look at the island on a map, it resembles a three-toed Monster Munch, with the three toes (actually formed from the ancient volcano Mount Tohivea) separated by these two beautiful bays. Moorea is not short of remarkable hilltop vistas.

Lake Temae, Moorea

Beautiful Lake Temae
(Image credit: Lake Temae, Moorea)

A charming cottage

The tour dropped me back at the little cottage next to Lake Temae I had arranged through holiday rentals site Vrbo. It is here, in the eastern part of the island, that Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick,“found a happy little community” in the 1840s.

Melville writes in his semi-fictitious book Omoo (1847) that he was so taken with his surroundings – not to mention the hypnotic heiva (Tahitian dancing) performed for him by the village’s young women – that he and his travelling companion considered settling down beside the “rippling green lake… in this nook of a valley”. Alas, they were forced to flee the arrival of missionaries, lest they be apprehended as vagrants.

Garden at Cottage Manua, Moorea

A tropical garden of one's own
(Image credit: Garden at Cottage Manua, Moorea)

I had no such fears as I sat in the shade of my private, cosy tropical garden, flicking through the pages of Omoo. And that really is the beauty of renting your own place. Vrbo only offers whole properties for rent, so families – or even groups of friends – can relax in the knowledge they won't be spied on!

Through the French doors of my cottage, the open living room had been tastefully decorated in a rough sort of way, with wooden floors and white-painted wooden ceiling.

Interior of Cottage Manua, Moorea

Beach-hut chic
(Image credit: © Vrbo)

There was a well-stocked little kitchen behind an island, with a fridge/freezer and an induction hob. A couple of bedrooms led off from the living room, and opposite, the bathroom with a large shower and washing machine. Beside the stairs in the living room, leading to a third, loft bedroom, stood the bald white trunk of a tree rising up to the rafters. It, and the necklace of shells that dangled from it, lent to the beach-hut vibe of the cottage. And that was entirely in keeping with the location.

Temae Beach, said to be the longest in French Polynesia, lies a two-minute walk away. The beach makes a right-angle further down, after which the warm shallow water is still and ideal for bathing in. Before the turn, however, the beach is quieter, a little more rugged in its beauty, and the reef much closer to the shore. That, as I discovered, comes with its own advantages.

Temae Beach, Moorea

Temae Beach has a rugged side
(Image credit: Temae Beach, Moorea)

One late afternoon as the sun was setting, I was sitting on this stretch of the beach, musing on whether to set down my book and return to my cottage for a sun-downer, when a humpback whale rose out of the water before me close to the reef, before it fell back with an almighty splash. I looked around to see if anybody else had seen that. But nobody else was about. It was just me and the whale. You never know what you might see when you venture a little off-piste.

Chris received a complimentary stay from Vrbo. Cottage Manua costs from £235 a night and sleeps six. See

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.