Arguably the most dramatically beautiful of the French Polynesian islands, Moorea lies only a few miles northwest of Tahiti (10 minutes by air or under an hour by ferry from Papeete). This little tropical island gem is characterised by spectacular bays, white sandy beaches, and towering craggy volcanic peaks that form a jagged central spine, reflected in the surrounding crystal-surfaced lagoons.
About 16,000 people live happily on Moorea, but there are no towns, or even villages, as such. Settlements offering clusters of shops and stalls line the 40-mile long (64km) paved road that encircles the island, giving access to a handful of sightseeing opportunities and lovely beaches. The best beaches are between the Moorea Village Hotel and the Hotel Beachcomber, and near the Sofitel Ia Ora near the airport.
All sorts of water activities and excursions are offered on the island, as well as several land-based activities like hikes and mountain safaris. A fun way to explore the island is to rent a scooter or bicycle, or join the locals on the 'trucks' that form the island's public transport system, such as it is.
Must-see sights include the panoramic view of the Cook and Opunohu bays from the Roto Nui (Belvedere) viewpoint, the Paopao open-air market, and a distillery where exotic liqueurs are produced from the local pineapple, vanilla, mango, and coconut crops.
Moorea boasts some fancy luxury resorts for those wanting to indulge but there are also more reasonably priced options. Despite the island's great popularity with travellers, Moorea retains an authentic, non-touristy atmosphere and provides a good retreat from bustling Tahiti.