Travis and I are standing on the forward deck of a ferry to Moorea. The approaching island is an adventure-movie ready backdrop of lush, jagged peaks so alluring that it is said to have inspired James Michener’s fictional “Bali Hai.” The boat slices into a wave and the left side of the deck is drenched in ocean spray. Instead of recoiling, sopping wet travelers cheer in delight, like the primal joy of diving into the sea on a hot day.
It is the perfect welcome to Moorea, a paw-print shaped island that has less than a tenth of the population of Tahiti, yet is overstuffed with adventure and smiles. Our home for the next few days is the Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort, which rests around a vibrant coral garden. We’ve booked a Superior Ocean View Bungalow on the beach and two delightfully ribald women celebrating a friends getaway tell us they didn’t spring for an overwater suite either because “we’re not kissing.” But I can attest that the beachfront rooms do quite nicely on that front, with their pillowy beds, garden showers, and direct access to the lagoon.
Dodging an Instagram couple taking selfies of the postcard perfect resort, we head for the warm water with our masks and snorkels. Travis, an experienced scuba diver, immediately calls it one of the healthiest corals he’s ever seen. Just yards from bungalows we are immersed in a maze of colorful formations. We drift like we’re one of the school amidst hundreds of pink and white squirrelfish. Travis grabs my attention and points; ten yards away a black tip reef shark, then another, slip gracefully along the current. I am breathless, first from a twinge of unnecessary fear and then from the overwhelming beauty of it all.
Determined not to be “trapped” in the luxury of the resort the whole time, we set off on an adventure beyond the gates. Heinrich of Hiking Discovery (Email: email@example.com) is our passionate guide as we explore the jaw-dropping beauty of the Opunohu Valley. We hike through pineapple fields, up to a panoramic mountain pass, and back down near the foundations of sacred temples, surrounded at all times by the majestic peaks of Moorea. On our decent, a tropical deluge thunders down but we barely feel a drop; the dense canopy of trees above us creates an echoing, cathedral-like shelter.
The rest of our stay at the Sofitel is unhurried bliss. We read by the pool and sway in a hammock. We return to the wonders of the underwater coral garden. We dine under an endless blanket of stars at K Restaurant, where a tasteful three-course menu is paired with adventurous wines by an attentive sommelier.
On our final morning, Jeanne, our favorite breakfast server with a smile-inducing laugh, gives us hugs and tells us, “If you don’t like Bora Bora, you just come back to us.” She truly means it and a piece of our heart is left behind forever on Moorea.