After a few days of relaxing on Plage Tamae’s white sandy beach and exploring the underwater world at the Lagoonarium, Dan and I set out to see the rugged and wild mountains of Moorea’s interior.
It took a lot of energy to drag ourselves away from the lure of the water. And not only because the trek up the mountain by bike was arduous in the equatorial heat, but also because it was difficult to imagine that Moorea’s above-ground wonders could compare to its underwater kaleidoscope of coral and tropical fish.
But as beautiful as Moorea is below the water, its world above sea-level is just as stunning.
The mountains of French Polynesia are perhaps the archipelago’s most defining feature. Jutting out from turquoise waters and rising steeply into the sky, the craggy green peaks form a backdrop that made us feel as though we had entered Jurassic Park.
It is possible to rent a car or join one of the numerous tour operators that lead 4×4 expeditions into the island’s untamed interior, but Dan and I decided to explore the area by bike in order to keep within the parameters of our limited budget. We quickly found that biking around Moorea was a great–though challenging–way of getting around the island and discovering its interior.
On the morning of our third day on Moorea, Dan and I set out along the coastal ring road and stopped by a hole-in-the wall lunch spot called Chez Didier for a generous plate of Tahitian ‘Ota’ika, before visiting the first stop on our bike ride–Cook’s Bay.
The mountains of Cook’s Bay rise above the deep blue ocean like serrated shark teeth, and, as I turned the bend and caught my first glimpse of their jagged peaks, their raw and rugged beauty took my breath away.
From Cook’s Bay, we cut inland into the heart of French Polynesia’s interior–across pineapple plantations and up steep, potholed roads–toward the spectacular Belvedere viewpoint.
Along the way, the unique mountain scenery created picture-perfect views in every direction.
We didn’t make it quite to the top of the mountain by bicycle.
The climb was too steep and the path too uneven for us to handle in the tropical heat with our single gear bikes, so Dan and I tethered them to a tree and continued up the road on foot until we reached the viewpoint.
From the Belvedere, we scanned our surroundings.
In three directions, we could see lush peaks soaring into the sky. In the fourth direction, the classic postcard picture of the Belvedere afforded us a view of both Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay–a bay that is famous for being the location in which Captain Cook anchored his boat in 1777.
On our way back to our Airbnb, Dan and I decided to stop by the luxurious Hilton Resort and Spa for a refreshing and overpriced drink. We sat at the bar and pretended to fit in with the honeymooning couples, as we relished the view and tried to get every last drop out of our $17 cocktails.
But it was not long before the bar’s waitstaff shooed us away from the grounds of the resort.
I imagine that our sweat-streaked faces and muddy clothes must have given us away immediately.
As we left the premises of the five star resort and hopped on our broken-down, single gear bicycles, I couldn’t help but laugh. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs amongst all the honeymooners in their designer clothes.
Sure, Dan and I may not have had the type vacation that many dream of when they gaze upon images of French Polynesia. However, by biking around Moorea and electing to stay at our modest accommodation instead of a fancy resort, we were able to soak in the views of the mountains and explore Moorea’s underwater paradise on our own terms.
Not many Americans ever make it to the remote and far-flung islands of the South Pacific because of the sky-high prices and, yet, we were able to indulge in their beauty without emptying out the contents of our wallets.
For this, we counted ourselves incredibly lucky.