Picture yourself surrounded by frangipanis in a bungalow overlooking pristine blue water with lush mountains as your backdrop … welcome to paradise.
French Polynesia's islands are sprinkled over four million square miles of the eastern South Pacific Ocean. There are 118 islands and atolls making up the five archipelagoes Society, Austral, Marquesas and Mangareva Islands and the Tuamotu atolls, ranging from tiny coral outcrops to islands with jagged volcanic mountain peaks poking through the clouds.
After Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, Moorea is the most popular place for visitors including locals who want to get away from one paradise to another.
Just 17km from Tahiti and regarded as her sister, Moorea, like all Polynesian islands, is enriched by folklore. Its name means "olden lizard" and is one of the ocean's jewels, with loads of natural beauty and tranquillity. Many people wonder if Moorea helped James A Michener create the mythical Bali Hai.
Its peaks are best viewed from Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay, or from the Belvedere Lookout point, 214 metres in the centre of the island, where the sacred Rotui Mountain divides the bays.
Life on Moorea is slow and easy, and the wonderful white sandy beaches edging the crystal lagoons eventually give way to the mountains which are covered with pineapple plantations, with bamboo forests and vanilla orchid plantations in between.
To get to know the island, many people hire a car or scooter and circle it stopping at small villages and admiring views of mountains, valleys, lagoons and bays. To get to know it even better a 4WD Safari with Joel Hart, Tahitian born and bred, is the way to go. He ventures on and off- road where other vehicles cannot go and has loads of stories and legends to keep you interested. Drive inside the volcanic crater which created the island, visit a Marae, open air temple and stop at a juice factory a distillery.
Intercontinental Moorea, nestled between the mountains and lagoon, is a classic island resort. It has 142 rooms, beach and overwater bungalows in a verdant 11 hectares growing 165 species of trees, plants and flowers.
While accommodation is extremely comfortable and contemporary, local traditions have been respected, with allowances made for the inclusion of air-conditioning. Wood and other natural materials have been used, furniture is mahogany and wicker, there are Indonesian partitions and Tahitian art and craft are evident throughout.
Fare Hana Restaurant is close to the bar and pool and is open for all meals. Its rotunda offers beautiful views across the lagoon and reef. There are theme nights – Monday is Polynesian night, Wednesday is barbecue by the pool night and Saturday is La Soiree Merveilleuse – Magical Evening – with seafood, song and dance. Motu Iti Bar is open from 10am to 11pm and is the spot for a sunset cocktail.
Moorea Dolphin Center, an international organisation formed by two marine mammal veterinarians and dedicated to the education and conservation of marine animals, is located at the resort. It is the second of four sites and their bottle-nose dolphin lagoon is located inside a coral reef at the Intercontinental Moorea.
There are various encounters – three times a day a one-hour shallow encounter is available for children up to five years old. Once a day, anyone over 12 can snorkel and swim with the beautiful creatures for an hour, and once a day, those over 12 can spend three hours learning to train a dolphin, swim with rays and ride in a canoe.
Paris-born Hélène Sillinger left Paris to immerse herself in Polynesia’s traditional way of life. She created a spa in pandanus thatched bungalows set amongst trees and flowers. Each day frangipani, hibiscus, jasmine and bougainvillea are picked for the bath, and tropical fruits are crushed and grated for each treatment. Fresh coconut oil and pure spring water are also used in tropical massage, facials, body scrubs and wraps.
There are regular air shuttles to Moorea from Papeete. They take about 10 minutes, and catamaran ferries take around 30 minutes. To really do it in style, helicopters can land right at the hotel.