Ia Orana! (yo-rah-nah) That’s Hello in Polynesian. French is the official language in French Polynesia, but everybody likes to say Ia Orana. Mrs. RB40 enjoyed listening to all the people around us speaking French. She said it is such a pretty language. Visiting Tahiti and Moorea was interesting. French tourists greatly outnumber all other nationalities. We heard French constantly. I’ve never seen so many French people and baguettes. I guess it’s an easy destination for them to visit, kind of like Hawaii for Americans.
Mmm… I miss Tahiti already. It was so relaxing there. The weather was perfect from Christmas to New Year. It was mostly sunny and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees. We had a few showers, but they passed quickly. Before we left, I was worried because the forecast predicted rain for the whole week. But the rain was mostly confined to the peak (center of the island). We spent most of our trip on the coast. In contrast, we are having a rare snowstorm in Portland. It is 19 degrees and snowing this weekend. I’m glad we stored up some vitamin D while we could.
Our trip was a ton of fun, but we also had a few problems because I didn’t plan the trip that well. We rarely travel during Christmas vacation because the airports are too busy. However, I turned 50 last year and wanted to celebrate it by going somewhere memorable. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Tahiti and Moorea. In hindsight, I probably should have paid a bit more and gotten some kind of packaged trip. But we always traveled independently so I didn’t even consider that option. Today, I’ll share what we did right and what went wrong.
Was communication a problem? French was the official language and the only word we knew was Bonjour. Fortunately, almost everyone in the tourism industry speaks some English. Even when we went to a local restaurant, one of the waitresses spoke a little English. We didn’t have any problem at all.
I booked the flights in October. We flew out on December 25th and returned on January 1st. The flight to Tahiti was great. We had a 3-hour layover at LAX, but the international terminal was pleasant. The airports were very quiet on Christmas day. There were a few empty seats on the Tahiti flight and some people were able to stretch out. We arrived in Faa’a at 11 pm and got through immigration pretty quickly. I booked a rental car at the airport ahead of time to make life easier. The drive to Papeete (the capital of French Polynesia) was easy and we arrived at our pension around midnight. The staff was waiting for us and we checked in without any issues. This first part of the trip was smoother than I expected. Most tourists had hotel pickups or were waiting for a taxi when we left the airport.
The return flight was more problematic. Our flight out was at midnight on New Year’s. I’ll talk more about this later. We arrived at LAX around 10 am. The big issue was the 8-hour layover. Fortunately, Mrs. RB40 was able to move us to an earlier flight and reduced the layover time to just 3 hours. We paid $50 each for that arrangement and it was totally worth it.
We paid $1,300 each for the round-trip flight to Tahiti. So $1,350 each with the flight change. I think the flight tickets were very expensive, but it was probably normal for 2023.
Rental car and gas: $650
I booked a tiny Kia Picanto with Hertz at the Faa’a airport. From what I read, it can be difficult to book an automatic transmission vehicle so plan ahead if you need one. I can drive a stick shift, but I’m not very confident with it in tricky situations. I planned to drive up a steep road to a Belvedere (viewpoint) and didn’t want to stall out on a steep one-lane road. Also, I took the rental car on a ferry from Tahiti to Moorea. The ferry was relatively small and required careful maneuvering. Anyway, I got an automatic transmission to make life easier for myself.
Rental cars are pretty expensive in Tahiti and even more so in Moorea. We paid $600 for 7 days for this tiny Picanto. It took us where we wanted so it worked out quite well. We packed light so the car was just big enough.
Driving in Tahiti was great. The main roads were great and they drove on the right. The only adjustment I had to make was for the roundabouts. The traffic was light so negotiating the roundabouts was easy. We didn’t go off the paved road in Tahiti.
On Moorea, the ring road was very good as well. However, the dirt road to our rental wasn’t maintained as well. There were some very bumpy patches, but our little Kia got through it.
Renting a car was expensive in Tahiti, but it was totally worth it. We enjoyed having a rental car. It gave us the freedom to explore. Gasoline was $50.
Moorea is the nearest island to Tahiti. You can fly there or take a ferry like we did. The ferry ride took about 30 minutes, but the car tickets can sell out quickly. It’s easier if you walk on. There were plenty of empty seats for passengers.
There are two main ferry companies, Aremiti and Terevau. Aremiti has bigger ships, but the car ferry tickets were more expensive. I think it was around $80 each way. Terevau is cheaper ($50 each way), but their ships were smaller. You can only fit about 9 vehicles in there. Hence, Terevau sold out quickly. We dropped by the Ferry Terminal and booked the tickets a few days ahead. However, I should have booked online because the ferry ride back from Moorea was almost sold out. The only car ticket left was at 6 am or 8 am. It was New Year and a Monday so maybe that had something to do with it. I wanted to come back to Tahiti at 4 pm. That way, we’ll have more time on Moorea. Anyway, we came back on the 8 am ferry on January 1st. More on this later.
The round-trip ticket for the car was $100. We also got 2 adult and 1 child passenger tickets for $55.
Cellphone data: $17
I got a sim card from Vodaphone in Papeete. It worked well throughout the trip. The most useful app was Google Maps. Having directions to various sights was great. It was also helpful for looking up which restaurants to try.
Pension on Tahiti: $530 for 4 nights
We stayed at Pension Pare Lodge Tahiti. It was a bed and breakfast. We got a room in the main home, but they also had standalone bungalows. They had a nice small pool and good AC. We had an enjoyable stay. They served delicious local fruits, baguettes and jams, tiny croissants, coffee, and juice for breakfast. The mango was awesome. They had 2 mango trees loaded with fruit which were perfectly ripe. Fruits in the US are not as good because they spend too much time on shipping. The pool was great, too. We usually get back to the pension around 3 pm and spent the rest of the day lounging around the pool. The staff was very friendly. They also offered 4×4 tours and other activities.
I think this was a fair deal and we enjoyed our 4-night stay. Most visitors only stay for one night before moving on, though. The pool was great for RB40Jr to practice snorkeling.
Bungalow on Moorea: $520 for 3 nights
I had a difficult time finding a midrange accommodation on Moorea. There were many expensive hotels and several cheap hostels, but I couldn’t find a good midrange place for 3 people. I settled on a 2 bedroom bungalow near the Tamae public beach. This was a popular local beach and had a nice snorkeling area.
Our bungalow was nice and clean. It looks like it was built recently. The bedrooms were a good size. They have a nice TV in the living room with Netflix. My main complaint is they only have one AC in one of the bedrooms. It would have been way better to have 2 AC or one big AC for the whole bungalow. We left that bedroom door open and the AC had to cool down the whole bungalow. Many accommodations on Moorea have no AC so I guess we were lucky to have one.
This place was ok, but I was not impressed. I felt we paid a bit too much for what we got. I didn’t see anything better for under $200/night, though. It was the New Year’s weekend so that might have made it more difficult to find accommodation on Moorea. Also, the owner asked for a cash payment. I withdrew some XPF from the ATM in Papeete so it wasn’t a huge problem. I heard the ATMs on Moorea aren’t very dependable.
Next time, I would splurge a bit more on accommodation.
Ironically, food was more affordable in Tahiti than in Portland. We spent about $500 on food on this trip. We didn’t go to any fancy restaurants, though. We ate at the market, food trucks, local restaurants, grocery stores, and at Burger King. The food was good on the Island. Seafood was fresh and cheaper than in Portland. We ate a ton of raw fish. Poisson cru au lait coco, marinated raw fish in coconut milk, is the national dish of French Polynesia. Interestingly, Chinese food is very popular in Tahiti. Apparently, Chinese men came to work on the plantation in the late 19th century and many stayed.
Papeete Market was a great place to pick up lunch before heading out for sightseeing. We tried the $3 baguette sandwich. A small baguette was filled with fries and a little strip of beef patty. Mrs. RB40 liked it, but I wasn’t impressed. It was too much carb for me. The baos (Chinese steam buns) and samosas were delicious, though. I also tried a $7 chicken rice bowl. That was good.
We heard the food trucks were good in Tahiti so we visited a pod at Place Vai’ete near the Ferry Terminal. There were 4 food trucks there, three Chinese and one crepe truck. They set up around 6 pm. The Chinese food costs $15 to $25 for each dish. We ate at a Chinese truck and it was good. The serving size was huge. We ordered 3 dishes and couldn’t finish it.
The dish on top was the Poisson Cru Chinese style. Mrs. RB40 and Junior loved this dish. It was sweet and a little salty. The fish was very fresh. Most eateries serve their version of Poisson Cru. It’s amazing. We ate this dish almost every day while we were there.
Seaside food shack in Moorea
I was looking for lunch on Google Maps and found Snack Teanahei. It had 4.9 stars and it was amazing. This was my favorite lunch spot on our trip. Check out this view!
The food was amazing too. We got grilled fish with rice and Poisson Cru. Both were excellent. You can’t go wrong with fish in French Polynesia. The fish was not fishy at all. It was so fresh. Another interesting factoid, a baguette came with every meal. Surprisingly, this meal cost just $16! The portion size was huge too. This was plenty for the 3 of us.
Tama Hau Opunohu’s Bay restaurant
This was another good lunch spot on Moorea.
I ordered the raw black pearl oysters marinated in lime juice and coconut. It was great. These remind me of scallops rather than oysters. I think they only used the abductor muscles here. This dish cost $25.
Mrs. RB40 got the fish burger. It was good too. This one was $16. We also got smoothies to celebrate our last day on Moorea. Those cost $12 each.
Why the heck would anyone eat at Burger King in Tahiti? Well, it was January 1st and everything was closed! The only restaurant open was Burger King and the line was out the door. The only other option was a bar near the Ferry Terminal, which was packed, too. Even the grocery stores were closed. The only places open were gas stations and their mini-marts. Those were cleaned out as well. We couldn’t find much to eat there. We snapped up the last pack of cream-filled croissants, but that wasn’t enough so we gave in and joined the line at BK.
Umami burger: $63
Ironically, the most expensive meal we had was at Umami Burger in LAX. It was okay, but way overpriced. Not worth it at all. $63 for 3 basic burgers. What a ripoff!
We had several easy meals from the grocery stores. We got a baguette, cheese, pate, wine, and snacks. At the Tahiti pension, we ate at the pool. In Moorea, we got ravioli, cassoulet, cheese, and bread for dinner. We didn’t want to drive on the dark bumpy road when it was dark. Also, Mrs. RB40 got sick and she needed extra rest on the second half of the trip. The groceries were not super expensive. Most items were imported from France. Wine and cheese were delicious and affordable. Fruits and vegetables were expensive.
My plan for Tahiti was to drive around the island and stop at various beaches and sights. Here are some sights we enjoyed.
Arahoho Blowhole and Faarumai Waterfalls
The Arahoho blowhole was a neat stop. It’s an old lava tube that sprays water out… Okay, it doesn’t sound impressive, but it was cooler in person. The Faarumai waterfall is just a short drive away from the blowhole. That was really nice too. We also stopped to watch surfers at various beaches along the drive from Papeete to the blowhole.
Belvedere de Taravao
Another day, we drove to explore Tahiti-Iti, the quieter side of Tahiti. We drove up a small road to the Belvedere de Taravao. This viewpoint gave us a great view of Tahiti. The small paved road had some steep sections, but we made it up to the top. There were plenty of parking spots and several picnic benches. We had a picnic lunch there and relaxed for a couple of hours. Mrs. RB40 decided to go for a hike at the arboretum there. Junior and I didn’t go because we didn’t have the right shoes. And we were lazy…
This was the end of the road in Tahiti-Iti. We walked to see the waves, but didn’t see any surfers out. I guess the condition wasn’t right for big waves. They’ll hold the Paris Olympics surfing competition at Teahupo’o this summer. The drive to Teahupo’o was very nice, though. It was relaxing and there wasn’t much traffic.
Museum of Tahiti and The Islands
The museum of Tahiti and The Islands was great. We enjoyed the exhibits and learning more about the Polynesian culture. This is a good stop if you have time.
Grottes De Mara’a
This is a grotto that’s filled with cold water. Mrs. RB40 was adventurous and went for a dip. That was a bad decision, though. She started to get sick from that point onward. The water was really cold.
We were more relaxed on Moorea. We went snorkeling at the public beach near our bungalow and hung out at the beach for many hours. We also drove around the island and stopped at various beaches and viewpoints. It was a relaxing time. Unfortunately, Mrs. RB40 was sick so she had to take a rest in the afternoon. We were all a little sunburnt by that point anyway. Moorea was beautiful and more laidback than Tahiti. I’m glad we visited.
This is the Sofitel near our bungalow on Moorea. We didn’t stay here, but we snorkeled at the same beach. The over-the-water bungalows cost $1,150 per night for 3 people. Someday…
Total cost: $6,441
Alright, here is the total – $6,441. I guess that isn’t too bad for 3 people. We enjoyed the trip tremendously and would love to visit again someday. We had a lot of fun driving around. Next time, I’ll splurge for a much nicer hotel in Bora Bora. A package trip probably would be better for that occasion. This trip was a good introduction to French Polynesian. Hawaii is cheaper and easier, though. If you haven’t been to Hawaii, I would visit there first.
Have you been to Tahiti? Did you like it?
Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!
Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.