It can pay to follow some simple rules when considering a holiday in the Pacific paradise of French Polynesia. Say ta ta after a day or so to the largely charmless main island of Tahiti and, while you won't be bored on Bora Bora, there's so much more to Moorea, its bigger, and somewhat overlooked, counterpart. Although a day-trip to marvellous Moorea is achievable from nearby Tahiti you'll surely want to stay a night or two and, if your credit limit is sufficiently malleable, it's difficult to surpass the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa and its breathtaking tropical setting.
Really, it couldn't be more sublime with this 104-room luxurious resort positioned between twin bays and set against a backdrop of luxuriantly vegetated peaks, the highest rising 1200 metres. The resort also lies around and atop, as its name indicates, the heart-shaped island's sparkling crystalline lagoon with Moorea, a former volcano, formed as many as 2.5 million years ago. Tahiti is just 17 kilometres north-west of Moorea and, while it's possible to take a seven minute flight from the capital Papeete, the 30-minute ferry ride is the more convenient and scenic option. What's more, the resort itself just a 20-minute drive or transfer from the wharf.
This unpretentious yet sophisticated resort, which opened nearly two decades ago and at times looks it, is laid out in classic upscale Polynesian resort style. Its main facilities, such as the airy reception, a large restaurant, an expansive pool and its luxury garden villas (complete with their own plunge pools) are scattered by the lapping waters of an attractive beachfront. Atop the ever-sparkling lagoon stand 54 showpiece overwater bungalows which together open out into the enticing waters like an unfurled fan.
The concept of the thatched-roof overwater bungalow originated in French Polynesia more than half-a-century ago thanks to a trio of American expatriates. At the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa the idea achieves its apotheosis, even though yet more luxurious examples to be found elsewhere in these isles. My large overwater bungalow is surrounded on three sides by the pristine waters of the lagoon and beyond it, mountain views. One of the best, if most novel, features of the bungalow is the clear glass panels (or "Tahitian TV", as per its local moniker) inserted in the floor that allow for viewing of tropical fish in the shallow waters below. To immerse yourself further in the lagoon, there are steps from the bungalow's spacious and shaded private deck. For an additional – and not modest – charge, a full breakfast can be delivered to your bungalow by canoe.
Here for just a one night stay, I eschew the main restaurant, Arii Vahine, specialising in French and Polynesia cuisine and home to regular Polynesian cultural performances, in favour of the Hilton's Toatea Creperie & Bar. Part of the overwater bungalow complex, it's a short stroll from most of the rooms. Dine or just imbibe here while observing reef sharks and other marine life in the illuminated waters below.
It would be tempting during a longer stay to confine yourself to such glorious quarters, especially with its full range of waterborne activities (and, for that matter, inactivities) on offer. But there's so much to see and do on Moorea it would be a pity not to explore it. Hire a car for an easy circumnavigation of the island as well as a glimpse of local village life along the coast-hugging road. If you'd like to dine outside the resort and you don't have a vehicle, you'll find that most of the leading local restaurants, such as the pleasant lagoon-side Moorea Beach Cafe, offer the convenience of free transfers to and from the major resorts.
Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa represents paradise with a price-tag, with a further premium attached to an exclusive overwater bungalow stay. But if you have the urge to splurge, even a single indulgent night spent at this resort, in its superlative setting, will not easily be forgotten.
A king deluxe garden bungalow with private pool starts from XPF74,727, though rates vary. Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, . see www3.hilton.com
The resort's arresting natural setting between Moorea's majestic mountains and lagoon lingers in the memory.
French Polynesia can be an expensive destination but Moorea's resorts are generally less pricey those on higher-profile Bora Bora.