The trouble with many large resorts that bill themselves as “island hideaways” is that they’re not really very hidden. They’re simply too large to qualify as any sort of secret paradise.
On the island of Moorea in French Polynesia — a 30-minute ferry ride from Tahiti — we found a true island escape: the Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa.
Owner Eileen, who runs the property with the air of a dowager overseeing her estate, welcomed my husband Alan and me when we found our way to the Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa, at the end of a lane in a residential community on the island’s northwest shore.
The first order of business was a fruity welcome cocktail — decorated with an elaborate floral arrangement — to sip on the waterfront deck overlooking the lagoon.
The deck surrounds a salon and bar area, its bamboo shelves lined with books. The property has no beach, but the views across the lagoon are lovely. If you want to explore the lagoon further, as we did the next day, the hotel has a single and double kayak, which are complimentary for guests to use.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
Hidden away in separate bungalows behind lush foliage, the five guest suites feel a bit over-the-top, lavishly decorated with antique furniture and eclectic artwork. You don’t really sense that you’re at the beach — more like a hideaway in a tropical forest.
Not only are the rooms decorated with floral motifs, staff scatter flowers throughout the unit when guests arrive.
The suites are all air-conditioned, and while you might not need it in the waterfront units, which seem to get more of a breeze, we did use the A/C in our garden room, which was one of the “junior suites.”
In addition to the bedroom, each suite also has an outdoor terrace with lounge chairs, although we prefer to sit on the waterfront deck than amid the dense foliage surrounding our terrace.
Room amenities include a flat-screen TV with a DVD player, a CD player, an electric kettle with tea and instant coffee, and a minibar.
Wi-Fi is available (for a fee) throughout the property and worked fairly well.
Our large bathroom had double sinks and a spacious walk-in shower, fronted with bamboo beams.
It was stocked with locally-made bath products, including monoi de Tahiti (a coconut bath oil that feels wonderful on sun-parched skin), shower gel scented with tiare (Tahiti’s national flower), and vanilla-infused body lotion.
A storage cabinet, with plenty of room for our toiletries, held a small safe.
Room rates are 28,000 XPF (US$318) per night for each of the two junior suites and 38,000 XPF (US$431) for the larger Princesse Lokelani suite. Two even bigger units, sleeping 5-7 people, are also available, ranging from 50,000-60,000 XPF (US$567-680).
Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa caters primarily to couples, and staff try to create an ambiance of seclusion and romance — a mood that even extends to breakfast service.
Breakfast is served at the time you request at one of the tables on the deck, each one decoraged with flowers and surrounded by lush foliage that shades your breakfast-à-deux from the adjacent guests. (If you prefer, you can request breakfast in your suite.)
While the Continental breakfast is a pricey option at an 3,800 XPF (US$43) charge per person, it was a massive spread. We received a canoe-shaped basket overflowing with fresh mangoes, papaya, pineapple, and kiwi. An ample basket of croissants, pain au chocolate, pain raisin, and buns. Cured meats and slices of cheese. Fresh fruit juice and piping hot coffee.
It could easily have fed two more people — and still, there would likely be leftovers! And in the unlikely event that you prefer an even heartier morning meal, you can opt for a full American breakfast (5,300 XPF, or US$60 per person), which adds eggs, bacon, and potatoes to the Continental spread.
The bar is open to guests throughout the day, and Fenua Mata’i’oa also serves dinner by reservation only. Dinner prices range from 6,000-8,000 XPF (US$68-90) per person.
Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa is about a 20- to 25-minute walk from the town of Hauru, where there’s a grocery store, several cafes, and a few restaurants. It’s an easy walk, although you might want to bring a flashlight in the evening, since the residential streets around the hotel are not well-lit after dark.
In Hauru, we loved the poisson cru à la javanaise (raw fish marinated in coconut and lime) and the freshly roasted chicken at the friendly and casual La Paillote. Another roulotte (food truck), À L’Heure du Sud, makes excellent sandwiches. We can also recommend the unusual, but surprisingly tasty, pizza topped with fresh tuna at Coco d’Isle.
To venture further afield, you really need to rent a car, which we did for a couple of days. Both Avis and Albert Rent-a-Car, a local agency, have offices just up the road from the Fenua Mata’i’oa. Fenua Mata’i’oa staff can also arrange a rental car for you. Expect to pay around US$100 per day for a very petite rental car.
If you don’t pick up a car when you first arrive on the island, the hotel will arrange transportation from either the airport or the ferry docks for 2,000 XFP (US$23) per person.
Why Choose the Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa?
If you’re looking for a secluded, romantic lodging that’s far more distinctive than a chain hotel and more intimate than a large resort, and you don’t need a sandy beach right at the door, consider the Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa.
It’s not for everyone, but it’s an unusual hideaway on an unusually lovely French Polynesian island.
For more information about planning a trip to French Polynesia, contact Tahiti Tourism.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. I paid a slightly discounted media rate for my stay at the Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa.