Several ferries go to the Vai'are wharf in Mo'orea daily from Pape'ete, the Tahitian capital. The Vai'are wharf is in the Vai'are bay. There are 3 ferries. One of them is the 'Aremiti 5. The largest one is the 'Aremiti Ferry and the other one is the Terevau ferry. The ferries have to pass through Mo'orea's coral pass, then toward Pape'ete across the ocean and into the Tahiti Lagoon. The Vai'are bay is in the east part of Mo'orea. Mo'orea's Tema'e Airport (IATA: MOZ) has connections to the international airport in Pape'ete and onward to other Society Islands such as Bora Bora. If the islanders want to make an international flight, they would take Air Tahiti to get to the Fa'a'ā International Airport on Tahiti. The Mo'orea airport is located north of the Vai'are bay. There is one road that goes around the island. Along the road are kilometre markers from 1 to 35. The first one is near the airport. The 35th one is in Ha'apiti. There are also white signs that tell the driver which commune they entered. Other signs have the communes name with a red slash through it, meaning that the driver is leaving the commune.
The island was formed as a volcano 1.5 to 2.5 million years ago, the result of a geologic hotspot in the mantle under the oceanic plate that formed the whole of the Society Archipelago. It is theorized that the current bays were formerly river basins that filled during the Holocene searise.
Mo'orea is about 10 miles in width from the west to the east. There are two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore. The one to the west is called 'Ōpūnohu Bay, which is not very populated but many travelers have come into the bay. The main surrounding communes of the bay are Piha'ena in the east and Papetō'ai to the west. The one to the east is Cook's Bay, also called Pao Pao Bay since the largest commune of Mo'orea is at the bottom of the bay. The other communes are Piha'ena to the west and busy Maharepa to the east. The highest point is Mount Tohi'e'a, near the center of Mo'orea. It dominates the vista from the two bays and can be seen from Tahiti. There are also hiking trails in the mountains. The Vai'are Bay is another small inlet, smaller than the two main bays, on the east shore. This bay has been settled a lot and has a lot of business. The main village is located just south of the bay.
The island is administratively part of the commune (municipality) of Mo'orea-Mai'ao, itself in the administrative subdivision of the Windward Islands. The main village is 'Āfareaitu. The largest village is Pao Pao at the bottom of Cook's Bay. The second largest is Maharepa.
Because of its stunning scenery and accessibility to Pape'ete, Mo'orea is visited by many western tourists who travel to French Polynesia. Especially popular as a honeymoon destination, Mo'orea can often be seen in advertisements in American wedding magazines. Arthur Frommer declared in Frommer's travel guide that he considered it the most beautiful island in the world.
Like many of the other islands, Mo'orea was first settled by Polynesians from the islands west of Mo'orea. They arrived on canoes coming down from South Asia looking for islands to settle. It is estimated that they arrived on Mo'orea roughly 1000 years ago. There are some ancient landmarks on Mo'orea known as marae, which consists of ancient stone rocks shaped like pyramids. On the rocks are carvings that tell when sacrifices occasionally took place. The oldest marae is the 'Āfareaitu Marae, located in the island's main village. It was made by the early Polynesians in the year 900.
The first European that recorded its sight was Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606. The first settlers who were Europeans arrived during the 18th century. The first European to arrive on the island were the Englishmen Samuel Wallis and James Cook. Captain James Cook first landed on Tahiti, where he planned the 1769 Transit of Venus observed from Tahiti and Mo'orea. At Mo'orea, where Ta'aroa was chief, Cook first landed in 'Ōpūnohu Bay, Cook's Bay was later named in his honor. Spanish sailor Domingo de Bonechea visited it in 1774 and named it Santo Domingo.
The island was among those visited by the United States Exploring Expedition on its tour of the South Pacific in 1839.
Charles Darwin found inspiration for his theory regarding the formation of coral atolls when looking down upon Mo'orea while standing on a peak on Tahiti. He described it as a "picture in a frame", referring to the barrier reef encircling the island.
Don the Beachcomber lived here briefly in the 1920s until his houseboat was destroyed by tropical cyclones.
On October 7, 1967, construction was completed on the Mo'orea Airport, which opened the following month.
The University of California, Berkeley maintains the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on the west coast of Cook's Bay. The project, funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), is a partnership between the University of California Santa Barbara and California State University, Northridge that includes additional researchers from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and the University of Hawaiʻi. The LTER Program was established by the NSF in 1980 to support research on long-term ecological phenomena. The Mo'orea Coral Reef LTER became the 26th site in the LTER network in September 2004.
The French EPHE (École pratique des hautes études) and now the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) maintain a research station at the end of 'Ōpūnohu Bay since about 1970.
The tree Phyllanthus nadeaudii is endemic to Mo'orea, meaning it is found nowhere else on earth.
In the film Love Affair, a scene where Warren Beatty's character visits his aunt takes place on Mo'orea.