Moana IRL: You Can Discover Moana’s Real Life Island & It's Travel Goals
Who knew the real life place was so similar to Disney’s Pacific island adventure?
So, MTV journeyed across the oceans to Tahiti (albeit in a plane rather than Moana raft) to live the actual Polynesian fantasy.
Hey, it’s totally OK to wanna be the hero IRL! And not just because we need an adorable pig pal sidekick. Turns out the movie is more realistic than your average animated star: While making the film, Disney set up a group known as the Oceanic Trust, made up of cultural advisors from the Pacific islands who could help build the details of Moana’s culture. Yes, despite our hero’s fantastical quest – complete with bewelled giant crab – Moana is surprisingly realistic.
We lived some of our fave Moana moments – here’s how you can too!
Ok, we’ve gotta be honest, we stayed in a v fancy resort. The beautiful Hilton Moorea Resort and Spa is where we called home during our Moana adventure. Super luxe private bungalows perch out on the ocean, so you can gaze out to the horizon and plan your voyages from the moment you wake up – and then paddleboard out to sea right from the backdoor of your room!
If Moana’s memorable song ‘How Far I’ll Go’ is true and “everybody on this island / Has a role on this island,” then ours was definitely laying out and sipping Mojitos.
Oh Hey, Hei Hei!
It’s actual Hei Hei! Or at least, an actual Tahitian chicken! The directors told us that since they first visited Tahiti for research when making the movie (tough job, or what?) they always knew that Moana’s animal companions would be a rooster and pig, as there are so many of them that live indigenously on the island.
However, Hei Hei’s role in the movie changed entirely through development – he was originally a mean old chicken, but became a whole new character in a Disney operation titled ‘SAVE THE CHICKEN,’ in which he became the “dumbest Disney character ever,” who we know and love. Perhaps distubringly, as the directors reveal in the video below, they also celebrated saving the chicken with, erm, a chicken dinner. Savage.
Flower crowns straight outta Snapchat
A Chieftain of the people doesn’t wear any old basic gold crown. Nope, our Moana has a flower crown! And you can make a traditional one out of flowers IRL. In Tahiti, teens take part in programmes at the local cultural centre to learn the Tahitian traditions that go back generations. One of them? Making actual flower crowns by threading gorge-smelling flowers and leaves into Leis to wear!
In French Polynesia, there’s no welcome without flowers: you receive them when you enter someone’s home, check in to a restaurant, arrive at the airport… everywhere! Turns out the real thing is even better than the Snapchat version.
Or, Just Go For The flower behind the ear
In Tahiti, wearing the flower behind your left ear means you are already in a relationship (because the heart is on the left side of the body). Wearing it on your right means you’re single! So much prettier than a Tinder profile.
Voyaging isn’t limited to Moana’s ancestors – it’s a part of everyday island life in Tahiti. And as Tahiti is made up of the islands of Tahiti Nui and Moorea, it's just as well! For most residents, that means communting to work every morning from Moorea to the capital Papeete on the main island by ferry. But for the more old school, that means venturing out on a traditional Polynesian canoe!
Embracing the custom of wayfinding, you can join a crew on an old-fashioned canoe and recover the ancient tradition, just like Moana! When you do, you go barefoot: “She is like our mother, we respect her and take off our shoes when we board,” the captain tells us, “the ocean is the highway that connects all of us.”
We also learnt its really damn hard to steer a canoe. WHO KNEW?
Friends with the Ocean
The movie teaches us about striking the balance between people and nature, and respecting and caring for it in return for the same nurture.
You can experience care for the ocean first-hand on Tahiti’s Moorea island, at the Te Mana O Te Moana centre (meaning ‘The Power Of The Ocean’), which rehabilitates sea turtles. Here, you can see rescued turtles on their way to recovery. The centre saves turtles, which are at threat across the island from pollution and hunting, and heals them before returning them to the ocean.
This is a green turtle named Fatu who is two years old, nearly strong enough to catch its own food and who we’d quite like to take on as an adorable sea-dwelling sidekick.
While kind-of-real-life-demi-God Dwayne The Rock Johnson brings Maui to life on screen, stories of Maui the-actual-demi-God, have been passed down through generations across the Pacific islands. Even star of the movie Auli’i Cravalho, who voices Moana, knew the stories from her home of Hawaii before every being involved in the Disney movie: ‘I grew up with his mythology and those stories of him literally pulling islands out of the sea and slowing down the sun. Those were my bedtime stories,” she has revealed.
And it's not just the Maui legend that is alive and well in French Polynesia. Just like the life-giving goddess Te Fiti in the movie, the legend goes that the islands of Tahiti started life as a mountain-sized, life-giving octopus who taught people from across the Pacific Islands unity. Now, she is a sacred mountain who overlooks her people to maintain peace and love across the islands.
Dancing That’s Literally On Fire
When it comes to traditional dancing, Moana’s grandma's is WAY MORE CHILL than what we saw in Tahiti! Otea is the island’s customary fire dancing: it’s hot and heavy and super fast paced, dotted with screeches from the women and guttural shouts from the men against thumping drums. It’s probably some of the most intense dancing you’ll see ever. Not including Little Mix live, obvs.
- Moana is in cinemas now.