Moana is one such movie that etched our hearts for all the right reasons. It made us laugh, made us cry, and also made us fall in love with the scenic beauty. Part of the charm of this animated movie is the eye-soothing scenery of the ocean and the island where Moana lived. Now, anyone who has watched the film is bound to wonder if the picturesque island of Te Fiti in Moana exists in real life or not.

Is there any place on planet Earth that served as inspiration for the filmmakers? Or is Te Fiti, with its amiable people and turquoise waters, simply an imaginary land?

The must-watch classic Moana

Moana is an inspirational story about a brave girl who sets out on an adventurous journey. The film became an instant favorite among fans as soon as it reached the theater.

The heartfelt tale garnered excellent reviews around the globe. So, was it the stunning animation or the catchy tunes that won the hearts of the viewers?

The greatest attraction in the movie was its lead character, the brave little Moana. Another thing that stands out is the rich setting that will keep your eyes glued to the screen.

The scenery is so alluring that a beach lover is bound to guess if the island of Te Fiti is a hidden gem or not. So, where exactly is Te Fii and how can you visit it?

Where does Moana take place in the story?

The girl Moana resides with her family on an island named Motunui. While there is no place named Motunui for real, Moana’s production team has an answer to where it could be.

If you read the book The Art of Moana, you can have a look at the map tracing Moana’s journey.

According to this book, Motunui is present east of Tonga, close to the geographical location of Niue. And then there’s the island of Te Fiti which is of immense significance for the people of Motunui.

Moana island in real life

In several Polynesian languages, the word ‘Moana’ stands for the ocean. So, the film is a tribute to the oceanic life force connecting all of Oceania.

Hence, despite being a work of fiction, the Disney movie’s characters and their lifestyle have striking resemblances with the ancient Polynesians.

The narrative of Moana focuses primarily on the tradition, generational experience, and culture of the inhabitants of Oceania.

Oceania is a region situated in the South Pacific, and it has at least 10,000 islands. So, which one among these thousands of islands is Motunui?

There are clues that make it easy to place Motunui in a specific location on the map of Oceania.

Does Moana’s Island of Te Fiti Exist in Real Life?

Is Teti’aroa the island in Moana?

Visually and as per location, Motunui looks a lot like Teti’aroa and Tutuila. The production team has confirmed that they have spent time on both locations. So, it isn’t a surprise that Motunui’s landscape is close to Teti’aroa, a private island.

Another prominent feature of Motunui is its iconic peak where Moana takes the vow to be a worthy leader. You can find this peak in Bora Bora which grabbed the attention of the makers of the movie.

Fun fact

Teti’aroa is not just a remote location but a brilliant tourist spot with all the necessary amenities.

As far as the culture of Moana’s community is concerned, it has similarities to the island of Samoa.

The dwellings on Moana’s Motunui Island are just like Samoa Fale. There’s a song in the movie titled ‘We Know the Way’.

Part of its lyrics is in Tokelauan. Opetaia Foa’I, the composer of the song, confirmed that Samoan natives understand Tokelaun.

The magical Te Fiti

If you have seen the movie, you must have noticed Te Fiti Island which is symbolic of Mother Nature.

Te Fiti is also the goddess of creation who lives on Te Fiti Island. She gifted the world many magnificent islands full of fauna, flora, and humans.

After she was happy with the life, she had created all around, she took the shape of an island.

The island of Te Fiti looked like a feminine figure resting peacefully. Lush trees and flora covered her body and clusters of pretty flowers adorned her hair.

In her dormant state, Goddess Te Fiti always took the shape of an island.

The heart of Te Fiti meaning is interesting as it represents a pounamu stone. It is this stone that has the power to raise islands and create life.

Due to its creative power, monsters have often tried to steal this treasure. From the Kakamora pirates to Tamatoa, the giant crab – all wanted the heart.

The demigod Maui ultimately succeeded in taking it away as he wanted to gift it to humanity.

The moment he acquired the heart, there was perpetual darkness on the island. Without her heart, Te Fiti transformed herself into Te Ka, an untamable demon and the film’s antagonist.

So, the same island that once resembled a woman ends up being a destructive volcano. The molten lava kills anybody who approaches the island.

Ultimately, Moana sets on a daring mission to return Te Fiti’s heart to where it belongs. That’s all about the Island of Te Fiti in the movie.

But what if you learned that there is a place that will remind you of Te Fiti? Scroll down to learn all about this offbeat destination.

Why is Te Fiti so similar to Tahiti?

The production team of Moana took multiple trips to the South Pacific and Polynesia. They explored scenic places like Tonga, Aotearoa, Fiji, Hawaii, and Samoa.

Tahiti is one of the islands they visited and its allure will blow your mind. But what makes Tahiti more special is that Tahiti is the Island of Te Fiti real life.

With 118 picturesque islands, the Islands of Tahiti are one of the most picturesque places. The biggest island in Tahiti influenced Disney to invent Te Fiti.

If you visit Tahiti once, you will instantly see the connection between this place and the one you saw in the film. It features blue reefs, dense forests, and turquoise lagoons.

Remember the cave where Moana discovers the boats that her ancestors used? There is even a cave in Tahiti which probably gave the film director the idea to include such a cave in the movie as well.

There’s no denying that Tahiti can be an ideal backdrop for any movie – animated or otherwise.

There are multiple islands here that look like Te Fiti, the fictional island in Moana. What will amaze you even more is that some of them even have a deeper impact on the film.

Resemblances between Moana’s clan and Polynesian people

It is not just the beautiful nature of Tahiti and its surrounding islands that the film Moana represents.

The movie amazingly captures the captivating culture of the indigenous people living on those islands.

While the plot is imaginative, not everything about the movie is fiction. Throughout the film, you can observe interesting cultural aspects of the people of the South Pacific.

Some of the instances include:

Tattoos as cultural identity

Several of the characters in the movie have elaborate tattoos all over their body.

Did you know that the people of Tahiti invented tattoos? The designs they draw on their bodies depict their cultural identity.

The canoe

Moana ventures out in a small canoe to look for Maui. It is basically a simple canoe built by the Polynesian people to commute from one island to another. These boats made it convenient for them to access the nearby islands’ shallow lagoons.

The people also knew how to construct canoes that could withstand harsh storms in the ocean. They could sail for thousands of miles across the mighty Pacific Ocean. The vessels used to be as long as 60 feet and they accommodated 20+ passengers.

The characters

A lovable character in the movie is the mischievous Maui who is originally a demigod. In Polynesian mythology, there is a demigod with the same name. There are many legends about Maui and the stories have circulated in all of Polynesia.

While Disney’s Maui is not a perfect portrayal of the mythological Maui, he incorporates many similar traits. The song ‘You’re Welcome’, sung by Maui, has highlighted some of the myths about him that are prevalent in Polynesia.


Polynesian language and names have appeared throughout the film. The biggest example is Moana’s name. Tala, Moana’s grandmother’s name’ means ‘tale’ in Samoan.


The people inhabiting Tahiti, Teti’aroa and other Polynesian islands have a strong bond with nature. They treat the ocean as a Goddess and a genuine reverence for nature is deeply rooted in their culture. They don’t disturb the sensitive ecosystem of the area and believe in ancient myths even today.

Stars lead the way

In the film, Moana relies on the stars for navigating her way when she is on the sea. She uses her hand to measure the stars and thus, know where she is. This technique is known as wayfinding and Polynesian voyagers have used it for centuries.

Wayfinding encompasses a range of navigational methods like observing birds and their flight patterns. Navigators also noticed the swells in the seawater and the changes in the direction of the waves.

When does Moana’s adventure take place?

There are various life lessons that Moana learns from her father. He tries to make her understand that the island has everything she needs to live a fulfilling life.

Sailing across the turbulent waters, on the other hand, can threaten her life, in the same way it killed many of her ancestors.

So, for centuries, her people have not gone beyond the protective reefs of Motunui. Turns out, this is a historically accurate phenomenon.

If you read the history of Polynesia, you will know that there was a period called ‘The Long Pause’.

The Polynesians used to be seafaring people who voyaged in highly efficient canoes. Mass exploration across the Pacific Ocean started nearly 3,500 years ago.

However, for some reason, the people suddenly stopped voyaging the seas for as long as 2000 years. Historians have not figured out the reason why Polynesians ceased exploring.

Anthropologists are still puzzled about what triggered ‘The Long Pause’. Some theorize that it could be because of alterations in wind patterns.

However, we know what compelled Polynesians to brave the waters once again. They faced a scarcity of food and thus, had to keep aside their fears. When the algae bloom ended you killing off the fish, they had no alternative but to sail again.

Do you recall that the same thing happened in Moana? When the fish and vegetation began dying off, Moana had to sail far away to find a solution.

Parting Thoughts

The island of Te Fiti which gained so popularity after Moana released that they have become a must-visit place for nature lovers. So, if the ethereal beauty of the island has bewitched you, now you know where you should go.

As the movie celebrates its 7th year anniversary, why not go on an expedition like Moana? Just plan a trip and get ready to experience the magic of the film in the Islands of Tahiti.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Where is Te Fiti Island in real life?

Tahiti can be considered the Island of Te Fiti in real life as there are several similarities between the two. The makers of Moana have also revealed that they visited Tahiti before coming up with the island where Moana stayed.

2. Is Moana based on a true story?

Moana is not a biopic and the adorable character is completely a product of the writer’s imagination. However, the land where Moana was born and its culture reflect the real history and heritage of the Polynesian Islands. The ties to the culture of the Polynesian Islands in Moana are impossible to ignore.

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