Wednesday 2nd to Wednesday 9th August
We heard a lot of cruisers say that they were giving Bora Bora a miss as it is too overdeveloped, too touristy, spoiled, but we could see its dramatic, jagged profile from Taha’a and were keen to visit.
Bora Bora is another of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, and like most of the islands it has a high central volcanic mountain surrounded by a coral reef which encloses a turquoise lagoon. It has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world – a South Pacific paradise. There are expensive and luxurious hotels on private motus, the smaller islets, which ring the main island. Once the holiday destination of the rich and famous it is still one of the world’s top honeymoon choices.
We left Taha’a at 9am with Nautilus and catamaran Jadean and had a gentle five hour sail across to Bora Bora, our cruising chute up for some of the way in the light winds. As we approached through the pass into the lagoon there were surfers on the outlying reef and a cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin, at anchor in the bay.
We anchored for the first night in shallow water between the outer reef and one of the larger motus to the west of the main island. Barry from Jadean took us in his dinghy to a spot nearby where a small tourist boat had pulled up to feed the stingrays which swam round our feet. They are tame and gentle and will allow you to touch them though it appears that the barbs at the base of their long tails might have been removed. 8 year old Jade warned me not to step on them.
We explored further round the motu, past a luxurious looking hotel with bungalows built on stilts over the water… these each have their own individual plunge pools and I wouldn’t be too upset to spend a week’s holiday here.
There was a spot over the coral where we snorkelled with masses of small, colourful fish. A huge moray eel about ten foot long with a fat brown dappled body slithered its way from rock to rock across the sand. When we swam down to try to take photographs it turned and bared its small sharp teeth (but not for the camera).
At night the roar of the surf on the reef was loud and constant like background traffic noise.
The next day we picked up a mooring buoy in the small bay by the town of Vaitape. We needed to visit the gendarmerie to officially check out of the Society Islands and, as they required a few days notice to liaise with Tahiti and to prepare the necessary paperwork, that gave us the weekend to explore.
Vaitape is the largest settlement on Bora Bora with a bank and post office, a couple of supermarkets and a large number of jewellery shops selling very expensive black pearls. Roadside stalls sell whole tunas, fruit and a few vegetables. There is a long, dusty main street running the length of the bay, the simple houses of the locals contrasting with the exclusive resorts on the lagoon. We walked around practicing our one word of Tahitian on the locals we passed – ‘Iaorana’ pronounced yo-rah-nah, and meaning ‘hello’.
Importantly, at the other side of the bay from the town is the Mai Kai yacht club with wifi, and happy hour between 5 and 6 every evening. After just one night in the yacht club enjoying their half price beer and cocktails, we filled Vega’s tank with diesel and headed round the lagoon to the east of the island, past more hotel complexes with their typical overwater bungalows, to an idyllic and deserted anchorage in the southeast corner, in the shelter of one of the motus.
Nearby we did more snorkelling with stingrays and numerous bold black tip sharks and on a beautiful coral garden where colourful corals have started to regenerate in the lagoon (much of the coral here is broken, grey and dead due to warmer sea temperatures caused by El Niño and damage caused by cyclones).
Hoards of little fish mob you to feed on bits of stale bread.
One morning we went early at 6am to Manta Reef… a manta ray ‘cleaning station’ where the huge creatures swim around allowing little fish to eat the parasites off them. We tied our dinghies to a buoy and wondered if we had the right spot as, snorkelling around the coral bordering the deep pass, there was not a manta in sight and no other tourists this early. We were about to give up when, deep below us, maybe 30 feet down, we could make out in the gloom the shapes of two huge grey creatures with white horns, gliding slowly around.
On the Monday we headed back to the Gendarmerie to collect our exit papers…… which determined that we should be leaving that same day. Our plan was actually to leave Bora Bora early the next morning but it started to rain heavily on Monday night and by the morning the wind was howling through the harbour with the boats lashed by rain. We felt sorry for the passengers on the cruise ship that had arrived the night before, the spectacular volcanic peaks of Bora Bora shrouded in low cloud and the usually azure waters a dull grey – surely not what they’d expected when they booked their dream cruise. We decided to stay on another day rather than set off in such foul conditions and the following morning we left in company with Nautilus and Jadean hoping to stop at Maupiti, 28 miles away and one of the most westerly islands of French Polynesia.