We are in Bora Bora today with an overnight at this destination. Originally the name was Pora Pora; there is no B in the Tahitian language, but visitors misheard it. This is actually a smaller island than some of the others we have visited, but with 10 operating resorts tourism is much better developed. Stay at the high-end resorts like the Four Seasons or St. Regis and you might run into celebrities like Nicole Kidman who stayed here on her honeymoon. Rooms start at $800 with villas like Nicole’s costing $10,000 per night.
Most of these newer resorts are built a motu, one of the small islands just off the coast of Bora Bora. The iconic Hotel Bora Bora, built over 30 years ago, featured the first over-the-water bungalows on stilts. The hotel occupies the prime position on the island, but is currently closed. All of the newer hotels are built in the water bungalow style that we have also seen on the other islands.
The privacy of the motu makes it a popular destination even for the islanders who may have a second house on a motu to get away from other people. The irony of the need to get away for an inhabitant who lives on a sparsely populated island was not lost on me. The island’s airport is also on a motu. When you arrive in Bora Bora, you will still need to take a boat to reach the island or (depending on your hotel) may be taken directly to your hotel by the resort’s private boat.
Tourism is the business of Bora Bora. The high number of resorts has created its problems, but the island has adapted-even building a plant to convert sea water to drinking water to meet the high demand. As we took our circular tour of the island, we saw the landing platforms for the major resorts where they pick up their workers to take them to the motu. There were some pretty nice cars parked there. As we learned on an earlier tour, minimum wage here is set at European standards by the French government who controls the islands.
About 70% of the islanders are Protestant and we saw churches in each of the three towns on Bora Bora. Another dominant building is the “meeting house” used for all types of community gatherings. The meetings houses are associated with the Protestant churches, but used by people of all faiths.
There are no cemeteries in Bora Bora. When a member of the family dies, the tomb is erected right on the property.
Like the other islands, Bora Bora is surrounded by a barrier reef. Unlike the other islands, there is only a single opening to that reef. For that reason-the need to defend only one opening-it was chosen by the Americans to be their headquarters during WWII. We saw one WWII ammunition bunker along our drive that is currently used by residents for shelter during a hurricane. There are also eight remaining American cannons on the island.
The island has a large handicrafts market where the best deals are the colorful and beautifully decorated cloths use for sarongs, tablecloths, or to make clothing. There are also commercially made sarongs, not unique in any way or than the name of island being stamped on them, that sold for a much higher price. The shell jewelry was also reasonably priced. The main town, where the tender dropped us off was also the site of a row of jewelry stores selling the “black” Tahitian pearl, loose or set in an infinite variety of ways. This is where you can spend the big bucks.
The island hot spot, at least for tourists, was Bloody Mary’s established in 1979. It features traditional Tahitian architecture and a sand-bottomed floor. You check your shoes at the door. People were not there for the décor though. You could have lunch, but most headed straight to the bar or the t-shirt shop. (I thought I was at a Hard Rock Café for a minute.) The view from the pier at Bloody Mary’s was pretty spectacular.
Since Bora Bora was a two-day stop, we are able to add to our activities. In addition to a circular island tour, shopping, and a stop at Bloody Mary’s, we also we on a lagoon cruise with a beach break. The islanders do a wonderful job of decorating their forms of transportation for visitors. Our bus tour featured fresh hibiscus and greenery along the windows (which are made of Plexiglas) and our lagoon cruise boat featured the same along with curtains of palm leaves and wrapped poles.
The women wear garlands of flowers in their hair and the men hats made from palm leaves. Our lagoon cruise started with musical entertainment with traditional songs sang to the accompaniment of the small island guitar and an improvised drum-the casement for the steering column.
We thought our first stop would be for reef snorkeling, but got a surprise when the tame stingrays greeted us. Our guide shared tuna with the rays and they liked brushing up against you until they realized that you weren’t the source of the smell. You really didn’t even need the mask and snorkel, as you could see the rays easily in the clear waist-deep water. (I thought his a more natural experience than the overly commercialized Stingray City in the Cayman Islands that I have also visited.)
We next went to a motu where some snorkeling was possible even in the shallow water. The current was strong here, so you had to watch where you were going. From the motu and while riding around the lagoon, you got wonderful views of the island and the peak of Mount Otemanu.
I loved Bora Bora. It is my favorite of the Society Islands we have visited. Tomorrow is a sea day and then we arrive at a new archipelago, the Marquesas Island group. Still hoping for that sunshine.