Welcome to French Polynesia, and one of the Pacific’s most desirable destinations – or even, as the island’s website proclaims with typical Gallic understatement, ‘the most beautiful island in the world’. Even if that’s going a bit far, this is certainly a romantic faraway place that attracts lots of people, and to be sure everyone gets the point there’s plenty of the grass-skirt dancing that has become a Polynesian trademark.
Bora Bora is in the Leeward Islands, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Tahiti, and now depends on visitors for its economic wellbeing. The only other commercial activities are fishing and harvesting coconuts, so the advent of tourism has given the island a huge fillip. The locals speak French and Tahitian, but most have a good grasp of English. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef that encloses the bluest of lagoons, and the land rises from white beaches through lush jungle-covered slopes to the dual peaks of an extinct volcano – Mounts Pahia and Otemanu. The main settlement of Vaitape is on the west coast, opposite the entrance to the lagoon.
The Hotel Bora Bora pioneered the use of palm-thatched tourist accommodation built out over the water on stilts, and this is now a standard feature of most resorts. Despite a deliberately rustic appearance, these are spacious, luxurious and priced accordingly. There are a number of high-end resorts on palm-fringed motu (islets) around the lagoon, and cheaper lodgings on shore.
There is one bus that shuttles back and forth around half the island, but exploring is best done by bicycle or on foot. The lagoon offers the usual activities – scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kitesurfing, water skiing and jetskiing – but in truth the key words on beautiful Bora Bora are ‘relax’ and ‘enjoy’.
Population: 7.250 (2002)
When to go: There isn’t a bad time to go, but the high season is July to October.
How to get there: By Air Tahiti to Motu Mute airport on the reef, which also accepts some direct international flights.
Highlights: An excursion into the hills by 4 wheel drive vehicle to see the interior – don’t miss the impressive World War II guns.
For daring sub-aquatic types, an expedition to feed sharks and manta rays in the lagoon.
Nightly sunset sailing trips that let you experience spectacular Pacific sunsets from the water.
Black pearl jewellery hand-crafted by locals.
You should know: There was an American supply base here in world War II, and many US personnel liked the place so much they stayed behind – until some were forcibly removed by the military following complaints from their families back home.