Bora Bora - the Pearl of the Pacific

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Sun 24 Jul 2016 02:18
16:30S 151:45W

Bora Bora - "the pearl of the Pacific"

Bora Bora is an unbelievably beautiful place.
A huge circular lagoon of every shade and colour of blue through to brilliant turquoise, the coral and white sand bottom clearly visible under the boat surrounding a lovely green island with huge 'manta ray' shaped mountain, surrounded by a circle of white sand islets and a coral reef outside all, keeping the Pacific Ocean swell crashing against it and making the lagoon calm inside.

The lagoon is large, and it is navigable around all the island, with the shallower bit managed by dinghy at the south.
A series of luxury (some very luxury and exclusive for $4,000 per night) are on the ring of motus (islets) surrounding the lagoon.
We joined our friends, Paw Paw. We had just missed Do Over, as their visa as 'Non-Europeans' ran out the week before we got there, and because of a mix-up between three months and 90 days, they had to leave with 24 hours notice, or lose their "bond" of $4,000 (Brexit fans take note, this is our future!).
After a cracking sail out of the reef at Tahaa, we crossed the 40 miles of ocean between the two islands, we went around the south end of Bora Bora, and entered the only reef pass at the west side. Its well marked with aspect channel markers and transit poles on the leeward side, near the main town of Vaitape.
We had a choice of two yacht clubs to buoy-up to, Maikai (nearer town) or the Bora Bora (the next bay North, and more sheltered).
Both had free (but patchy) wifi, a luxury after Raiatea, where our wifi cost had added up to more than the cost of the marina.
Paw Paw was on a buoy at Maikai yacht club, but the other buoys were occupied, so we headed up to Bora Bora yacht club, and picked up a buoy in front in the bay. Better sheltered, but a bit "posh" and much more expensive. Dinner was $40 a plate (superb, huge steak), and the T shirts were very stylish, with the yacht club logo, at $80 - $100 each. The buoy was $20 a night, no free water, but they did take our rubbish for this price. Welcome to Bora Bora.
After a couple of days we moved to the south of the Island, on a free buoy in front of Bloody Mary's for a couple of nights. It's a bit of an institution on Bora Bora, (yes, it's the character in the old Rogers and Hammerstein film and show, South Pacific) and we were rewarded by encountering a fish supper night. A huge display of locally caught fresh fish of all types, including blue fin tuna, mahi mahi, barracuda, lobsters and crabs, as well as racks of ribs and steaks. The huge list of celebrities out the front is testament to the popularity of the place, even though it is a thatched roof, sand floor and simple polished hardwood tables. The service was superb. Very 'Polynesian' atmosphere.
After a couple more nights, we then went back up to join Paw Paw on a buoy in front of MaiKai yacht club, where it was much friendlier, cheaper, and with an excellent happy hour and very cold Hinano Beer and white wine.

We had arrived, quite by chance, in time for the Heiva.
The Tahitian Heiva is a very special annual event for Polynesia. It really is for the locals. It is not for the tourists, it is designed to revive and protect the heritage of Polynesian culture. Events take place on every island, being a series of competitions, ranging from dancing and singing, through to fishing, feats of strength, spear throwing, canoeing, cycling and running.
The overriding memory will be the drumming. It is everywhere. Practised daily and on into the night, we heard it on all the islands, but here on Bora Bora, it is relentless as the Heiva progresses.
A huge batteria, very similar to what we had experienced during Carnival in Rio de Janiero, Brasil, thrilling and involving in its complexity and driving rhythm.
The Heiva arena was a huge sand area, with banked (expensive) seating at the one narrow end for the judges and posh spectators, but completely open down both sides where the locals stood (or sat) and watched the event.
Each village presented themselves in turn every evening in the relative sections, one singing and one dancing group each evening for a month. They were taking part in a competition to find the best in each group. The costumes were fantastic, with headdresses of floral leis for the ladies, and palm leaves for the men. Imagine the dancing shows put on at the hotels that we had seen. The men with their best bare- macho 'Haka' type displays of strength and aggression, the women beautifully waving their arms and wiggling their hips in time, to describe the story of the song with their arms and hands, all clad in grass skirts and costumes of colour and flowers.
The locals did not clap. It amazed us how 'matter of factly' they treated the whole thing. Even when the most spectacular dancing from one of the local villages had been witnessed, they carried on chatting and eating their snacks and picnics, well into the night, as if it were nothing outrageous they were witnessing.

We hired bikes (from Avis!) and cycled the 22 miles all around the island. Peter and Karen went anti-clockwise, and Steve and Lynda went clockwise. We met up in the middle on the opposite side of the island.
A bicycle really is the best way to see anywhere like this. You are slow enough to appreciate the sites and scenery, and you can see over the hedges and walls. We returned the bikes that evening, feeling like we had all really accomplished a great bit of exercise, in spite of there being only one reasonable hill and a steady incline and descent.
We found a plantation of the sacred white Tiare flowers, supposed to grow only on Temehani mountain on Raiatea.
The people, as in all of French Polynesia, were extremely friendly, greeting us with "Iorana" and a smile and a wave.
Bora Bora is a strange contrast compared with all the other islands we had explored. Considering the billions of Euro's invested every year in this country by the French Government, Bora Bora had the least to show for it in its infrastructure.
Yes, there is a free ferry service from the main town to the airport, out to the northern island, but the roads were the worst. Rough, pot-holed, narrow and unkempt for over half the island. The houses were the scruffiest of all we had seen, many even reminding us of Brasilian Favella houses, and the gardens around the houses had received the least care of any of the islands we had seen, from the Marquesas, through the Tuamoto chain, to Tahiti and throughout the windward and leeward islands of French Polynesia. Everywhere else there had been enormous pride and care in the plants flowers and shrubs and trees growing in all the gardens. Not so evident in Bora Bora.
Contrast this with the ridiculously exaggerated bubbles of hundreds of preened and swept and clipped twee huts out over the lagoon on the water, with their customers of protected wealth, paying up to thousands of dollars a day.
They obviously have little to do with the day-to-day goings on of the Bora Bora inhabitants or real culture of the islands.

The real jewel in the crown, or the pearl in the island is the water. the colour, the clarity, the sea life, the coral, the prestine white sand beaches.
The snorkelling was superb. some of the best we have ever encountered, the reefs and rocks displaying diverse and beautiful reef fish.
We also swam with shoals of rays and schools of black tip reef sharks in the crystal clear water around the island.
Steve went diving; two terrific and very different dives.
Both dives were on Nitrox, to allow Steve the reduced nitrogen load and increased oxygen, preventing the head aches encountered in diving at his now advancing years!
The diving was quite advanced, considering the profile, current, visibility and mixed gasses.
The first dive was deep, over 20 meters. He went outside the reef to a buoy outside the island, and swam down over the reef, with shoals of coral fish and reef sharks, to the drop off into hundreds of meters below, where the numerous reef sharks were overshadowed by the size and lazy arrogance of the big grey lemon sharks that swam around, above and below us. Powerful and slowly considered. They knew they were above humans on the food chain, and displayed it to the divers, as they swam with their entourage of large Ramora fish in tow, both stuck on the sharks and swimming behind and around them, waiting for stray bits of food to stream past as the sharks fed.
The second dive was with huge manta rays inside the lagoon. He dropped to 18 meters in very low visibility and some current. As he came back up the reef, the first shadow passed overhead. He rose slightly and hung onto the reef edge at about 10 meters deep, as a procession of manta rays glided past and above us, one after the other. He thinks they counted four. Their eye regarding the divers coldly on the side of its head, with its two strange curled fins either side of its head to rolled under to concentrate the flow of plankton they were sucking into huge open mouths as they fed. Steve stretched out his arms to confirm the size of the bigger one, his outspread arms would have just touched one wing, from the centre of its body to the outside of one wing. Nearly 4 meters wide. Great diving.

We met up with a number of other boats we knew.
Raya is a 56 ft Oyster, and we met Rick and Ros in St Lucia before the World ARC. Their first boat, they won their class in the ARC Atlantic last year by making sure they stayed on the Rhum line all the way from Grand Canaria. They were alongside Leeward, a 50 foot Hans Christian with an American couple Steve and Leelie. Steve played and sang with the Polynesian band in the yacht club, and Leelie (an ex-Nassa rocket scientist) was a mine of information, as they had been three years in French Polynesia. We went snorkelling with them all on a couple of trips to coral gardens inside the reef, and for a great lunch at Bloody Mary's.

We took Nina and carefully picked our way through the mile or so of narrow shallow coral pass to get around the east side of the island. We draw 1.8m and the lowest depth we found was 2.2m, so it was good to get round safely. The depth and complexity of the pass makes the East side the domain of catamarans, with only a few other mono hulls able or brave enough to make the trip round. We anchored in a large bay, 5m deep with white sand bottom.
On the Catamaran beside us, Kiwi Beans, Gavin and Sarah, with their three lovely young boys, whom we had met on the World Arc, had already made their way around to the East side of the island, and we joined them being very lucky to celebrate Ruben's 6th birthday, with a Lego chocolate cake. Karen had a transformer car to give as a present from Nina, which he was delighted with.
The boys were happy to take us on a trip the next morning to their best snorkelling spots. First with ramoras and sting rays swimming around us, then a coral garden with shoals of reef fish of every type, sea-horse pipe fish, and two huge giant moray eels, one of which was enticed out of its hole in the reef with small tinned pilchards (good tip, that) waved in front of the hole by a tour guide on one of the day trip boats. The boys were delighted that it was the smaller of the two eels, it was bigger than 8 year old Loen . It looked very big and intimidating. The third spot was right on the edge of the reef, with the boys diving and splashing to frighten off all the black-tipped reef sharks that kept coming up to investigate all the activity.

It was coming to the end of some four months of our time in French Polynesia, starting with the Marquesas, through the Tuamotos, Tahiti and the Windward and Leeward islands. Time to leave.
We finally checked out with the Gendarmes, did our final provisioning, got our weather plots and passage plan from our weather guy, Bob McDavitt, stowed the dinghy and outboard, and checked everything (again, yes one more time) before heading off into the blue, and a 5 day (or so) passage, headed for our next tropical Pacific Paradise, Palmerston Island, another small coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The Cook Islands were beckoning...........