Big rays, big sharks, big lagoon, big dongas

Saturday, March 29, 2014
Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia
Saturday March 29

The anchor came up very early, sometime around 6am, and we got underway. Destination today – Bora Bora, th place most people picture when they think of Tahiti. It really was going to have to be amazing to beat the beauty of Moorea and Huahine.

To get to Bora Bora we sailed between Ra’iatia and Taha’a . We came in through the reef at the Maire Pass and very close along the eastern coast of Ra’iatia. Our port side location gave us front row seats of yet another beautiful island. Then we crossed between the two islands and sailed up the west coast of Taha’a. We were too lazy to get out of our apartment to go across the ship to have a look at it so, we missed it. Bora Bora was straight ahead in the not too distant distance.

As we got closer to the island the bottom of the clouds above it took on a kind of aqua colour, reflected off the lagoon below.

We sailed in through the lagoon and anchored off Vaitape, the largest town on the island, at right on 1pm, dead on schedule of course. Oceania Marina was anchored further down the bay. The peaks of Mt Ohue, Mt Pahia and the tallest of the three, Mt Otemanu, dominated the landscape and they are mighty impressive. The bay is deep though, so the bright blue waters of every Bora Bora picture are to the north, south, east and actually behind you (to the west of Motu Toopua) as you look at Viatape . On the end of Moto Toopua were some very sad looking overwater bungalows at what was very obviously an abandoned resort. Sadly the decaying Bora Bora Lagoon Resort wasn’t the last one we’d see.

We weren’t in any rush to get off the ship as we had two full days to enjoy Bora Bora. Eventually we took the tender across to the strange little place that was Vaitape. Something was going on in the large covered ‘stadium’ just next to the quay but we had no idea what.

The tourist information centre told us a ‘truck’ travelled to and from Matira Beach for CFP1000 (or USD5) per person each way. So we jumped in the 'truck' (a landrover with seats down each side of a covered tray back) and went to the beach. We’d forgotten swimmers or beach towels (we had our sports towels) so Al went in wearing his undies. At least I was wearing boardies. The water was beautiful and warm but shallow and there was lots of broken coral making it difficult to get into and out of . After a bit of a dry off we got back on the bus and went to Bloody Mary’s ( for a…. Bloody Mary or two.

The bar was packed with what turned out to be Oceania passengers. We sat out on seats in the entry to the restaurant until they all heard the dinner gong back on Marina and all raced out of there. We drank lots of bloody marys, then some other cocktails, and some beer, and had some plates of finger food, made use of the facilities that had a particularly interesting flush pull, and eventually trucked it back to the ship.

Sunday March 30

For those of you who know us, or read our other holiday blogs, we don’t often do anything that requires much physical exertion. We walk a lot, but that’s about it. Today we broke with tradition – we decided to take a couple of the ship’s bikes and rode around the island.

It was great fun . I ride a bicycle to work every day, it’s maybe 15 minutes each way, so hardly taxing. This was 32km. Considering it was the second time Al had been on a bike in about 30 years (last year in Vietnam was the first) he did amazingly well even if his arse hurt for days afterwards. That’s not surprising as the bike seats are terrible. While I’m at it so are the hand grips. Too small and too ‘rough’. One size does not always fit all.

Back to the ride. We rode anti-clockwise so that we were on the ‘lagoon’ side of the road. We covered the road we’d been along yesterday out to Matira Point. On the way there you pass the vast abandoned Bora Bora Resort. Then not far past the InterContinental you come across another huge abandoned resort. This had been Club Med. Bora Bora Resort had been open for 30 years. It closed for ‘rebuilding’ a few years back but with visitor numbers at terrible lows and a disagreement with the local government over the need for a road to be re-routed, it has never re-opened .

Club Med was a different story. Lack of visitors gave them a reason to walk away but I understand that ultimately it was the inability to reach a new lease agreement with the traditional owners land. No matter what, it’s now a huge group of buildings falling into decay. Australian’s own larger than life Clive ‘Titanic II’ Palmer bought the resort in 2012. Who knows what plans he has for it?

As you ride around the island that amazing lagoon is right beside you. It is the most spectacular assortment of blues. The overwater bungalows of the luxury resorts Bora Bora is now famous for jut out into the lagoon from the fringing motus. On the other side of the road the peaks of Bora Bora rise above you. Wow! At some point we rode past a church with the congregation in full song. Beautiful. Al managed to get up and over the only hill on the road. We stopped beside Vairape Bay and had a swim and snorkel .

When we got back to Vaitape the Sunday food markets were in full swing. We had some delicious meat skewers and then I had a few too many chocolate crepes. The ride had taken us about four hours with stops and we loved it.

It turns out it was election weekend and celebrations pre- and post-election was what was going in on in the covered arena beside the quay. On Saturday afternoon the road from Matira had been blocked with a parade of vehicles ostensibly supporting their preferred candidate, but it seemed more like a competition to see who could play the loudest and most ridiculous rap and r&b music. It had stretched the whole way into town.

The ship had hired Motu Tapa, a private motu at the entrance to the harbour for an afternoon of sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding and then for a cocktail party and island night later in the day. So of course we went over to the motu, this time on one of the ship’s zodiacs .

How cool that the ship has these. We were told 11 in total - 10 black flexible hulls and one white rigid hull rescue boat.

There were two hobie cats, a couple of paddle boards and half a dozen kayaks. These all belong to the ship. We had a paddle on one of the kayaks for a while and then went back to the ship to get dressed for the island night. Marina sailed while we on the motu.

It was amusing coming back across to the island and looking at the surprise on the faces of some of residents and guessed when they were told that it would be a ‘wet landing’. They had all sorts of fancy footwear on that had to come off or get very wet when they jumped out of the zodiac.

It was an amazing night. First we were greeted with a choice of a cocktail or champagne as we waded ashore. Beyond that there was a full bar and then as we walked into the centre of the island further we entered the ‘dining’ area . That everything - food, drinks, most of the tables, crockery, cutlery, napery, lights - had been brought across to the motu in/on the ship’s zodiacs was amazing. The food was spectacular. We had a great night sat with great friends. It was brilliant.

We finished the night back on the ship with a couple of drinks and a chat with our favourite bar tender Pamela up at the pool bar.

Monday March 31

We had our first room service breakfast. What an experience – two in room dining attendants made the table up on the balcony with white linen and even a rose in a vase! Delicious bircher muesli, perfect poached eggs. Yum scrum!

Motu trip number three and by far the most expensive – USD160 each. I’d just used Tripadvisor and booked the number 1. I hadn’t even thought about looking in the Lonely Planet on Tahiti and FP that I’d bought . It’s description of Lagoon Service ( starts with – ‘Luxurious boats with a maximum of eight people….’. Mmm… I have no idea what’d be waiting for us when we got ashore but hopefully something at least a bit authentic and not a Bayliner sports cruiser or something like that.

It was in-between. There were a couple of modern outriggers in the quay and a fairly large fibreglass skiff with comfy padded benches along the sides. As we came ashore I saw a young guy in shorts and a polo jump out of the skiff. A couple of minutes later he returned wearing nothing but a black and white pareo. If that boat was ours it was going to be a good day ;)

Shaq (yeh, as in Shaq attack but he couldn't have looked less like that famous basketballer) introduced himself, got us on board the skiff and we headed out of the quay on what would be the most fantastic day imaginable.

First we went right around the top of the island and into the main lagoon . Chek pulled out the ukelele and he sang to us as we raced across the lagoon. Sounds a bit tacky but it was actually really nice.

He took us up to each of the fabulous resorts – Four Seasons, St Regis, Le Meridian, InterContinental - so that we could check out the over-water bungalows that with each resort we passed seemed to get bigger and bigger. Many of them even had pools! What on earth would you need a pool for when that amazing lagoon is at the bottom of the stairs off your verandah? There are some very precious people out there with way too much money and too little a grip on reality.

We pulled up at the landing of the St Regis and three people joined us, an older couple and a girl who looked to be in her mid-20s. I thought to myself we are in for a day of pain here (thinking precious people) but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The girl was actually a pastry chef at the hotel and her parents were visiting, I’m presuming either comp or on a very good staff rate . The three of them were really nice and her parents had a go at everything.

First stop was rays and sharks. Shaq dropped his pareo and spent the next however long in his black stretch boxers. Nice. It was different to our other two experiences. The rays here were much more ‘all over you’. I suppose it was because they were being fed. And we did some of the feeding. Both through their bizarre vacuum cleaner like mouths, and then even more bizarrely though their ‘ears’ as Shaq called them. The most concerning thing was that none of the rays had barbs. They had been removed from every single ray. In fact at least two of the rays had no tails at all. Very sad. Are rich overwater bungalow guests that scared? None of the rays from Moorea or Huahine were de-barbed. Interesting.

We continued round the lagoon so that we ended up somewhere off Motu Toopuaiti. I have a feeling we could see the ship but neither of us can remember because we were about to have the most amazing experienced . A space shuttle could have landed beside us and we wouldn’t have noticed.

The skiff was tied to a fixed anchorage then Shaq tied a life ring to a long length of rope and threw it out the back of the boat. Then he said "Get your snorkels on, take this bit of baguette and get in. Don’t let go of the rope or the life ring because the current is really strong."

My god it was fun. More fish of more kinds than you could ever imagine. I’ll eventually upload some video. Our French pastry chef was on the rope behind me and over the course of the next 20 minutes or so we got to know each other quite intimately due to the current constantly forcing us into each other. It was hilarious. Al had the most fantastic time. He’s still raving about it.    

We then continued round the island past the Hilton – beautiful, intimate but not on the lagoon, then out through the reef past Motu Tapu where we’d eaten the night before . A couple of lunatics had come out here in a speed boat to surf the reef break. It would only have been a metre or so. Shaq said they are out here when it’s three metres as well. Ouch!

We tied up to another mooring maybe 100 metres from the reef to see the black tip reef and lemon sharks. We’d read, and been told by Shaq, that the lemon sharks don’t come up off the bottom so we were all a little surprised when a couple of them came right up within a couple of metres of us. We knew that they weren’t harmful, it was just surprising.

This was another amazing experience.

While we swam around on the surface Shaq free dived (in his black boxers of course) down to the bottom with the pastry chef’s GoPro (yeh, another bloody GoPro). He came up and asked how deep our camera could go and when I said 10 metres he took it from me and down he went again and filmed the sharks up close for us as well . Brilliant!!

Back inside the reef and around the lagoon again for lunch on a tiny motu off Tevairoa. Just like Motu Tapu, this motu was kept in immaculate condition. The pine needles and coral were raked away leaving nothing but smooth white sand.   There were luxurious toilets and little raised huts with bbq kitchens attached. There was already someone in the kitchen cooking when we got there. Shaq told us to go for a wander and come back in 30 minutes. So we did.

Lunch was delicious. Yet another variation of raw fish salad, steak, chicken, other salads, fresh fruits, fresh coconut, coconut bread, a delicious pandan ‘dessert’, soft drink, beer. The bowls, and our plates, were woven out of palm leaves. We sat down at a table in the water and fed the fish our left overs, not that there were many left overs. All the while looking back to the lagoon and straight at those mountain peaks.

Once we were done we had a snorkel and then it was time for the pareo and dancing show . The pareo show was, a pareo show. Our pastry chef had the perfect set of boobs for Shaq to perform his routine of wrapping the pareo up and over and around them. Then he did the male show on himself (phew). The dancing was funny until I had to join in do my imitation of an uncoordinated whale. No-one’s ever gunna see me again so who cares J

Then it was time to head back. We dropped our French friends back at the St Regis and went around the lagoon again. We raced past the InterContinental’s private island (Sofitel’s maybe?) and back into the bay where the ship was anchored. All the while Shaq was singing and playing away and steering the boat with his feet, or elbow.

He came right up to the ship and took some pictures of us with The World behind us. Then finished with a beautiful goodbye song as we came into the quay. We must have so looked the part leaving and coming back on our own in a fancy boat being skippered by a hot guy! Hahahahaha .

I had a few thousand (not as much as it sounds) Pacific francs left so we went and bought a couple of pareos and a beautiful timber manta ray. We ended up with the equivalent of 20c in my wallet. Perfect.

It was a cracker of a day but we it was time to go back to the ship. It was fitting that we had another wake surfer accompany us most of the way back out to the ship.

We finally got the jackets out and had dinner in the steak and seafood restaurant Marina. The platform was down so it was like sitting above a large jetty. Service was amazing, as it has been everywhere. I battled through the thousand page wine list and found something with a price that didn’t need us to take out a second (or third) mortgage. Neither of us are eaters of huge cuts of meat but what we ate of what we were served was delicious. There was just too much of it. As we were sat in the restaurant the Paul Gaugin sailed into the bay and anchored further down towards Paopao.

Well before 11:59 our scheduled departure time, the anchors came up and we made our way out through the reef. Next destination – Aitutaki, Cook Islands

We love you French Polynesia.
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