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Bora Bora is an extraordinary small group of islands, blessed with the kind of idyllic scenes that dreams are made of. There are only 12 square miles (30km2) of land but they contain everything you need for that once-in-a-lifetime special break. White sand beaches? Tick. Aqua marine lagoon, complete with coral reefs? Tick tick. Dormant volcanoes covered in lush tropical rainforest with stunning views? Tick, tick, tick.
Bora Bora is considered a member of The Leeward Islands and are also part of French Polynesia – so when you step on to Bora Bora’s sands, you are actually making your way through an overseas territory of France. But don’t worry if your French isn’t “très bien”, English is widely spoken as well as the native Tahitian.
Due to its status as a French overseas territory, Bora Bora’s currency is the Franc Pacifique or CFP Franc. It is used throughout French Polynesia and that is pegged to the Euro.
Bora Bora really is one of the most beautiful places in the world – and every view seems to gently purr “romance”. So, it won’t be a surprise to discover this is a favourite honeymoon destination; expect to meet newly married couples from America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand blissfully happy with their after-wedding glow. But there are also those celebrating special anniversaries or marking another significant milestone in their lives.
Cruise ships do visit these islands that are about halfway between America and Australia, so you can do a short stop while visiting other Pacific paradises. But once you see Bora Bora, you’ll want to stay longer– and preferably in one of the famous, luxury, over-water bungalow on stilts. To get there, you’ll need to take one of the five or six daily short flights from Tahiti. Of course, you have to get to Tahiti first and, as you’ll already know or have started to work out, this is not a cheap gig.
Just the flights from any European city are going to be at least £2500 per person and then there’s the accommodation. The over-ocean bungalows start at £700 per night and rise to several thousand per night. Almost all provisions are flown or shipped in, pushing up the cost further.
So, yes, this is expensive compared to a weekend city break but it is a really special holiday for that special occasion with that special person. It’s what memories are made of – a holiday to Bora Bora may be that treat you always promised yourselves for when you had the time and the money.
Chill, chill and chill some more. This is not an adrenaline-junkies’ destination… Even the wildlife is friendly – there are no poisonous insects or snakes. The biggest danger is falling coconuts from the many trees. But given a green coconut weighs about 2kg (4.5 lbs) and drops from 25-30m (82-100ft), if it hit you, it would definitely smart…
There is no public transport here, so you must rent a car or bike to make you way around. But everyone does it and you can’t actually go far. If you want to explore the island and raise your heart rate at the same time, you can trek up the two dormant volcanoes, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu. Mount Pahia is where, legend has it, local war god Oro descended on a rainbow. Mount Otemanu offers a famous panoramic viewpoint that encompasses in the whole atoll. Both treks take walkers through orchards, orchid fields and fern-covered valleys. It is advisable to book a guide to ensure you take the right paths.
Most of your time on Bora Bora, though, you’ll be soaking up the sun, eating wonderful food and just wishing you could stay for longer.
The waters of Bora Bora are legendary – an astonishing, lucid blue and simply full of vibrant sealife. You can take a gentle snorkel out to the lagoon and admire the coral fish swarming in all the colours of the rainbow. Or if you don’t feel like getting your hair wet, there are trips on glass-bottomed boats. You can also paddleboard or rent a kayak – there are even transparent kayaks, so you don’t miss out on the fish below.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, why not book a scuba diving session? A trip out to Stingray Strait, an area of the deep lagoon, is famously filled with graceful rays, including leopard rays and manta rays. Or go in search of barracudas and sharks – don’t worry they aren’t the sort that are interested in humans!
The temperature is pretty constant, hovering around 28-31°C during the day and dropping to about 25°C in the evening. There are two seasons: the wet and the dry. The wet season runs from November to April, when it is often cloudy, humid and with regular short storms. About 70% of the island’s annual rainfall is during these months, but it is still about 30°C and the sun often breaks through the tropical rainclouds. The dry season is from May to October, when the temperature is a degree or two lower and with little rain. What rain there is, tends to fall in the afternoon. Otherwise, expect clear, blue skies.
There are numerous hotels, from the original Hotel Bora Bora that opened in 1962 to more modern offerings such as the top end St Regis Bora Bora Resort or the Four Seasons Bora Bora. Most hotels now have over-water bungalows, which range vastly in terms of luxury. Essentially, there are few cheap options and, to be honest, if you are going to Bora Bora, surely taking the best you can afford is the only way to go? Trip Advisor has up-to-date information on the latest offers for luxury hotels.
The island survives on tourism, with little else bringing in money. The first hotels were built on the main island, but the small outer islands, or motu, now also have luxury accommodation. Developers have even constructed artificial motu, to create further luxury places to stay.
There are some local historical points of interest you can take in. The first Polynesian settlers arrived during the third century AD in massive double-hulled sailing canoes that could hold up to 60 people. These people left behind ceremonial platforms called marae they used for important ceremonies: the best preserved are in Faanui Bay and at the eastern end of Vairau Bay.
Captain Cook was the first European to arrive at the islands in 1777. He was, as the sad, familiar story goes, followed by more “white men” who bought with them alcohol, guns and disease. Bora Bora is said to have lost nearly 40% of its population. British missionaries followed in 1820 but it was in 1888 that the French annexed the island, forcing Bora Bora’s last queen to abdicate, and it became a French overseas territory.
During World War Two, America chose Bora Bora as a supply base for the South Pacific, and built an air strip, defensive fortifications and set up large guns at strategic points around the island. Fortunately, the island remained free from combat, though the guns remain to this day. The airstrip became Bora Bora’s airport.
Bora Bora is served by Air Tahiti, with short 50-minute flights from Tahiti’s Fa'a'ā International Airport. For more information, go to Tahiti Tourisme.
Written by James Marsh