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Published: December 14th 2014
La ora na Bora Bora!
The twin peaks of Bora Bora, Mt Ohue and Mt Pahia say hello
Welcome back, I believe I left you last time as I headed to LAX ready to start the next leg of my small journey around the globe. After having dropped of my hire car I headed into the terminal to check in to my flight to Bora Bora, another 2709 miles to add to my total travelled so far. I located the Air Tahiti Nui desks and joined the queue. Sadly for this flight I was back to Economy Class and so had to take my place in line with everyone else, oh the ignominy. I boarded the plane at midnight and settled in for 8 hours knowing I would be walking up on the other side of the world and hopefully paradise.
All flights to French Polynesia go via the island of Tahiti and on landing at Papeete airport we were greeted by a jolly ukelele band (it was a bit early for me to be honest) and a garland of the local Tiaré flower. I hadn't thought much about it being 'French' Polynesia, which sadly meant no stamp in my passport as we were technically still in the EU, pah!
I had an hour or so
Flying into paradise
Just look at those reefs!
to wait for my connecting flight to Bora Bora and so attempted to get some money out, I'd completely forgotten the exchange rate so I had to take a bit of a gamble at the cash point, luckily I won, but with the exchange rate being about 150 Francs to the pound, it required a bit of brain power every time you went shopping. Boarding the plane I managed to get a window seat ready to enjoy the views as we flew in. As we took off a fellow passenger told me the actor Dolph Lundgrun was on the plane, I personally hadn't noticed but I was took excited to have seen.
The flight was about an hour long and as we took off the sun was just coming up and we got some stunning views of Tahiti and the neighbouring island of Mo'orea then headed out across the ocean. French Polynesia is made up of a 118 islands stretching over 2000kms, and there are 5 main groups of islands, Tahiti and Bora Bora are part of the 'Society Islands' towards the western side of the territory, apparently named this by Captain James Cook in honour of the Royal
Society. These islands being further divided into the 'Windward Islands', of which Tahiti is in and the 'Leeward Islands' of which Bora Bora belongs.
Finally we started to descend and the island appeared before me and boy it was beautiful, just as I had hoped. The plane circled the island giving amazing views of the beautiful coral 'motu' Islands surrounding the azure lagoon. The ancient volcanoes of the main island rose spectacularly from the sea and it really was rather breath taking. The airport was on one of the motus surrounding the lagoon, Motu Mute, and was originally built by the US as a supply base as part of Operation Bobcat in WWII. There were still a few WWII guns dotted around the island, surely one of the better postings one could have hoped for in the war.
Most of the accommodation on the island comprises of rather fancy hotels but for the first few days I'd opted to stay on the main island in a small guest house and was instructed by the owner, Gerard, to catch the free ferry from the airport to the main town, Vaitape. I collected my bag, hopped on and enjoyed the
boat ride to the main town. Getting off the ferry I was greeted by Gerard and his rather cute dog, Repunzel. The island is mostly populated by Polynesians but there are a few French settlers such as Gerard who have retreated to paradise, he had been there for about 40 years and ran the guest house, he also drove a battered old Land Rover barefoot and the dog insisted on sitting on your lap.
I was staying at Sunset Hill Lodge which was about 10 minutes walk from the centre of Vaitape, the guest house comprised of a few small apartments and some bungalows on stilts, but as we approached Gerard explained the recent heavy rains had caused a little bit of a mudslide and a couple of the bungalows had moved a bit further down the hill from where they we're meant to be, luckily my rooms were not affected. The lodge was a great option to stay in, firstly it was a lot cheaper than the other hotels on the island, secondly it was close to the town and thirdly they threw in free bikes and kayaks to borrow, so that was transport sorted. The rooms were
great and I had a lovely balcony with a huge sofa, which I quickly took advantage off and had a quick nap as I'd been travelling all night.
After my refreshing nap I took a wander into the main town and located the local supermarket, bought some lunch and realised that if I ever had the urge to purchase a black pearl, this was the place to do it, it being somewhat a local speciality. Someone on the plane had told me Bora Bora was indeed a beautiful island, but had a bit more of a 'rough and ready' feel than Hawaii, of course I haven't yet been to Hawaii so I didn't mind too much.
As I walked into town, I could see what he was getting at, there were quite a few bored looking dogs wandering around, lots and lots of chickens and a surplus of rotting old French cars, this is clearly where Twingos come to die. Still, it has a lot of charm and was how I'd hoped it would be, especially with all the crazy little crabs scrabbling into their holes as you walked past. After some lunch I decided to start exploring
Runway with a view
The airport is on Motu Mute, one of the coral islands surrounding the lagoon, one of the more picturesque airports I've been to. Built by the US in WWII, one of the better postings I'm sure.
and took one of the free bikes and headed off around the island and to find the beach.
There is one road which circles the island and it is 32km in length, for such a small place there is rather more traffic than you might expect, especially around Vaitape, the locals seem to love their cars. I headed south east towards the main beach area of the island, Matira beach, about 8km away. The road hugs the coast and gives amazing views in all directions, just avoid the crabs crossing. I managed to get about 4km round and the rain started, gently at first and it being so warm I just carried on. Then the monsoon strength rain kicked in and I got soaked, I took refuge under some trees in the hope that it might ease of. It did ease off for a while and I made it to the beach, somewhat looking like a drowned rat, the locals were enjoying the surf on the beach and a lot were out on their kayaks, the rains didn't seem to bother them too much.
I decided to head a bit further around the island but the heavens opened
Landing on Bora Bora
I has to get at least one shot of a plane in
again so I turned back, this time it was super heavy monsoon strength and as I cycled back I decided I should take refuge at the famous 'Bloody Mary's' bar. Outside there is a list of the famous people who have visited, not quite sure I was going to make the list but I was in need of a restorative G&T. Thankfully that afternoon they were serving drowned rats so I settled in to wait out the continuing monsoon. The bar was full of Americans (who else?) who were telling me they were on a sailing holiday around the islands, they also told me the Mai Tais were rather delicious so I had to give them a go. Finally the rains abated and I had rather a wobbly ride back to my flat, hic!
After a good night's sleep (clearly the jet lag, not the gin) I awoke to see a huge cruise ship in the harbour and decided to go and check out the effect on the town. The town was buzzing, all the pearl shops were open and there was even a band playing in the square. Clearly the arrival of a cruise ship means good business
My chauffeur driven car
Complete with dog, Repunzel, and a barefoot driver, the classy way to arrive at your 5* hotel
for the residents of the island. That afternoon I'd booked in to do an introduction to diving course but unfortunately they had to postpone it until the next day, so I thought I'd get back on the bike and head back to the beach with my newly acquired supermarket snorkel. I cycled over to Matira beach and enjoyed a swim and snorkel in beautiful warm waters of the lagoon. Resting on the beach (never sit under the coconut trees!) you could hear the waves crashing over the coral reefs further out, a constant reminder of the calming effects of the lagoon reefs. There are usually only a couple of navigable channels into the lagoons so if you are sailing in the area you need to take care otherwise you may come a cropper, don't try and kayak over the reef.
After a restful afternoon at the beach I decided to get back on the bike, at this point I had abandoned my mobile phone and didn't have a watch either, knowing it would get dark around 6pm I decided to use the old ways and used the position of the sun to try and work out the time, I
This is what happens when it rains too much in Bora Bora, the bungalows on stilts take a tumble. Luckily my apartment was a bit more sturdy
made an educated guess that it was about 4pm and decided it might just be enough time to get around the island. Cycling around the road, I passed the Sofitel which in which I was going to stay for the last couple of nights, then carried on further around the island. The road was quite empty and the locals all had a 'bonjour' for the tourist with wild hair circumnavigating the island. As I got further away from the main tourist centre the amount of abandoned French cars increased as did the amount of chickens and dogs wandering along the road. After about and hour or so it started to seem that the island was never ending and the sky was starting to get a bit darker, so I pushed on, Cook would have been proud. Just as the sun started to go down I made it back just in time to Vaitape, as when the darkness comes, it comes with a thud. It was quite a ride and I did have a bit of a sore behind by the time I finished, but it was well worth it, it was lovely ride and pretty flat to boot. There is
Think I could get used to this
I just need good Wifi and this could easily be my new 'work from home' location, I don't think anyone would notice...
quite a sizeable Chinese population in French Polynesia and I thought I'd get a takeaway after my mammoth ride, however I hadn't realised that you have to take your own bowls to the takeaways over there, so being bowl less I gave up and went to the supermarket, if you like luncheon meats, you will like French Polynesia!
The next day and I had my diving lesson in the afternoon so I thought I'd spend the morning kayaking, since I'd tried it in California I knew I was already very skilled in the sport and so went to find Gerard to ask to borrow one. Gerard kept the kayaks at his son's house down the road and placed one in the water for me. The Bora Bora kayaking experience was a little more relaxed than the California one as you can imagine, Gerard asked if I'd kayaked before and then gave me some useful advice: 'head out to that post and turn right'.
Of course I was now an expert and headed out into the lagoon, past all the moored yachts in the direction of one of the small Motu islands which circle the lagoon. As I reached
the post in question the waters got a bit more choppy and I suddenly realised I was missing a life jacket, opps. The explorer in me decided to carry on and using the sun for navigation as well as to tell the time (for I had to be back in time for my afternoon diving lesson) I pressed on in the hot sun across the lagoon. Finally after a long and dangerous voyage, I guided my trusty ship through the dangerous reefs and landed on uncharted, foreign lands. The views from the new territories were impressive, Bora Bora rose magnificently from the lagoon and I claimed my new island as Kitchen Island, for Queen and country. Sadly my joy in my new found lands didn't last long as I'd actually kayaked to Motu Tapu which is owned by the Hilton hotel, apparently it is one of the most photographed islands in the South Pacific, so I added to the tally. I probably wasn't supposed to be on there, it being a private island, but no one came to throw me off and I enjoyed a bit of castaway time before checking the sun and deciding it was time to head
Matira Point, popular with the locals for a bit of kayaking.
back over the lagoon.
The return journey was tough under the midday sun but I made it back with minimum sunburn and scurvy, although disembarking from the kayak wasn't my most elegant moment. I just had time for a stroll into town for some lunch then I had to go to the yacht club for my diving lesson.
I've never dived before but it has always been something I've fancied trying although not being a great swimmer, I've always been a bit wary, still, if you are every going to try it, I reckoned Bora Bora is as good a place as any to give it a go. After being fitted out with a wet suit, we got on the dive boat and zoomed across the lagoon (a bit faster than my kayaking experience) to the Hilton to pick up some more people. We then went to the dive area and my instruction began. The instructor briefed me on the important stuff and then fitted on my mask and oxygen tank, boy I wasn't prepared for the weight of the tanks, bleeding heavy, I nearly fell over. I was a little nervous and jumping in was scary but
You can just about see the waves breaking on the reef on the horizon, tapped in the lagoon!
I got into the water and started to practice breathing underwater. This is really one time where the saying 'don't forget to breath' truly applies, I had to really concentrate so not to get into a panic but after a few minutes the instructor was happy and we started to descend.
The sensation was strange at first but then as we got lower I realised now why people love to dive, it was the most surreal experience but absolutely amazing. The fish were really friendly and came up close and I soon started to really enjoy myself, looking up to the surface was very strange but I tried not to worry about it and enjoyed the fish. At one point the instructor put in some air to my jacket for some reason and I slowly started to float up, I suspect it looked quite comical as I just slowly floated upwards, arms flapping as I tried to get back down to the seabed. Luckily the instructor rescued me and the rest of the dive went without any further drama. The hardest thing was trying to get back onto the boat, they had to practically drag me back on to
My preferred version of #selfie, the rains forced me to take shelter at the famous 'Bloody Mary's' bar, no smart comments people..
the boat, those tanks, I don't think I've ever managed to get on or off a boat with any style. Diving was brilliant, I'll defiantly try it again, I think all that oxygen went to my head, I was certainly very chirpy for the rest of the day.
The following day I was moving to the Sofitel down the road as I thought I'd end the trip with a couple of nights of relaxing in more luxurious surroundings. I was quite sad to leave my first place, it really is an excellent place to stay if you are on a budget or get bored just lying on a beach, I'd highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. I rolled up to the next hotel driven by Gerard in his fancy Land Rover, dog on lap, and checked in. I was a bit early for my check in time, so had some lunch in the bar while I waited for my room. A tip for you, which I wish I'd thought about before I'd ordered, don't have beef burgers when in French Polynesia, boy it had to be the worst burger I've ever eaten. Then it occurred
The rains cease
Finally, a few gins heavier, I could make it home in the dry
to me, there probably wasn't a cow within a thousand miles, so it wasn't really that surprising it was so bad.
Finally my room was ready, I'd only booked a garden room as it was rather expensive in Bora Bora but luckily they upgraded me to a bungalow over the water, complete with snorkelling deck, nice. The room was lovely and the views were great, now it was time to relax And that's exactly what I did. I had two days at the hotel and made the most of just relaxing on the beach, snorkelling, going for a few walks around the island and of course a cheeky gin in the bar, it really was most pleasant. All too soon it was time to leave Bora Bora and I had to catch the plane off the island. I was on the last flight out that day so caught the ferry to the airport and watched the plane come into land as the sun went down behind the island, annoyingly I'd packed my cameras in my main bag so no pictures of planes landing in the sunset for you (I bet you are all glad of that).
security was nice and relaxed on Bora Bora. It is the first time in years that I've taken a whole bottle of water to an airport and the onto a plane, they didn't even have a metal detector. I was heading back to spend the night in Tahiti as I had a 7am flight out the next morning, so I said my goodbyes to the island as they handed over the traditional leaving necklaces made of shells.
I loved Bora Bora and am glad I made the trip, I can't even begin to imagine how nice the best hotel on the island is ($10,000 a night I think), but I loved the main island as well and would love to go back to do some island hopping around the rest of the archipelago, I can see why those sailors mutinied.
Well, I was almost half way around the world now, one more trip further south then I'd be turning north to head home.
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