16 March, 2024

Paradise Found? Bora Bora in the Society Islands...

Outrigger racing is the national sport in French Polynesia. Everywhere, we saw individuals and crews training and recreating. This Bora Bora crew needs to synchronise their strokes![5846]

Back in the Society Islands, on the leeward side, is the iconic South Pacific destination of Bora Bora. Its an atoll, a group of islands totalling 31km2 and a population of 11,000. The atoll comprises the remnants of an extinct volcano, and Bora Bora's skyline is dominated by two peaks, Mt Pahia and Mt Oteman. It's fame as a tourism destination must in part be due to having been "given" to the US military by France in WW2 for use as part of the Pacific defences. The US built an airstrip, and it remained the only (then) international standard strip until 1960 when another was opened in Faa'a on Tahiti. The base here never saw action.

Louise, dive-master for the French Polynesian section. SCUBA diving in this country requires a local guide for safety. [5731]

We originally thought that that incredible skyline may well have been the inspiration for the fictional island of Bali Ha'i as seen in the musical South Pacific. The musical was an adaption of James Michener's 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection "Tales of the South Pacific", the author having been a WW2 historian based in Vanuatu and nearby. More reliable sources than our guesswork say that the true inspiration was Ambae Island in Vanuatu as seen from Esperitu Santo. Oh well, it sounded good when we first thought of it!

The twin mountains Pahia and Oteman of Bora Bora's central island. [5852]

The imaginary island of Bali Ha'i, a frame from the movie South Pacific.

That myth dispelled, Bora Bora remains a seminal place of Polynesian scenic beauty. It's an unusual atoll, about 10x10km, enclosing a picturesque bay. The fringing reef has only one gate, and the iconic mountains form an island within that bay. Within the day that we spent in Bora Bora, we explored the west side of the lagoon in a catamaran circumnavigating the isle of To'opua, having lunched on overwater tables on an exclusive motu and snorkelled in a beautiful Coral Garden. We did not visit either of the two villages in Bora Bora.

Lightroom map of Bora Bora showing where our photos have been taken.

The National Geographic Orion at rest in Bora Bora's lagoon. [5881]

Adam, our Aussie naturalist onboard, piloting a Zodiac from our motu for lunch. [5794]

Beautiful motu's like this one abound in Bora Bora and indeed everywhere we went in French Polynesia. [5783]

After lunch, underwater shots in the Coral Garden...

Bora Bora's Coral Garden. [71-2]

With a giant clam nearby, these blue-green chromis fish hang around the coral so they can hide quickly if necessary. [72-2]

Rachel, undersea specialist, getting video for her nightly recap, in Bora Bora's Coral Garden. [73-2]

Rachel told me the name of this unusual long yellow fish underwater, but of course I didn't write it down. [74-2]

Catamaran crew help expeditioners into shallow waters for our barbeque lunch. [5822]

On the private motu, live music accompanies the barbeque lunch. [5835]

Wine, beer and a barbeque overwater on this Bora Bora motu. [5826]

Overwater shed off a motu in the lagoon of Bora Bora. [5802]

Zodiac scooting across the impossibly beautiful waters of the Bora Bora lagoon. [5813]

Stingray escaping the photographer's lens in Bora Bora. [5815]

We gather the Hotel Bora Bora hosted the first ever overwater bungalows, but they now stand abandoned and have been empty since 2008, so not a COVID casualty. Wikipedia says famous guests here include Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, Sharon Stone, Keanu Reeves, Pierce Brosnan and Eddie Murphy. [5858]

We had said in advance of our visit to Bora Bora that we are sure to regret not staying longer than the single day allowed by the NatGeo Orion's itinerary. That came to pass. Bora Bora is unbelievably beautiful, and justifies much more time. We believe there are good accommodation options on Bora Bora, even if the Hotel Bora Bora is now defunct, and you can fly here from Tahiti. After a great day in Bora Bora, with all safely back on board the NatGeo Orion, the ship made it's way out of the atoll and headed for Moorea.

Getting near sunset as the Orion sails past the fringing reef around Bora Bora. [5883]

Wikipedia map of French Polynesia's Society Islands, divided into leeward and windward groups. Credit: Keith Pickering - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19262781

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