Over the years I have heard wonderful things about this island from other travellers and it has been firmly on my sceptic tick list to check out if any of the superlatives used, apply. We arrived just a little before breakfast time, but there was no chance of sleeping through this arrival as though the ship silently eased its way through the opening in the surrounding reef this was to be a tendered anchorage within one of the flooded volcanic craters and when the anchor chain is released from its shackles, the ship shakes!
Emerging onto the pool deck to take the short walk across to the Plantation restaurant for breakfast, I was pleased to see Mount Ohue and Mount Pahia splashed throughout much of the tourist literature seemingly bursting from the lagoon just a few hundred metres from the bow of the Columbus, that’s a good start I thought, then it started to drizzle!
Returning to the upper deck after a rather full breakfast we were pleased to see that all precipitation had disappeared and only clear skies and white clouds could be seen as far as the horizon. We could see that the Columbus was in the centre of a large lagoon, with the largest island to the port side sweeping around 180 degrees, the rest of the compass being completed by coral reef and a few much smaller isolated islands, seemingly occupied by upmarket hotels. The small port of Viatape and the islands’ only town could easily be seen, seemingly busying itself for an onslaught of dollar-carrying cruisers. We watched one of the tenders motor off towards the small dock, no doubt carrying sufficient crew to ease the transfer of 1200 passengers and those crew members who had a few hours respite from their duties and wished to go ashore. Shaji, our cabin steward was planning a couple of hours on one of the beaches, he has been here four times!
We had booked a tour on a truck that would follow the road around the island, stopping at many points along the route for photo opportunities and explanations of what we were looking at. Yet again we were to be fortunate with an excellent local guide who brought to life the history, culture and geography of the island for us and he also played the ukelele and sang well (it seems that most male Polynesians can play this instrument). It is an excellent way to discover this island on a limited timetable.
After transiting by tender to the dock we boarded our naturally air-conditioned truck (there was no glass in the windows), sitting on securely fixed primary school plastic chairs, luxuriously upholstered by a thin cushion. Brilliant, it’s the only way to travel, we felt part of this island and not isolated in the sanitised metal cocoons that tour operators often shield their customers in.
The first stop was the famous Bloody Mary’s Bar and restaurant, it was the first one on the Island in 1976, there was an opportunity to have a drink, and some did, though the little counter selling t-shirts and baseball caps did a better trade. There were many more stops for short walks, explanations and more photos, but the next iconic pause in the schedule was at Matira beach on the southern tip of the island, supposedly listed in the top ten of world beaches and thought by some to be number one. Very beautiful indeed and I would put it in my top ten, but I would hate to choose between any on my list as to which is the best, they are so different for many reasons and the surrounding scenery is just one.
With just one road to follow, it is inevitable that you will come across sights that do not appear in the brochure, one such sight was passing the Island refuse dump and reclamation centre. Not a pretty sight but the information and humour provided by our jovial local guide made it interesting. Plastic and other recyclable stuff are collected and sent by ship to Tahiti for further processing, but he is sceptical about what they do with it, the rest is disposed of by a process developed and built by an Australian company and seems to be quite efficient. The Island was hit badly by the 2008-10 world recession and several of the large and most luxurious hotels foundered and are now derelict, in this climate, decay soon takes hold.
We passed along a section of road where the rich and famous used to and probably still do, own properties. Names such as Cliff Richard, Tom Cruise and Piers Brosnan were just two on the list that I remember, space is limited so the buildings themselves were not the grand mansions that you may imagine but were more reasonably sized three-bedroom bungalows.
There was much evidence of American occupation during WW2, besides the offshore runway, slipways and battery emplacements, there are the occasional blonde-haired, blue-eyed natives. Bora Bora was an important supply base for the Pacific conflict. It closed in 1946, but many Americans chose to remain, I can see why.
We finished off our tour with a visit to Mamma Edna’s ‘tie and dye’ business. We were treated to a demonstration of how this is done and of course, there is the opportunity to purchase if you believe that the colours don’t run in the wash. For two ex-Primary teachers who have done this many times in the classroom, we know that they do.
Returning to the dock we didn’t take the option to catch a tender back to the ship, we remained on shore and chose to explore the small town. It has a few restaurants and retail outlets, equally split between those obviously for the holidaymakers and those for the locals and there is a small market next to the dock that is also convenient for those coming in from the other islands. We visited them all and made a few purchases to bolster the local economy. Prices are as expensive as expected for such a remote location but not quite as eye-watering as in Tahiti.
It was my intention to have a swim before returning to the Columbus but I found the combination of heat and shopping too exhausting and craved the relief of ship aircon and cold, cold drinks. Back on board we cooled off, visited the burger bar and sat and watched the tenders ferrying the last of the passengers back on board. Later, we stood on the bow watching the anchor lifted from what must have been some depth as the huge links were wound seemingly endlessly into some huge dark internal recess. It took an age to accomplish but was fascinating throughout, it seemed that towards the end they had some sort of difficulty as they reversed the motion several times. I suggested that perhaps they had caught a whale and were playing it, but no one around me saw the joke, that’s foreigners for you!
We remained on deck as we glided out of the lagoon and out through the break in the reef with an orange sun setting over a distant rapidly greying island, very romantic, but not for one lone canoeist who frantically paddled his way across our bow while Columbus’s captain gave him a loud blast on the horn to get out the way. If he wanted an adrenalin rush, he got in shiploads.
We now have three more sea days before our next landfall, Tonga.
Would I return to Bora Bora? Yes, I would, a stunningly beautiful island, as Charlotte suggested, it’s the Maldives with mountains. As with those atolls, you need to love being in or under the water or at the very least enjoy reading under a palm tree in the heat and that describes both Sue and me.