Our expectations of Bora Bora, the jewel of the Society Islands, weren't very high. It is a high end tourist destination, parts of the coastline are littered with over water bungalows belonging to high end resorts. There is also one of the largest charter yacht fleets in the Southern Hemisphere based within these sheltered lagoon waters. This is a seriously promoted tourist destination for holiday makers world wide but Bora Bora is balancing its popularity with retaining its natural charms, nothing can take away from the absolute beauty of this tropical paradise. It all adds to the blend of making Bora Bora a very special island and well worthy of a stopover.
We anchored the first couple of nights in the sheltered crystal clear lagoon off Toopua Island, a small island adjacent to Bora Bora within the same greater outlying reef. Balvenie lay floating in calm water a dozen shades of blue, drinks were poured as the sun dipped low into the west, what a welcoming.
Stingrays and Black Tip Sharks swam nearby, a steady stream of small tour boats passed by to feed them in the shallows as they pottered around on their reef tours.
A neighbouring tiny motu (island) was set up to host visiting cruise ship passengers ~ artisans displayed their wares under swaying coconut palms, large bar-b-que grills were ready to ignite, long tables and chairs were set up in the shade, sun loungers lined the white sandy beach and a handful of tables and chairs sat in a foot of warm water. With not a tourist in sight it all seemed somewhat surreal but we couldn’t miss that photo opportunity now could we, but where are the cocktails and the sunny sky?
After a couple of days of undertaking some repairs combined with relaxing we moved over to town. As with Raiatea and Tahaa the water is deep close to the islands making anchoring difficult but because there are so many charter boats here various “yacht clubs” and restaurants have put in mooring buoys to attract business.
So we did a tour of the mooring fields starting with a few nights at the Mai Kai Marina, the marina that isn’t actually a marina, from here it was a short walk into the main town (a dozen shops, 2 reasonable sized supermarkets, a few black pearl stores and little else sums up “town”).
Another weather system came through, the wind built and changed to the south and life onboard Balvenie got somewhat bumpy so we left in company with Out of the Bag to explore the shallow lagoon on the east of the island. Not such a success for us, with OOTB blazing the trail and calling the depths in front of us we bailed out when they got down to 2.6m which would give us less than 10cm under the keel ~ we haven’t been many places that our deep draft has restricted us and we probably would have been fine but we played it safe, turned around and found shelter on a buoy at the Bora Bora Yacht Club for a few nights.
Taking advantage of the coolness offered by a cloudy day we took our folding bikes ashore and set off to circumnavigate Bora Bora by pedal power. First stop was the famous Bloody Marys for coffee, boards at the entrance are engraved with names of celebrity after celebrity who have sat on these hard wooden chairs supping on a Bloody Mary, before feasting on fresh fish. Probably the odd stiletto heel has snapped off on the soft sand floor, and amazingly it is not an open air establishment taking advantage of the spectacular view from its entrance. Someone did an outstanding job of marketing this great spot for the rich and famous – and the rest of us, oh the coffee was excellent and the cheapest yet in French Poly!
Once back in the saddle the weather went downhill, the cool cloud cover soon became cold drizzly rain, on we went along the southern then eastern shores of Bora Bora. Resorts lined the coast, some 5 star, others a little shabby, a couple totally deserted and becoming derelict.
Yachts anchored out in the grey lagoon were lost in the rain, not one of Bora Boras better days. A few small restaurants were scattered along the roadside, until we were hungry then there was nothing on the seldom used pot holed road along the north and north west coast. By the time we got back to town lunch service was over, we packed up our muddy bikes in the rain, returned to Balvenie for hot baked beans on toast, and ticked off Bora Bora as being seen!
The Bora Bora Blues
The weather changed for the better, winds eased, clouds moved away, stunning clear skies returned. Skippers were busy searching the perfect weather window to start the journey west across the Pacific, Admirals were desperately trying to find excuses to stay and play longer in paradise. Several of us headed down to the moorings at Bloody Marys. There is a short steep walk nearby that had to be done, what an absolutely amazing view, just a little height gives such a different perspective from living life at sea level.
After an excellent night out with fellow cruisers Lanny & Ginger on Swiftsure, Johnny & Deb on Laros, Bill & Gene on Out of the Bag and Jay & Irwin on Winsome at Bloody Marys (no one famous spotted) it was time to get this show on the road. We returned the couple of miles back to Mai Kai for a night, looked at the weather forecast yet again, did final provisioning and checked out of French Polynesia. We had been in this incredible country for 1 year and 1 day, visited 41 anchorages on 14 islands throughout the 3 archipelagos of the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Societies and journeyed 1650 miles across its expanse.
It was very tempting to stay another year in this tropical paradise and delay the end of this marvellous journey we are undertaking but Balvenie, Skipper and Admiral are all getting older and starting to feel a little worn out, we are in our 13th year of being sea gypsies, its time to head on home.
Farewell French Polynesia We Enjoyed Our Year In Your Waters