A bumpy ride to the top: Worth the drive in Bora Bora

Bora Bora's aquamarine water is almost artificial looking.
Bora Bora’s aquamarine water is almost artificial looking.

Could there be a more sinister April Fool’s joke than to wake up on what should be a spring morning to find the ground covered in white? Well, for us this morning it was no joke. Good thing we have our memories of exotic Bora Bora, one of the islands we visited in February – it made the winter a little less hideous for us this year!

It’s an island that had been shrouded in exoticism and mystery for us. On the other side of the world, the island of Bora Bora, a member of the Society Islands which are part of French Polynesia, is one that we North Americans often think we might never visit. The town of Viatape where we anchored off shore is a small, very French spot with some pearl shops, a tiny duty-free outpost and a pharmacie (which of course, being French has a wonderful selection of French skin care brands!). Wander down the street, buy your sun screen if you can find your brand and then take an off-road tour.

Our vehicle for the tour.
Our vehicle for the tour.

Just as are all of the islands in that part of the world, Bora Bora is the top of an extinct volcano, in fact it rises in two peaks. This means that the center of the island is at a much higher altitude than the coast – it also means that there is essentially only one road on the island. Well, it might be more accurate to say that there is one road over which you’d actually drive a car, and that road rings the island. So, if you want to get into the center, get up high and see indigenous flora up close, you have to take an off-road vehicle. That’s what we did – and were certain to have both a driver and a guide.

Quintessential Bora Bora as seen from up on the volcano.
Quintessential Bora Bora as seen from up on the volcano.

As we turned off the coastal road with its breathtaking beaches, we began our climb up a steep, rutted, muddy track that couldn’t really be called a road. It was full of rocks and turns and major potholes.  Indeed, it was a bit like a carnival ride. Not to worry, though, we made it.

Our guide
Our guide

Our guide, who in his off hours was employed feeding the sharks in a huge glass aquarium at one of the luxury resorts on the island, took us to a vantage point owned by his family. He shared this extraordinary spot with us, telling us that it is now difficult to keep the young people on the island after they’ve been away to school – often to France.

We visited a pearl farm and had an opportunity to watch a craftsman extract a pearl from its oyster home, thinking all the while that this was the provenance of the Tahitian pearl we bought in Papeete.

The trip was spine rattling, but we wouldn’t have missed it for anything!

If you have a few minutes, come along on our tour of Bora Bora through the magic of our video!

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Finding our way in exotic Tahiti

Someone once said that traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer and as far as we’re concerned, no truer words were ever spoken. There is little doubt that we are richer by far from the past five weeks of travel in the South Pacific – beginning in Tahiti.

Just say the word to someone buried under a mountain of snow in the dead of winter and it conjures daydreams of palm trees, mysterious, mist-covered volcanoes in the distance and bungalows hovering over the azure blue of the South Pacific waters. All of these daydreams of ours came true.

Mysterious Moorea in the distance from the beach at Le Meridien.
Mysterious Moorea in the distance from the beach at Le Meridien.

We arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti aboard an Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles. One of the best air travel experiences we have ever had, this airline is on our list of carriers to revisit whenever possible. We did our homework – visiting Seatguru, reading the reviews etc. as all discerning travelers do. We were traveling business class so expected extra room, better meals and perhaps some in-flight entertainment. What we were greeted by were refurbished planes with fully-reclinable seats, wonderful, flat-screen computers at every seat with a terrific selection of entertainment and on-board staff who were the nicest, most attractive, most efficient we’d seen since we traveled on Hawaiian Airlines two years ago. So when we arrived at our destination, we were already relaxed and in vacation mode.

The new in-flight entertainment system on Air Tahiti Nui. (We were in business class, but even economy has the screens.)
The new in-flight entertainment system on Air Tahiti Nui. (We were in business class, but even economy has the screens.)

We chose to stay at Le Meridien some fifteen minutes’ drive outside of Papeete rather than at the Intercontinental which had been initially recommended. This was partly because we didn’t really want to be that close to the city, and partly because the Intercontinental was offering only standard rooms. This was a special vacation and we opted for a Senior Suite. The hotel’s web site did not do it justice at all.

The hugely spacious two-room suite’s best feature as far as we were concerned was the huge terrace with 180 degree views – and the island of Moorea in the distance. Although many travelers like to search for the cheapest way to travel, we believe that you should look for luxury (for less if you can) that you can afford. The funny thing is that when we treat ourselves, we are never disappointed.

Exotic lotus blossoms in Tahiti
Exotic lotus blossoms in Tahiti

The first thing we noticed about Tahiti was how nice everyone was – smiling, attentive staff, eager to please. Then, of course, there was the water – so blue and so warm, warmer by far than even the Caribbean. So we had to see the island.

The hotel concierge helped us to arrange a private driver and car for a full-day, private circumnavigation of Tahiti Nui (Tahiti actually consists of two islands connected by a causeway: Tahiti Nui – which means larger; and Tahiti Iti – smaller and less navigable all around). Our driver was deeply versed in the flora and fauna of the island and took use to a number of truly wonderful gardens and grottos.

We lunched at the Paul Gauguin Restaurant sampling a number of local delicacies and visited Point Venus, the beach on Matavai Bay where Captain Cook came ashore in 1769, and where Marlon Brando (who later bought an atoll near Tahiti, built a house and lived) played Fletcher Christian in the 1960’s version of Mutiny on the Bounty, one of the movies we had watched on the plane!

While we were in Tahiti we walked the beaches, ate wonderful food and bought a Tahitian black pearl for Patty in Papeete. After five wonderful days, we embarked on our cruise.

Now that was interesting…

Art at the market in Papeete -- not to be missed when you visit.
Art at the market in Papeete — not to be missed when you visit.