Heaven Or Hype? Exploring The Real Bora Bora

With one island down and 8 more to go on this island hopping segment of my voyage across French Polynesia, I thought it would be super difficult to ever top the memorable week spent in pretty little Maupiti. To try my best, the next stop should test the limits of French Polynesia’s beauty. It’s the island that’s on everyone’s bucket list, the jewel of the crown, where movie stars come to hide and newlyweds come to start off their life of marriage with a huge debt. I’m of course talking about Bora Bora. In this week’s update from the South Pacific Islands, we’ll explore the real Bora Bora. I guarantee you’ll like this one!

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Sergeant, I’m going for a swim

Bora Bora, known as the ‘Romantic Island’, is regarded around the world as one of the most beautiful islands on our blue planet. There are many islands around the world so why Bora Bora? Well, maybe it’s because of the towering mountain, with its signature peak, circled by sandy islets (motus) and separated by pristine waters? That’s certainly all true, but Bora Bora ironically owes its global fame to one of the darkest periods in mankind’s history.

bora bora french polynesia from the air

During WWII, over 6,000 US soldiers were happily stationed here to protect against a possible Japanese invasion, like in Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo Island and American Samoa. There are still a few reminders of their tenure on the island in various spots. The lucky soldiers had little to do other than to splash in the waters and catch some sun. Upon their return back home, they took with them stories of paradise and voila! the Bora Bora hype had begun. Today, the island is a must for anyone in search of paradise and the ultimate luxury. But there’s a lot more to Bora Bora than just those iconic overwater bungalows.

WWII guns in bora bora french polynesia

A ticket to paradise

To get to paradise, I had to fly from Maupiti to Tahiti to catch the flight to Bora Bora. The Air Tahiti captain provided an early tease, with a flyby right over the island. At the departure lounge in Tahiti, I couldn’t believe my eyes: a boarding pass to Bora Bora with my name on it. I’ve been waiting for this baby for a long time, so let’s begin.

Bora Bora from the air

As you might recall in the previous update from Maupiti, inter-island flights in French Polynesia are more like scenic flights. You just need to ensure you have a window seat on the ‘right’ side of the plane. Sadly for me, I gambled wrong this time around, but I did get a great view of Huahine Island and a sunset view over Maupiti, far away on the horizon. This mistake would be corrected upon departure, so stick around for the end for great aerial shots of Bora Bora!

Huahine island french polynesia aerial view

sunset over Maupiti french polynesia

Bora Bora’s airport is located on one of the outer motus, just like in Maupiti. I hopped on the ferry to the main island just as the sun was setting, with Bora Bora’s signature peak glowing in the background.

sunset over bora bora french polynesia

You don’t have to stay in a luxury resort to properly enjoy Bora Bora, though I can imagine it’s quite the experience. The main island has a few good options, and I opted to stay in the main village of Vaitape. The village was quite happening at night by local standards, with food trucks (roulottes) serving chow mein dinners and locals hanging around the pier to catch up on today’s news.

roulotess in vaitape bora bora french polynesia

vaitape bora bora french polynesia at night

It really does look like this

My first day in paradise was greeted with a warm sun and hardly any clouds. It was time to hit the road and check out what all the hype is about. The task for the day was to pay a visit to the main island’s prime beach, Matira Beach. Though a good 7 km’s away, it was such a nice day so I opted to put my feet to work and get some tropical exercise. By early morning, the village of Vaitape was a happening place. Locals were running some errands, the kids were arriving at school and the local pearl shops were gearing up for another day of selling one of the country’s top exports.

vaitape village bora bora french polynesia

tuna in bora bora french polynesia

Locals on the main island live in sharp contrast to the glamour of the resorts out on the motus. Homes are very simple, much more than in Maupiti, and fishermen are always zipping in and out of the lagoon in search of today’s catch. Don’t feel bad for the locals of Bora Bora, their life seems to be pretty simple and they always have million dollar views, which others pay a fortune to see for a couple of nights.

laundry hanging in bora bora french polynesia

typical house in bora bora french polynesia

village in bora bora french polynesia

The views kept getting and better as Matira Beach was getting closer and closer. Palm trees everywhere, growing in all directions, and the mountain, oh the mountain. That’s Mount Otemanu, standing proudly at 727m and posing for countless of postcards.  

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mountain and boat on beach in bora bora french polynesia

palm tress in bora bora french polynesia

bora bora french polynesia

After a little over an hour of super fun walking, Matira Beach finally came into view. Wow, this is one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to. I’m sure gonna have to update that list of my top beaches in the world when I get back home. Just look at this place, super white sand, a bit of shade provided by the palm trees and the water – turquoise blue, just how I like it!

matira beach bora bora french polynesia

matria beach bora bora french polynesia coconut on beach

matira beach bora bora french polynesia boat
Matira Beach is not only beautiful, but it’s also pretty big. That makes finding a spot all for yourself a pretty easy task. As for the underwater life, it really depends on the mood of the lagoon on a specific day. Much like in Maupiti, the visibility wasn’t amazing inside the lagoon on this day, but it’s still pretty nice… When the lagoon water is like this, it means there’s some wind out on the surface – which is a good thing because this place is pretty damn humid.

Snorkeling matira beach bora bora french polynesia

I grabbed a spot beneath a nice looking palm tree, making sure no coconuts can pull ‘an Isaac Newton’ on me, and killed a few hours.

matria tropical beach bora bora french polynesia

matira beach bora bora french polynesia yacht

Back on the road, I made it to Matira Point, the very southern edge of Bora Bora. From here, the beach sweeps back to the other side of the island. It’s a lot more crowded on this end with very little shade opportunities, but who are we to complain when it looks like this?

matira beach bora bora french polynesia people in water

In search of that postcard view

The plan was to park it right here and call it a day, but those of you who know me personally, know that I am a very curious guy when traveling. I spotted an interesting looking hill in the distance and thought it’s a good idea to check out the view from there. En route, I finally caught a glimpse of those overwater bungalows, for which Bora Bora is known. Hmm… anyone got $1000 to spare for the night?

road in bora bora french polynesia

overwater bungallows in bora bora french polynesia

Another hour of walking and fending off a few angry looking dogs, I found a trail leading to the top via a sleepy local neighborhood of beach shacks. The view from up here was exactly what I, and probably you, were looking for. This is the Bora Bora we’ve all seen in pictures. I bet nobody’s putting up their house for sale over here!

panoramic view of bora bora french polynesia

lagoon in bora bora french polynesia

boat in lagoon bora bora french polynesia

overwater bungallows panoramic view bora bora french polynesia

view of overwater bungallows in bora bora french polynesia

palm trees and turquoise water in bora bora french polynesia

panoramic shot of bora bora french polynesia

Tempted to continue my exploration of the island, I decided to call it a day and start walking back to Vaitape. As the sun was heading out west, the views were just as unique as during the daytime. I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about…

dock over bora bora french polynesia bloody marys

palm trees and mountain in bora bora french polynesia

Ready to visit the pristine Bora Bora Lagoon? Click over to the next page and let’s hit the water!