Heaven Or Hype? Exploring The Real Bora Bora

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A day in the Bora Bora lagoon

The Sun Gods did not cooperate on the second day in Bora Bora. But that was OK because the show must go on. The pier in Vaitape was extra lively on this day, as two giant cruise ships were ferrying their passengers for the daily excursion. It was a busy scene and one that often repeats itself over here. Bora Bora gets a lot of visitors, and you gotta keep ‘em busy.

cruise ship in bora bora french polynesia

I was greeted at the pier by Didi from Bora Bora Lagoon Service, a happy looking local sporting a traditional looking Tahitian ‘g-string’. I asked Didi if it feels like he’s constantly got a wedgie, but he said it’s the most comfortable thing in the world and what his ancestors used to wear all the time… even to weddings. I’m sure the ladies on the boat loved this cruise! He kind of reminded me of Teuai, my guide to the Papenoo Valley back in Tahiti, and a former ‘Mr. Tahiti’. Didi is a multi-tasker as you’ll soon see. He likes to entertain his guests with ukulele tunes and Tahitian songs while driving the boat with his foot. On this day, we’ll explore the famed Bora Bora lagoon. There are lots of surprises on the way!

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia didi

Our first stop was actually outside the reef, where the sharks like to hang out, according to Didi. We battled our way through the waves and exited the lagoon, as heavy rain was starting to come down. Didi instructed us to put our snorkeling gear and jump in, where it’s wet anyway. As we saddled up with our gear, we noticed strange dark objects coming to check us out. ‘Oh these are sharks’, Didi said. I hope they’ve already had breakfast…

waves outside lagoon in bora bora french polynesia

Oh Sh#T!

As we stuck our heads underwater, a crazy thing was unraveling right beneath us. Close to the surface, were dozens of blacktip reef sharks. No big deal… these guys are small and ‘friendly’. But beneath them, were a few huge looking lemon sharks. These sharks are the real deal!

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia reef sharks feeding

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia black tip reef sharks

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia swimming with sharks

The sharks zip in and out of your eyesight but never get too close. That is until Didi plunged into the depths and just hung on to the fin of one of the giant lemon sharks. He cruised along with the shark, waving to us and seeming pretty happy about the encounter. We, on the other hand, were petrified and super impressed, all at the same time.

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia didi getting close to lemon shark

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia swimming with lemon shark

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia swimming with lemon shark

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia riding shark fin

After swimming with the sharks, it was back into the comforting lagoon and a cruise to our next stop – the coral garden. En route, Didi took us as close as possible to the fancy resorts that lie on the motus. We got to see from up close those amazing looking overwater bungalows of the renowned St. Regis Resort (anyone seen Couple’s Retreat?) and The Four Seasons. Is that Leo I see lounging on the deck?

view of motu in bora bora french polynesia

view of st regis bungallows in bora bora french polynesia

As we neared the coral garden, the sun started to make a slight appearance, so it was only fitting that we raise the morale on the boat. Come on folks, we’re in Bora Bora! The colors of the lagoon are spectacular, even on a cloudy day.

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia didi and me playing conch

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia

lagoon tour turquoise lagoon colors of bora bora french polynesia

The coral garden was more like a giant aquarium. It wasn’t like the coral garden back in Maupiti, but instead, there were thousands of fish swimming around us – and they get quite up close and personal with the visitors from dry land.   

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia tropical fish feeding

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia coral garden

lagoin tour bora bora french polynesia coral garden tropical fish

The definite highlight of the coral garden is spotting the huge moray eels that like to hang around here. These are scary looking and potentially dangerous animals, but Didi didn’t seem to mind. After all, it’s not like they’re lemon sharks…

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia moray eel closeup 1

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia moray eel closeup 2

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia didi getting moray eel

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia moray eel

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia moray eel out of hiding spot

Feeding the stingrays

From the coral garden, it was further into the lagoon until we came to a stop in a super shallow area. We’ve already seen sharks, fish and moray eel – so naturally, it’s time for the stingrays. We hopped into the water to the sight of dozens of stingrays coming to say hello, and around them, the black tip reef sharks. You just can’t get rid of these guys…  

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia feeding sharks and stingrays

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia closeup of reef sharks

The stingrays are quite friendly… especially when you feed them. The experience of getting close to these guys is super cool. Their skin feels like jelly and they just suck the sardine out of your hand. They seem to be quite slow at understanding that the food you had is gone, and they just keep sucking for a few more seconds before their brain transmits the signal that it’s time to move on.

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia feeding stingrays

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia stingray

Back on the boat, it was a quick cruise for a late lunch on our very own private motu. We disembarked on a tiny little island, where an amazing Tahitian lunch was served in traditional plates made of palm leaves.

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia view of private motu

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia view from lunch on private motu

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia lunch on private motu

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia preparing bbq

lagoon tour in bora bora french polynesia lunch

Post lunch, Didi showed us the quintessential lesson every visitor to French Polynesia must complete: a beginner’s guide to making coconut cream.

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia didi making coconut cream

lagoon tour bora bora french polynesia did and guests

An amazing day in the Bora Bora lagoon had come to end and what a way to finish my three-day visit. The beauty of this island above and below the surface is just incredible! Here’s a short video that summarizes the highlights of the day.

So what’s the verdict?

So there you have it folks, Bora Bora! I can now die a happy man, having seen one of the most hyped destinations in the world. I must admit that Bora Bora is as beautiful as advertised, and the best part is that you don’t have to break your savings account to enjoy this place. That said, the island is highly geared to mass tourism and you won’t really find that traditional Polynesian charm as on many other islands in the South Pacific. You’ll just have to come here yourself and be the judge… how about that?

I made it back to the airport sad and happy at the same time. There are still seven French Polynesian islands to visit after all. It was a beautiful day and I was tossing up the coin to determine which side of the plane to sit on.

bora bora airport french polynesia

It appears my gamble worked this time… What do you think?

bora bora french polynesia aerial view

bora bora lagoon from the air french polynesia

luxury resorts from the air bora bora french polynesia

What’s Next?

My next Pacific island destination is Tahaa. The island is home to some of the finest vanilla grown on earth and wild natural beauty. Can’t wait. I’ll also be tasting the life of luxury in a laid-back luxury alternative to the hustle and bustle of Bora Bora.

French Polynesia Travel Guide

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