Postcard From The Real Bora Bora
It’s Sunday afternoon and the sounds of soulful music can be heard on the shore where there’s a BBQ taking place. A party boat passes in front of us and people smile and wave. Kids are playing in the shallow waters by the beach. There’s nothing very unusual about this scene, except for us. Being on a sailboat, and with inter-island travel lifted, we’re one of the first tourists to arrive back in Bora Bora post-lockdown, and the locals are surprised, but delighted, to see us.
We are moored in Bora Bora’s infamous blue lagoon at Aponapu Bay, where the sea shimmers in the sunlight. The water is gin clear and the colours are pinch-me-beautiful, ranging from the hint of blue diamond to stunning Bombay Sapphire.
Our views are of the incredibly pretty Motu Piti Aau, with its long, white-sand beach. Behind, there’s the dramatic backdrop of Mt Otemanu and Mt Pahia - remnants of an extinct volcano - rising to two peaks, so jagged and striking, they could be straight out of a Hollywood movie. The setting is mesmerising and it’s no wonder Bora Bora holds the title of one of the most romantic places in the world.
Overwater bungalows, the quintessential honeymoon accommodation, dot the motu (small islets) surrounding the east of the island. The big-name five-star luxury resorts are all here from Conrad, Four Seasons and Intercontinental to Sofitel, St Regis and Le Méridien. The latter is the first casualty of the Covid-19 crisis and has announced that it won’t reopen for another couple of years – citing renovations as a reason to delay.
There have been just 60 cases of Covid-19 in French Polynesia and zero deaths. By the time the borders fully open on 15 July, these resorts - and many others across the archipelago - will have been closed for four months. That’s a long time, not only for the 19,000 Polynesians who have jobs in tourism, but for an industry, that earns the territory a reputed US$600 million per annum; and also for Bora Bora, which hosts 120,000 tourists every year.
And yet, as we explored the island, we felt privileged to be seeing its raw beauty, untainted by visitors, authentic in every way and just being enjoyed by its residents. We had almost the entire stretch of Matira Beach (Bora Bora’s only real beach) to ourselves - except, that is, for a small group of locals, enjoying a kids’ birthday party picnic!
We visited the legendary Bloody Mary’s restaurant and bar, which had just reopened after lockdown. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular with its own dock, thatched roof, sand floor, exotic plants and comprehensive cocktail menu. Sadly, without the numbers - even on a Friday night - it lacked the buzz its renowned for and it closed at 8pm, shortly after we had finished our happy hour two-for-one drinks.
By contrast, on Saturday morning, Bora Bora was a hive of activity. The men were out training in their pirogues (canoes) and the town centre of Vaitape was busy with locals going about their business, buying their weekly food and wares. There was even a well-attended small market, selling handmade jewellery, caftans, crafts and flowers. The only evidence of an issue was the dozen or so shuttered pearl shops as, without tourists, there was no reason for them to open.
We’ve relished being one of just four visiting yachts to this island. In a recent change of laws, overnight anchoring without permission is forbidden. They are ready to lay out a hundred mooring buoys for when business picks up but, for now, there are about 30 moorings in place around the island.
Back in a surprisingly quiet Aponapu Bay, we swam with inquisitive spotted eagle rays and sting rays and paddle-boarded around a bay, so picturesque and divine in colour, it made my heart break that we couldn’t stay here forever.
We walked along the beach on Motu Piti Aau, which runs down the eastern side of the island. Far away from the glamourous resorts, we were surprised by a series of settlements - with an array of dwellings hidden in the trees. The beaches were quite clean, but we watched a house-proud lady, sweep up the debris of coconut palm fronds in front of her home. Nearby, a pig was chomping away on his food out of a coconut husk, while a group of young puppies played in the sand. Local life on this motu is simple, yet serene.
A man beckoned us over to chat. He showed Fergus a game he was playing with his friend, which can only be described as a Tahitian-version of coconut shy.
He pointed upwards to a coconut placed 30ft high in the air on bamboo pole and another a mere 6ft off the ground. Using 7ft-long javelins, made from bamboo-cane with a sharpened metal end. Standing a distance back, the idea was to launch the spear towards the coconut, the winner was the one who pierced the coconut first.
Skipper was nominated to join in, but despite his best shot, his spear always landed in the sand. He could not even hit the coconut placed low down for the kids, much to the amusement of our new friend, who introduced himself as Nui. He and his brother had their technique well-polished, and we watched in awe, clapping and cheering when a spear skewered the top coconut with a satisfying thud.
At the end of a couple of rounds, our new friends wanted to know what we thought of the island. Our response was ‘so beautiful; we love it’. For that, we got big beaming smiles and they thanked us for coming to Bora Bora to visit.
Our amazing experience in this paradise setting has been so very special. We have had just a small glimpse under the skin of this stunning island and it really is the stuff that dreams are made of.
© Two Drifters Travel