PEARL OF THE PACIFIC
Pearl Of The Pacific - Luxury Travel Magazine
Pearl Of The Pacific
|By: Rob Woodburn, Issue 16 – Spring 2003|
|(Bora Bora, South Pacific, Tahiti, Le Meridien Bora Bora, Hotel Bora Bora)|
|OVER-WATER BUNGALOWS, A DAZZLING LAGOON, POWDERY SANDS AND DRAMATIC MOUNTAINS. BORA BORA IS THE JEWEL IN TAHITI’S CROWN.|
|Bora Bora is but one of thousands of tropical islands sprinkled across the South Pacific, many of them blessed with lovely lagoons, sandy beaches and willowy palm trees. Yet this particular Tahitian island, more than any other, instantly conjures images of tropical enchantment and steamy indulgence. What lends the so-called Pearl of the Pacific such lustre? Is it just clever marketing? Or could Bora Bora possibly fulfil the dream suggested by the glossy tourist brochures? There was only one way to find out. On the approach from Papeete, a pleasant 45-minute flight to the east, anticipation is heightened by the sight of beautiful Moorea, Raiatea and Taha’a, other jewels in the Society Islands archipelago. Bora Bora’s airstrip, built by American soldiers in World War Two, occupies a narrow motu (islet) at the northern edge of the lagoon. I’d been advised to get a left-hand seat for the best view, but that’s not always the case as the weather determines the final flight path.|
The first glimpses of the island are unquestionably dramatic. Far below, a vast and multi-hued lagoon encircles a relatively small landmass from which craggy peaks soar skyward. The highest is Mount Otemanu, a volcanic plug with walls of sheer rock thrusting 727 metres into the hovering clouds. Adjacent is Mount Pahia (661m), while the pointed Mount Popoti rises 249m. Amazing seen from the air, this spectacular three-peak landscape is even more astonishing at ground level. Arriving passengers are instantly dazed by both the tropical heat and dazzling panorama. Once the formalities are over, there’s a leisurely cruise across translucent turquoise waters to your chosen hotel. Few destinations can rival this eye-popping welcome.
Being Tahiti’s most popular holiday island, Bora Bora has almost as many resort-hotels as there are sandy motu fringing its marvellous lagoon. The newest and most sumptuous is the Sheraton Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa which boasts the largest over-water bungalows and has a beach of reclaimed powdery white sand that runs the entire length of the property. It’s Bora Bora’s biggest resort with 120 luxury suites including 82 deluxe over-water bungalows and two royal suites. There’s a sophisticated French restaurant and also a palm-thatched beach cafe beside the pool. Executive chef Philippe Bachmann once worked alongside stellar chef Jacques Maximin in Nice and previously had his own successful restaurant on the island. The Mandara Spa, up on the hill, offers a gamut of exclusive pampering treatments. Resorts on motu face across the lagoon for views of Bora Bora’s majestic silhouette. Perched on the southern tip of Motu Toopua, west of the island, Bora Bora Nui can offer some rooms with views of both the island and also distant Raiatea and Taha’a.
Not all the best hotels are on fringing islets. The venerable and exclusive Hotel Bora Bora, a member of the top-drawer Amanresorts, occupies Raititi Point at the northern end of Matira Beach, which is generally considered the island’s finest stretch of sand. Access to the 54-room hotel is restricted to guests only. It was the first on Bora Bora to build over-water bungalows, a winning concept much utilized throughout the Pacific ever since. The Bora Bora Beachcomber InterContinental, at the opposite end of Matira Beach, is more inclusive in attitude. Non-guests can wander in for a meal or drink and see the gardens and beach, which is long but narrow and can get quite crowded in high season. There are 14 bungalows sited beneath the palms right beside the sand and 50 over-water bungalows, half with ‘horizon’ views, which means they are furthest out in the lagoon. The bungalows may be less elaborate than at Bora Bora Nui or Hotel Bora Bora but are very comfortable with much the same fit-out.
The 100-room Le Meridien Bora Bora is on Motu Piti Aau, a 10km long narrow islet along the eastern edge of the lagoon with stupendous views of Mount Pahia. It has 82 eye-catching over-water bungalows and 18 Art Deco-style beach bungalows. Guests sleeping over the water can spot reef fish through glass panels in their bungalow floor, and a unique feature is the hotel’s turtle sanctuary care centre. Motu Teveiroa, site of the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort, lies west of the island, nearest to the airstrip. This very attractive 80-room resort has 50 over-water bungalows, each with glass-topped coffee table and glass panels in the bathroom, and 30 have views of the island. There are 10 beach suites with jacuzzis, and 20 garden suites with private plunge pools. The resort also boasts Bora Bora’s largest freshwater swimming pool.
Colourful, vibrant dinner shows occur regularly at most resorts. Lilting music, swaying hips, fragrant leis, and bulging muscles are the main attraction and guests all too often foolishly participate in the traditional feats of strength. Bora Bora’s 4,255 inhabitants live a laid-back tropical existence. The one navigable pass into the lagoon faces the main village of Vaitape from where a somewhat infrequent island bus service runs to Matira Beach. Renting a car is essential for exploring at leisure. Popular local restaurants include Top Dive, Bamboo House and Bloody Mary’s. Organised 4WD excursions visit World War Two bunkers and gun emplacements on a 29km round-island trip and provide outstanding views from lofty and otherwise inaccessible vantage points. Other activities include guided hikes, horse-riding, helicopter flights, shark and ray-feeding, deep-sea fishing, parasailing and scuba-diving but most guests succumb to Bora Bora’s languid pace and do little more than grab a fruit punch, a good book, and chill out.