Bora Bora--what a great name for an island paradise! As I wrote this, I was sitting in my room on a cruise ship watching a huge kite pull a surf boarder across the bay near one of the five-star, over-the-water bungalows that are so synonymous with the island of Bora Bora. James Michener believed that Bora Bora was "the most beautiful island in the world." I'll have to agree it is glorious! (Since I haven't yet seen ALL the islands of the world, I'm not sure it is the MOST beautiful, but it is certainly in the top 10 of those I've seen so far!) Bora Bora is also one of the world's best sail away ports of call. If I stayed longer in Bora Bora than two days, it might move up or down my list, but the contrast between the lush green island, the black volcanic rock, and the multi-colored blue green sea is amazing to see.
The Bora Bora weather didn't let our visit to the island get off to a very good start. It was raining and windy - again! This time it was so bad that they had to cancel many of the water-related shore excursions. So, instead of swimming and snorkeling with the Bora Bora rays and sharks as planned, we spent our first morning on the ship, trying to get a glimpse of the tops of the volcanic mountains that hover over the village of Vaitape. Even with the clouds, the water here is spectacular. Like most of the Society Islands, Bora Bora is almost completely surrounded by a coral reef and motus. However, whereas Tahiti had 33 reef passes and Huahine had 5, Bora Bora only has one! That means that any ship coming to Bora Bora must navigate through one small pass between two motus to enter Paofai Bay.
Bora Bora is a very small island, covering less than 15 square miles. The palm covered motus surrounding the island contain everything from coconuts to the Bora Bora airport on Motu Mule. World War II had a major impact on the island. Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. decided to set up a supply base on Bora Bora. It was chosen because its one entry to the island was the easiest to defend. The U.S. forces had up to 6000 men stationed on Bora Bora from early 1942 to 1946. The most useful reminder of those days is the huge runway on Motu Mule. Until the airport was built on Tahiti in 1961, this airport was the international gateway to French Polynesia. If you arrive by air today, you still have to take a catamaran from the airport to Vaitape, the island's main settlement.
After resting up in the morning, we struck out to do a little shopping before our afternoon shore excursion. Mother and I bought a few souvenirs, and then hooked up with 4 others to do the Renaissance 4x4 tour of the island. We were delighted to be in the same 4x4 with Judy and Bob from Arizona, the fun couple we 4x4'd with on Tahiti. Two men from Ohio, Jeff and Bill, completed our group.
Luckily for everyone, the skies cleared up during our first afternoon on Bora Bora. The 4x4 was similar to the one we rode in on Tahiti--it held six passengers, three on a padded bench on each side of the back of the truck. The back of this truck was open to the cab, however. This trip was much WILDER than the one on Tahiti. We circled the island, going "off road" three times to climb up into the mountains for unbelievable views of the ocean below. The ride was fantastic, although I still don't know how we avoided either getting stuck or sliding off the trail in the 4x4!.
The first off-road trail we took, the driver saw a bunch of ripe bananas growing near the trail. He stopped and picked each of us a "lady finger" banana about 4-5 inches long. They were delicious! Very sweet without being mushy and soft. This 4x4 trip was also different in that the road was through a jungle going up into the mountains, rather than in a valley alongside a river. Therefore, there wasn't much to see off-road until you got to the top. The last trail we took was the most treacherous, but at the top there were old World War II guns and ammo bunkers along with the brilliant views of the R3 and the bay below us.
In our circle tour around the island (between off-road adventures), our local guide, Patrick, pointed out sites of interest. At one stop, we all enjoyed a a piece of a fresh pineapple. Patrick used a HUGE knife to peel the pineapple and remove the eyes. He was very skilled!
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