I don’t do bucket lists. I prefer a more direct approach: Find fascinating country, go there as soon as possible. But the pandemic stole that opportunity and replaced it with plenty of time to dream. As someone who has a serious aversion to winter weather, a trip to Bora Bora – a group of islands in the western part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia – quickly topped my list.
I came for the water. The striated blues – tiffany, turquoise, cyan, cerulean, cobalt and sapphire – are legendary. I’m in it as soon as time allows. It’s clearer than the water in my tap at home and at times it appears golden thanks to the white sand clearly visible on its lagoon floor.
I snorkel between patches of coral and rainbow-colour lipped clams, peek at reef sharks and stingrays and silly grin at the puffer and parrot fish (and so many others) who carry on oblivious to my presence.
After each dip, I dry off on sunny hammocks or swings set in the sea. Views of lush green mountains ever present.
And throughout it all I feel my anxiety slipping away. I swap cable TV-fueled nightmares for long evenings watching suns set, sipping pretty drinks and emitting deep sighs.
If all I’d done was stare out at the water all day while the world’s troubles faded into the background, my dreams would have been met. But I soon realize that my Bora Bora dreams can go further than what I’ve read about in magazines or seen in luxury ads. The island’s physical beauty captivates me at first, but soon I realize that there is much more below the surface.
I get one of my first glimpses of that deeper connection bobbing gently along the waters on a Polynesian canoe with Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tours. Owner Nariihau Taruoura and his wife started the company in 2019 with hopes of luring tourists away from their overwater bungalows and connecting them with the history, culture and crafts of his ancestors.
I walk away from our experience with a better appreciation for the skill required to create the beaded bracelets for sale in gift shops, a healthier respect for the way people have long lived off the land’s bounty and sore arms after trying a short paddle in a traditional outrigger canoe.
And on an ATV tour to Mt. Popoti, guide Toiki Ferrand, a young Polynesian who is so proud of his country’s natural wonders it seems to ooze out of his pores, ends my tour with a visit to his family compound. The site in the Faanui Valley is a garden oasis where the family’s art studio sits overlooking the bay below. There, I watch his aunt lovingly hand paint hibiscus-laden pareos (fabric wraps). With each brush stroke, they are transformed. And as hokey as it sounds, on this dreamy getaway, I am transformed too.
If You Go
Flights typically arrive in Tahiti late evening, and you’ll likely need a hotel overnight before your flight to Bora Bora in the morning (I stayed at the Hilton Tahiti). Tiurai Tours provided great service for travel to and from the airport.
The five-star St. Regis resort and spa has the view of Mt. Otemanu you’ve probably seen in photos, and Lagoon by Jean-Georges Restaurant’s terrace offers incredible sunset views. The expansive resort provides each guest with a bicycle, which makes zipping around fun and easy. The hotel has the biggest entry-level overwater villas in the region at 1,550 square feet. Prices start at about $2,500 a night based on double occupancy during low season and include daily breakfast for two. Round-trip boat transfers to the hotel from the airport from can be arranged in advance (about $179 a person). Family friendly options with room for up to eight people are also available. All accommodations feature private outdoor dining and lounging space. stregisborabora.com
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