Twenty five minute taxi journey from Gourock to Glasgow Airport. An hour flight from Glasgow to London, eleven hours flight London to San Francisco, eight hours flight from San Francisco to Tahiti and finally a 50 minute island hop flight from Tahiti to our Bora Bora island paradise!
Oh and a 20 minute boat trip from the airport island to Vaitape Quay on the main island, then a 10 minute coastal drive to our destination. Nearly 10,000 miles from Gourock!
What a journey, ten hours behind the UK but thankfully it was broken up by celebrating my Mother’s special birthday in California and a short stay in Tahiti. On the Tahiti to Bora Bora flight I picked up a tip to sit on the left of the aircraft as this provides some incredible views of the islands and the approach to Bora Bora Airport.
On arrival by boat our host at Hititini Bungalow had arranged for her father Maurice and mother Emilie to collect us. Both were very welcoming and kind, allowing us a visit to a nearby supermarket for supplies prior to the short drive to our beach front accommodation. The short journey was an education with commentary in a mix of French, English and Tahitian by Maurice. More on that later!
Bora Bora Island Paradise – Background
History states that in 1769, Captain James Cook was the first visitor to Bora Bora. The British explorer was on a South Pacific mission when he stumbled upon this island paradise but records state that the islands were first sighted by Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen in 1722. These islands were later claimed as dependencies of Tahiti within the protectorate by France in 1847 and became part of the French colony in 1880. French is freely spoken throughout the islands as well as Tahitian. Some useful words and phrases are provided further on in this blog.
What’s in a name
Locals pronounce the island’s name differently from most tourists. In Tahitian dialect, they pronounce the letter ‘B’ as ‘P’, so perhaps it should be Pora Pora. You will see both being used on signs across the island.
Bora Bora Island Overview
Virtually half way between the United States and Australia, Bora Bora sits 727 metres above sea level and is a small piece of paradise in the South Pacific. Once a US military supply base and now known amongst many other things for its precious black pearls. The island comprises of 3 villages, Anau, Faanui and Vaitape. With Vaitape being the main village situated on the western part of the island.
There are about 8,800 residents on the island and it has essential businesses like banks, a post office, restaurants, cafés, a hospital, and an impressive new school/university. Most Sundays in Vaitape, there is a market selling goods such as clothes, jewellery and other local delicacies and trinkets.
The ‘Caldera’ and Volcano
This ‘caldera’ is essentially a large depression formed some 7 million years ago, when a volcano erupted and collapsed into the Pacific Ocean. It now forms part of the Leeward Islands in French Polynesia. Thanks to its secluded beauty, chilled vibe, and sumptuous spa culture it has fast become a romantic or honeymoon destination. At the centre of the island are the green rainforest peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu.
Many people hike the extinct volcanoes, although for me it was a stunning backdrop to lazy days in the sun and in the deep-blue lagoon which surrounds the main island. White sand ringed islands (motus) surround the main island. From the air they look simply magical.
The deep blue waters and coral reefs are teaming with tropical fish and sting rays, spotted daily from our beach bungalow and nearby is the spectacular Matira beach, claimed to be the most beautiful in the world. If you’re a snorkeller, scuba diver, paraglider or into any other active sports this place is the destination for you!
The entire island extends to 18 miles making it too small for decent public transport. However, there are rental cars, bikes, two-seater buggies for hire or you can walk. Or be even more adventurous and rent a motorboat to explore the lagoon. The island has only one main road that runs along the shoreline so getting lost is not an option.
Accommodation – Bungalow Hititini
Much research discovered the fantastic Hititini Bungalow situated on Matira Point. It is small, spotlessly clean and has absolutely everything you need on your travels. The private beach was simply amazing with stunning views and a white sandbank that leads down to the crystal clear water.
Owners Moeata and Christophe are very kind and pleasant hosts, they are great to tap into for local knowledge and advice. They spend a lot of time with you on arrival explaining what is available in the bungalow. Moeata surprised us on our arrival with bowls of papaya and coconut and a coconut to drink. A quick lesson on how to open it and we were sitting on the terrace with our fresh fruit and drinking from a coconut staring at the stunning view across the lagoon. Just sublime! Moeata and Christophe make you feel special and very welcome in Bora Bora. No wonder they consistently score 5/5 on traveller reviews!
If I was to pick a very slight issue it would be the lack of storage in the bungalow for luggage. We had travelled via San Francisco so had large cases with clothes for cold and warm weather. We managed but the bungalow is definitely set up for the lighter traveller and let’s be honest, you don’t need a lot of clothes in Bora Bora but you do in a cold San Francisco, so we were caught between a rock and a hard place!
There is a convenience store just across the road from the bungalow selling essentials, fresh bread and delicious pastries every day. The Lucky House restaurant and take away is next door and offers excellent local food and great pizza cooked to perfection in their pizza oven. More on the Lucky House later!
Just a short road walk or slightly longer beach walk is the Bora Bora Beach Club, again more on that later!
There is very limited and unreliable public transport and it is a 10/15 minute drive to the shops on Viatape from the bungalow. Hititini is all about peace, quiet and ultimately location – which is absolutely perfect.
Bora Bora Beach Club
Situated 5 mins walk by road or 10 minutes via the white sand beach this bar/restaurant sits right on Matira beach which is a stunning location. Sitting sipping a cold Hinano beer and watching the sunset simply must be done. This is where we sampled the Vin de Tahiti – Rosé Nacarat which is a Tahitian produced dry rose wine. With such a French influence in the region no wonder they are producing good wines.
The Beach Club serves great food for lunch and dinner with ever changing views across the beach. Tapas and a happy hour are available between 4 and 6pm. On several visits our server Kailo was very pleasant and extremely attentive. As well as serving dining customers, Kailo found time to mix some great Mojito and Pina Colada cocktails which we sipped while watching sting rays and reef sharks gently glide by in the shallow waters in front.
A highly recommended stop off point after walking round the crescent shaped Matira Beach. Or book your table via the restaurant Facebook site with live entertainment playing on a Friday evening.
We booked to see Boussai, a French reggae band on the final night of their Pacific tour. It was a really good night with the venue full to capacity and locals enjoying the opportunity to party. Life must be hard for the band touring the South Pacific Islands!
Lucky House – Fare Manuia Restaurant
Locally known as ‘Lucky’s’ and situated steps from Bungalow Hititini. We visited for lunch and despite only six tables being occupied some of the waiting staff seemed a bit overwhelmed. However, I will say the food was really good. We shared a caesar salad and a pizza which I must say were very tasty!
There is a small pool in the venue which was used by kids while we were there. Great way to keep the kids occupied! Despite the haphazard service I do recommend a visit!
Povai Bay, Bora Bora
+689 40 67 69 10
From Bungalow Hititini take a quick 25 minute walk towards Viatape past the Tsnuami Refuge Zone and Bloody Mary’s is situated opposite a small pontoon and beach. Bloody Mary’s opened in 1979 and has developed a bit of a reputation as an institution on the island, all tourists and to be fair locals regularly flock there. It brands itself a restaurant, yacht club and bar. It’s styled as a large Tiki hut bar & grill with a sand floor, a souvenir shop and a celebrity wall of fame from past visitors.
We visited for lunch on a tropical rainy day. There is a huge selection of cocktails and drinks available, following the venue’s name we ordered the Absolute Bloody Mary.
It was good and I did enjoy it but found it too heavy to drink with my meal so ordered a Hinano beer and rose wine to go with our fish tacos and grilled chicken wraps. Portion sizes were enormous and to be honest one of the meals could easily have
been shared. Next time we will do it Spanish style and share a dish. The kitchen like many other on the island closes at 2pm and reopens at 6pm so keep that in mind if visiting.
It’s a very open venue with outside toilets which are quite quirky as are the half dozen chickens that frequently walk through clucking away. If only they knew what was on the menu!
Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby or mooring your yacht off the Yacht Club.
Restaurant Les Délices De Bora Bora
Centre Ville, Viatape, 98730
This restaurant was discovered during our research, while a local resident confirmed our thoughts on their reputation for very well prepared and presented fresh local fish and attentive and hospitable staff.
When we booked by email we requested their pick up service for what was a 15 minute drive and far better than a 90 minute walk on the dark roads without pavements. A lot of places on the island offer a pick up service as taxis are expensive.
Right on time Jean picked us up and transported us to the restaurant.
We chose our mains from a very interesting menu with a fair selection of fish and meat options. Ahead of ordering we were presented with a dish of what I thought was a strange combination – fresh coconut and black olives soaked in olive oil. Initially, I was very hesitant but the fresh coconut in olive oil was outstanding.
Next up was a complimentary appetiser of light fish pate on crisp toast bread – really tasty.
For our mains we sampled parrot fish wrapped in banana leaf with green beans & steamed rice and mussels in garlic cream with frites. Portion sizes were perfect and both dishes were delicious and highly recommended.
A shared sweet of banana flambé, roasted nuts and local vanilla ice cream followed. It was incredible and so moorish, I didn’t want it to end or to share!
After coffee we settled up and Jean immediately appeared back to drive us home.
During the drive he mentioned that Les Delice was a family business and that they also own Arc En Ciel which sells black pearls. We arranged with Jean to pick us up the following morning for transportation to the shop where we were assured the best deals are available. You can read more about the black pearls later. Les Delice is undoubtedly one of the best places we’ve been to in Bora Bora. It’s not only tourists that the restaurant attracts but mostly locals which is a very good sign. I suggest it’s definitely a place to try during a stay.
Helen’s Bay Centre
10 min slow walk from Vaitape +689 40 67 64 62
Considered by many (locals included) as the best restaurant on Bora Bora’s main island, St. James is hidden in the back of a Vaitape shopping centre right on the water. Consisting of a sand bar, sundeck and restaurant it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also houses Mahana Store which sells clothing and accessories from local artists and brands. Something to keep the ladies browsing while the boys drink a Hinano beer.
We visited for lunch and chose from the tapas menu thinking they would be smaller portions! The small charcuterie board was delicious, consisting of a healthy portion of Serrano ham, Pave Lyonnais (salami type) & gherkins. Jumbo shrimp tempura with sweet chilli sauce & guacamole followed plus spicy falafel. Food was delicious and sitting on the edge of the water looking out across the bay to where the cruise ships drop anchor is delightful. It was very warm but thankfully with a cooling breeze.
Unapologetically French, really good food, exceptional choice of wine and a wide range of cigars. Great sand bar with huge choice of cocktails. An attraction for both tourists and locals which speaks volumes. We will be back!
Tama’a Maitai – linked to Maitai Polynesia Hotel.
We visited three times between lunch and dinner as the location is simply stunning and about a 3 minute walk from Bungalow Hititini. It’s also very quiet and after a busy day in the sun provides tranquillity with fabulous food.
It’s essentially the beach restaurant of the Maitai Polynesia hotel but anybody can walk-in to the restaurant.
There is an open kitchen, so diners can watch their dinner being cooked or you can simply sip your cocktail and gaze past the hotel water bungalows out to the lagoon. The cocktail selection is excellent (Pineapple daiquiri is recommended) and food to match. Try the chicken curry with coconut milk, the spicy beef stir fry (very salty) or the fish kebab. The light salads are great at lunch with the locally caught prawn salad the star.
On the occasions we visited there was a strong wind (warm) so we ate under the huge straw roof and were protected from the breeze by a canopy, there are plenty of tables outside if the wind is lighter. If it’s peace and quiet, good food and a relaxing drink you’re looking for then look no further, this ticks all the boxes.
One of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Like a never-ending swimming pool. Great for paddle boarding or watching the sting rays and fish swimming by!
Maitai Beach is the largest public access beach in Bora Bora making it extremely popular with visitors. The water is crystal-clear and the sand is soft although watch out for the patches of coral. The beach is adjacent to some hotels, shops, bars/restaurants and road side stalls so it’s a convenient place to spend a day. Tourists and locals speak very highly of the beach and area. They highlight the incredibly blue water and how the shoreline is rarely ever crowded making it the perfect place for some rest and relaxation. If you don’t have time to spend a whole day at the beach, many say the sunsets are certainly worth a visit.
You’ll find the beach about 5 miles south of Vaitape or a two minute walk from Bungalow Hititini. Bicycle travel to the beach is best (unless it rains). If you have a hire car, parking is available adjacent to Snack Matira cafe.
Speaking of transport, limited taxis are available on the island but recommended drivers are:
Taxi Loma +689 87 27 49 36
Taxi Alex +689 89 22 79 17 or +689 89 50 98 41
or book on email: email@example.com
Bora Bora Paradise Island Adventures
I’d thoroughly recommend circumnavigating the island. Avis Car Hire provide a map buts there’s only one circular coastal road so you definitely won’t get lost.
To drive it takes 45 minutes with no stops. To cycle, the road around the main island is 18 miles and mostly flat. It takes about 2 hours to bike but take time to include a stop for lunch, a visit to Matira Beach, hiking to see WWII cannons, and snorkelling. I’d guess that a walk around the island would take about 3-4 hours depending on pace and weather.
I also guarantee that there is no way you won’t stop to take in the views or have a quick dip or snorkel. We stopped a couple of times and snorkelled with shoals of blue, yellow and black fish just before the village of Faanui on the North West coast looking out towards the airport on Moto Mute.
It’s worthy noting that the unlit roads on Bora Bora can be dark at night and there are no pavements. Make sure your phone is charged and use your torch where appropriate.
Avis Car hire is two minutes walk from Hititini bungalow or you can book directly online. Staff are very accommodating and one staff member even stopped to offer us a lift when we were sheltering from a tropical downpour. Well done sir (bravo monsieur) for such a simple polite gesture.
When we rented our vehicle we dealt with Willsea who was great. We walked in but you can pre-book your hire on: https://apps.apple.com/fr/app/Bora-explorer/id146828304
Pirogue tour by Bora Lagoonarium
Bora Lagoonarium offers a Pirogue tour. A Pirogue is a a long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, pretty standard water transport on the islands.
Pick up is at 0830 and the day starts with a visit to Coral Gardens where you will see stingrays, grey/black tip sharks and if you’re lucky leopard rays and mantra rays. Next on the aqua agenda is the Lagoonarium where if you’re bold enough you can swim with reef sharks and watch turtles, rays and a huge amount and variation of fish.
Lunch is next on a private motu (island). The spread includes rice salad, raw fish in coconut milk, grilled chicken or fish, po’e (Polynesian pudding), taro (a tuber but not a potato), ipo uto (bread made with coconut milk), banana fritters, local seasonal fruit and plenty of mineral water. After lunch there is a quick tour of some of the nearby islands, transport back to the mainland about 3pm and a return to your accommodation.
Self Drive Bora Bora Jet Ski Tour
Recommended by a neighbour, but unfortunately we could not participate, was the speedy jet ski experience on the famous Bora Bora lagoon. According to our neighbour the ‘adrenaline and culture filling’ jet ski tour is just exhilarating; the impressive turquoise waters and island views were stunning, while snorkelling to explore the coral reef opened up the busy under water seascape. They were chaperoned by a licensed jet ski instructor, who regularly stopped during the tour to allow photo opportunities and point out sights of interest. Comes as a highly recommended experience and well worth the money.
Local Area Produce
Vaitape Shoping- Bora Home Galeria
Within the main road area in Vaitape and near the harbour there are several shops and supermarkets. The shops tend to sell T-shirts, dresses and tourist gifts. One shop that caught our attention was Bora Home Galeria. It was impressive and sold locally produced items, unique ornaments, jewellery and modern paintings. This was totally different from the other shops in the local area. The hand printed Polynesian dresses were very impressive, slightly on the expensive side but you’ repaying for exclusive items. Worth a visit even just to window shop! Lots of German tourists from a visiting cruise ship did just that while we were making a purchase. The owner was delighted we spoke English as he was struggling with his German.
Bora Bora Black Pearls
The Bora Bora black pearl is a symbol of exotic luxury and decadence, renowned the world over. Known as poerava (black pearl) in French Polynesia, these prized jewels are a favourite keepsake of visitors to Bora Bora. They are produced by black-lipped oysters, which thrive in waters surrounding Bora Bora and the other French Polynesian islands.
In the past Bora Bora pearls were considered to be the rarest and most valuable cultured pearls in the world. Still the pearls with the most intrigue and value, but the pearl farming market has brought their world ranking down in terms of rarity and unfortunately value.
I suggest you do some research before buying and always ask for a discount and a certificate of authentication. It’s also useful to obtain some prior knowledge about grades of pearls. Find out important facts about differences in colour, shape, weight and size. Variations in pricing exist between places that sell pearls so shop around first and make it fun, remember you are making a purchase that should be enjoyed for many years.
Various local outlets in Bora Bora sell black pearls, below are a few:
The Farm – Advertises top quality Tahiti pearls. Some of the jewelry is made in- house. It’s located just north of the Hotel Bora Bora (tel. 700 675).
Matira Pearls – Sells black pearls and local fashions. Located between the Intercontinental Le Moana Resort and Hotel Le Maitai Polynesia (tel.677 914).
Tahia Pearl Boutiques – You can choose from two Tahia Pearl Boutiques on Bora Bora. The first is at the Four Seasons hotel, the other is on the Circle Island Road at the centre of Vaitape.
Arc En Ciel – in my limited comprehension of French translation I thought I heard that this place was called Red Bull but it translates to Rainbow! The store is next to Les Delice restaurant and displays a wide variety of black pearls in a private showroom with the owner, Wendy being a Pearl Expert Graduate from the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). When we visited we spoke with Melanie and her trainee Taina. We were provided with an interesting briefing on how the precious black pearls are produced. Story board below:
We then checked out a good selection of pearls in a range of prices. We set two items aside, went for lunch at Saint James restaurant just along the coast, then visited three other black pearl shops to compare prices.
We realised that our initial offer from Melanie was in fact a very good deal and went ahead with our purchase. Melanie also explained the tax refund process at Bora Bora Airport and provided us with our certificate of authentication. A good afternoon out in Vaitape. Remember if you call or email there is a free shuttle pick up and drop off for the shop.
Tahiti is one of the world’s least-known wine regions. As unlikely as it might seem, wine is produced on this tropical island, albeit in small amounts.
Tahiti’s only winemaker is Dominique Auroy, who highlights the similarity between the soils there and in Burgundy, France. However, the climate is exceptionally different from anywhere in mainland France.
Tahiti wine is certainly worth a try, there are four varieties — three whites and a rosé: Blanc de Corail, Blanc Moelleux, Clos du Recif (white white made from red grapes), and Rosé Nacarat (blend of white and red grapes).
These wines are available at most restaurants or supermarkets and cost on average the equivalent of £8 a glass or £40 a bottle in a decent restaurant, much less at a supermarket.
In addition to wine, Tahiti also produces good quality beer, from malt imported from New Zealand and France. It is brewed in Papeete, the Tahitian capital, and is sold under the Hinano label.
French and Tahitian are the main languages spoken on the island, though most locals have an excellent basic command of English. The majority of visitors to Bora Bora are American, Japanese or European.
The following are some essential Tahitian words and phrases. If it helps, sing the words like the locals!
- Hello – Ia Orana (yo-rah-nah)
- Welcome – Maeva (mah-yeh-vah)
- Thank you – Maururu (mah-roo-roo)
- Man – Tane (tah-nay)
- Woman – Vahine (vah-he-nay)
- Child – T amarii (tah-ma-ree-ee)
- Bye/See you later – Nana (nah-nah)
- Cheers / To your health – Manuia (mah-nwee-ah)
- Good – Maitai (my-tie)
- No – Aita (eye-tah)
- Morning – Poipoi (poy-poy)
- Evening – Ahiahi (ah-hee-ah-hee)
- Island – Motu (moh-too)
- Look – A hi’o (ah-hee-oh)
- Ocean – Moana (mo-ah-nah)
- How are you? – Maita’i oe? (may-tay oh-ay)
- I am fine – Maita’i roa (may-tay ro-ah)
- What? – Eaha? (ey-ah-hah)
- Why? – No te aha? (noh-tay ah-hah)
- No problem – Aita pe’a pe’a (eye-tah pay-ah pay-ah)
- Bread – Faraoa (fah-rah-o-ah)
- Water – Pape (pa-pay)
- Pearl – Poe (po-ay)
- Black pearl – Poerava (po-ay ra-vah)
- Flower – Tiare (tee-ah-ray)
- Beer – Pia (pee-ah)
- Let’s go – Haere tatou (ha-ay-ray tah-taw)
It’s worth learning some basic phrases, the locals will really appreciate your efforts. Everyone on the island acknowledges you in some way on a daily basis, even the young kids, and always with huge smiles.
Time Flies By in Bora Bora
Unfortunately, it’s over in a flash!
Travel 10,000 miles and I believe you have the right to expect a really good experience. I can assure you despite jet lag, monsoon rain and some language challenges (as I struggle with French) Bora Bora is a truly tropical paradise with stunning scenery and beaches. The main island sits within white sandy motus (small islands) and a stunning turquoise lagoon protected by an outer coral reef. It is a popular luxury resort destination but with the advent of sites like Airbnb it opens up to a wider market and those who want privacy as well as flexible budget options. Bungalow Hititini and our hosts Moeata and Christophe certainly exceeded all expectations and come very highly recommended!
The memory of my visit will last forever, and I have promised a return, hopefully sometime soon. One factor that jumps out at me is how accommodating and friendly the locals are. Ironically they think we are lucky having the means to visit the island but thinking about it, they are most certainly the lucky ones with their wealth derived from climate, culture and lifestyle.
To the next lucky local who says hello or welcome I say:
Mauruuru Bora Bora
E hoi mai iau faahou i u nei
Mauruuru – (Thank you Bora Bora, I really hope to come back soon!)
Nana (nah-nah) – See you later!
Video of Rogues Guide to Bora Bora By Calum
Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’
Rogues in paradise is the upcoming book on the History of the People of Barbados. The island was named by the Portuguese navigator Pedro A.Camposbecause of the magnificent Bearded fig trees that were abundant on the island. It means “the bearded one” in Portuguese. The Spanish also occupied Barbados for some time before it was claimed by the British.