Our last stop in French Polynesia was the island of Bora Bora, often named as the most beautiful place on earth. We had already caught a view of the sun setting over the island’s dramatic silhouette from our anchorage in Taha’a and it certainly looked beautiful. With a distance of only 27 miles, we would be able to complete the full sail in a daylight; a welcome treat. The dawn of our departure brought 15 knots of wind and relatively calm seas; easy sailing. With improved confidence navigating by eye and knowledge that the entrance in the reef was big enough to get a cruise ship through, we tacked up the side of the island and sailed in through the reef, dropping the hook, tucked behind a small island just inside the entrance.
We had been warned that Bora Bora was busy and very touristy in comparison to other islands we had visited recently but we still hadn’t expected as many boats as we found. Tour boats and hotel shuttle boats buzzed past every 10 minutes or so, creating huge a huge wash which would throw objects and us across the cabin if we were caught unaware. We were also soon surrounded by 5 motor super yachts, who deployed their jetskis and speedboats to buzz around the anchorage. Not quite our idea of paradise! Finding a quieter anchorage was unfortunately not a safe option in the fading light so we settled down with the decision to leave at first light in the morning. The morning brought rain, which stayed for two days and meant we were unable to make it around the other side of the island as we would be unable to see the coral and shallows we needed to pick our way through.
The first sight of blue sky had us rushing to haul up the anchor and set sail around the north of the island. As we gently glided through the flat lagoon, with desert island motus on one side and the mountainous main island on the other, we finally started to understand what all the fuss for Bora Bora was about.
Our route through the shallow reefs, brought us to a string of beautiful sheltered anchorages in stunningly turquoise water, with great views of the mountain. Unfortunately the coral and reef life in Bora Bora was still recovering from a previous cyclones, plus the recent bad weather had made the water relatively murky. This made both finding and seeing the Manta Rays that reside on this side of the island a difficult task. We were elated to finally find them but they were in such deep water we were unable to get good photos.
The sheltered lagoon and beautiful views made a perfect setting for sailing Florence’s tender ‘The Machine’; now this was what our South Pacific dreams were made of.
The only trouble with our great view of the peaks on the main island was that, the more we looked at them, the stronger our desire to climb them became. Despite warnings that doing so involved a tough, slippery, unrelenting scramble, we could not leave until we had looked down over the lagoon and outer reef surrounding the island. Hiking in French Polynesia is fairly unpopular/unmarked and the majority of Bora Bora’s visitors are here for more romantic pursuits than scrambling up a hot and slippy hillside, whilst covered in mud and sweat. This gave us the advantage of having the trail to ourselves. Unfortunately it soon gave us the disadvantage of being lost on a hot, slippery hillside, whilst covered in mud and sweat. After a couple of hours of climbing over/under trees and fighting gravity on the near vertical slope we finally had to admit defeat and turn back. Our stubborn streak and determination to see it through, beat our fatigue and frustration so by contouring around a cliff face we found signs of the path; a rope leading up a rocky slope. Several ropes later, we pulled ourselves onto the summit and gaped in awe at the range of colours in the lagoon, beaches and other peaks. It seems the tougher the hike the better the view and this one was a killer.
Having finally torn ourselves away from the view, we slid back down to the boat on various body parts. Our muddy, dishevelled return gained us plenty of strange looks from honeymooners, draped in flower lays and sipping coconut cocktails.
As the bays around the main island are too deep for us to anchor, we had picked up a mooring ball at the Mai Tai Yacht club for a small fee, in order to check out of French Polynesia and complete the hike. The 2 free beers and use of the Yacht Club pool included in the mooring fee were a great way to relax, satisfied that we had made it to the top.
So was Bora Bora the most beautiful place on earth? We are not convinced, for us the beauty of a place is made up of the whole experience, not just a snapshot photo. Although there is no denying Bora Bora is one of the most photogenic places we have been, we felt it’s beauty was reduced by our poor first impressions, the number of hotels and the divide they created between the locals and tourists. We have however only visited a few of the worlds listed ‘most beautiful locations’ and feel unqualified to give a more definitive answer. This is a work in progress…