Remember that we were staying at the Intercontinental Resort and Thalasso Spa. For Sandy, the second part (Spa) was almost as important as the first part (Resort). So when we arrived, as soon as we had unpacked, we walked over to check out the spa. It was behind the main resort building that had the restaurant, bar and pool. Since the motu we were on was only a hundred meters wide, that meant it was on the other side of the island! The lobby was very nice, with a water feature, appropriate mood music playing in the backgroud, and lots of nice smells coming from somewhere. But since it was away from the lagoon they did an interesting thing - they built an artificial stream to provide an external setting for the spa. Obviously on a motu that is a hundred yards wide and the highest point is maybe ten feet above sea level you aren't going to have any natural streams. So they built a stream channel and then pump water from the ocean to the top of it. Voila. Now you have a pretty stream running alongside of the spa. The treatment rooms had large windows that provided a nice view of the water. They put some artificial blocks on the bottom so there were a fair number of fish that swam in from the lagoon. Almost like the real thing.
Sandy looked over their menu and booked a full morning of various massage treatments for the next day. No sense wasting time. So on our first full day Sandy headed over to the spa right after breakfast. I decided to explore the island. The vegetation was thick (it's tropical jungle actually) so even though the other side of the motu was close it certainly wasn't visible. But you could hear the sound of the surf coming from behind the vegetation. It didn't take me long to find a path that went through to the other side. It was quite a contrast. On the ocean side there was a barrier reef only about a hundred feet offshore There were big waves breaking against the reef. The water outside the reef was deep blue. It obviously fell off to great depths very quickly. And the ocean beyond the reef was rough. There was a strong wind blowing off the ocean. In the distance I could see the islands of Tahaa and Raitea. They were maybe twenty five miles away. There was a white sand beach that stretched off into the distance as far as I could see. The motu the resort is on, Motu Piti Aau, is narrow but it is the longest motu on Bora Bora. It's over three miles long. The long beach looked perfect for hiking and with the breeze (cancel that - the wind) it was comfortable walking even though it was very warm. I walked a little ways along the beach before heading back to meet Sandy.
Every day we took a walk along the beach on the ocean side. We would usually walk down the beach for about half an hour before heading back. That didn't even take us half way down the motu. But an hour walk every day felt good.
Being a hiker/mountaineer type I really wanted to reach the end of the motu (because it's there?). So one day I went to the ocean side in the afternoon determined to hike to the end of the motu. It took me about three hours round trip. At the far end the motu became very rocky. Then finally I turned a corner and was at the end of the motu. The reef extended a long way further south, but the island curved to the west. Lands end. I walked out to the farthest rock I could reach. Beyond that it was just ocean, for about 3500 miles until you reached the coast of Antarctica. That was far enough for me. A good hike but by the time I got back to the bungalow I was glad to get out of the sun for the rest of the day.
Besides a good hike every day, we did spend an hour in the exercise room at the resort. We were serious about trying to lose weight and get in condition for hiking season this year. So even though we were on vacation, we weren't just lying around.
But you don't go to the tropics to go hiking. It should be about the water. One of the fun things that happened every day at the resort was the feeding of the stingrays. The lagoon had a sandy bottom and no reef. Not the best habitat for most fish but it was perfect for rays. There was a large population of stingrays and they had been trained. Every day at 1:30 somebody came out on the beach. He would blow a conch horn to "call" the stingrays. Actually, most of the stingrays showed up about a half hour before feeding time. Kind of like our dog Laney poking us when it is getting close to her meal time. The guy would wade out with a bucket of fish scraps. Most of the guests who came to watch stayed on shore but a few would participate. Since we have done a lot of scuba dives with rays in places like Stingray City in Grand Cayman, we certainly weren't afraid of them. So we were the first to wade in and help feed the rays. They are funny animals, like a cross between a dog and a cat. Like a dog, they will bump into you and poke you with their nose (do they have a nose? ok, whatever it is that they have in front). Like a cat, they will swim around you and brush against your legs. They are actually really smart fish. It is funny how they bug you to get fed. They certainly reminded me of Laney.
But of course most of the people are afraid of the rays. Every day some lady would shriek when a ray swam against her legs. And big guys were taking pictures but being very careful to stay out of the water. Usually someone would be telling some story "you know the Crocodile Hunter was killed by a stingray - stabbed through the heart". Yes, we know. Wanna bet these people talk on their cell phones while they drive? They need to take a course on risk analysis. But it was good because it meant we could play with the rays while the other people watched.
Although they claimed that the rays were summoned by the conch horn, I didn't buy it. But then later I had to reconsider. It turns out that the other resorts nearby, the Four Seasons and St. Regis are on the next motu to the north, also feed the stingrays every day. That means the stingrays are busy going from resort to resort all day to be fed. Tough life. But maybe they do in fact hear the horn and that's how they know where to go. They don't have watches to know what time it is and which resort to go to next. Interesting.
Besides the stingrays we saw a lot of other sea life. Every time we walked to or from our bungalow we could see lots of fish from the pier. The resort put baskets of leftover bread along the rail. You could throw the bread in the water to feed the fish. When you did that, there were a lot of fish that showed up. They were definitely opportunistic.
Since we walked along the pier to our bungalow many times a day we always kept watch to see what might be in the lagoon. Several times we saw stingrays swimming by. Apparently they individuals that didn't get the correct schedule of feeding times at all the resorts. Twice we saw a spotted eagle ray. And once we saw a nurse shark. It was a pretty good size one - about five feet long. Very cool.
Although the resort was small it seemed like we were busy every day. But we did venture off the resort once. We wanted to see the main island. Actually it was because I looked in the tiny store at the resort and they didn't have any good tshirts. No way was I coming back from a major vacation without some cool Bora Bora tshirts. Sandy was agreeable. She heard that since cruise ships stop at Bora Bora occasionally there are several jewelry stores in the main village. So it was time to check the shuttle schedule. We were going to the main island and visiting town.
Our trip into town took most of the day. After breakfast we headed to the boat dock to catch the shuttle to the Intercontinental Le Moana. The boat ride was about half an hour long and as good as taking a tour boat. As we traveled around the lagoon the perspective on the central mountains of the island changed. From our resort Mt. Otamanu looks like a slender peak. From the south we could see the more traditional view of it as a long ridge that used to be part of the ancient caldera. We just saw it edge on from our bungalow.
We briefly looked around the other resort when we got there. Probably ok, but not as nice as our resort. If we had gone to the Le Moana it would have been great. But by comparison to where we were, it didn't come off as well. Older. Just not quite as nice. But it was still very pretty there. The water in the lagoon was much deeper and therefore a much deeper blue color. There was a nice beach too although the wind was really blowing while we were there. Don't know it it was like that all the time.
From the resort we caught the bus into town. Our driver was quite a character. He kept up a running commentary all the way to town. "Everyone on Bora Bora knows me" he says. "Just ask them." He told us story after story. Entertaining, never mind the fact that each story contradicted the story before. So one time he wasn't married. Another time he had a wife. Another time he had two exwives. He had no children. He had lots of children. The guy should have been doing a stand up routine in LA.
We got to the main town of Vaitape. It was underwhelming. Definitely small. The bus driver parked and said that we had two hour to explore. Sandy and I quickly decided to split up. She headed for the jewelry stores. I set off looking for tshirts.
Vaitape is a small town. It has just under 5000 residents. There was a small central district which had some tshirt shops, jewelry stores, and a few places to eat. But it was really just a village. Two hours was plenty of time for both of us.
But besides the town it was an interesting place. From Vaitape the structure of the ancient volcano that formed Bora Bora was really obvious. You could see the circle of the bay and how it fit with the circle of mountains at the center of the island, the only part of the rim of the ancient volcano still standing. A fascinating and beautiful place.
We got our shopping done. I found a couple of tshirts (good ones too). Sandy found a really nice pearl necklace (hey, is anyone keeping score here?). So our shopping expedition was successful. We even hit the market and got some supplies: Diet Coke, wine, fruit and various munchies to take back to the resort with us. Then we piled on the bus for the trip back to the (other) resort, and then by boat back to our resort. We were back "home" by midafternoon.
That's pretty much what we did on our vacation in Bora Bora. It was an incredible trip. We loved it. But it might not be for everyone. Even with the luxurious accomadations, French Polynesia has a few rough edges. For example, when we arrived at our bungalow, as soon as the bellman dropped off our bags and left we spotted a gecko sitting on the table in the living room. From our two and a half years of living in Singapore I am pretty experienced with getting geckos out of an apartment. I picked up the welcome note from the management, encouraged the lizard to climb onto the piece of paper, and then carried him out of our hut. I had another run in with a gecko later. One evening we went to dinner. I sat down, unfolded my napkin, and out dropped a tiny lizard right onto the table in front of me. I think that he was a lot more suprised than I was. We played with him for a while until he got tired and jumped off the table. We were fine with all of this but some people might like a more antiseptic environment.
Overall this was an incredible vacation. We have been to a lot of tropical islands but we thought that Bora Bora was the most beautiful island we have ever visited. The resort was super luxurious. We couldn't ask for more. Before we left we were already making plans to come back. Next year for sure.
If you would like to daydream about a trip to Bora Bora yourself, check out this great live webcam view in HD.
I'll finish with a music video with great shots of the resort and then some extra photos that we took on the trip.