Bora Bora: it’s called paradise for a reason


Writer Heather Greenwood Davis stands atop Mount Popoti after an ATV tour of Bora Bora.Heather Greenwood Davis / The Globe and Mail

I don’t make bucket lists. I prefer a more direct approach: Find a 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 with a serious aversion to winter, 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 to get water. The streaked blues – tiffany, turquoise, cyan, cerulean, cobalt and sapphire – are legendary. I’m there as soon as time permits. It is clearer than my tap water at home and it sometimes appears golden thanks to the white sand clearly visible on its lagoon bottom.

I snorkel among rainbow-colored corals and clams, watch reef sharks and stingrays, and stupidly smile at pufferfish and parrots (and so many) others) who continue to ignore my presence.

After each swim, I dry myself off on sunny hammocks or swings placed in the sea. Views of the green mountains always present.

And throughout it all, I feel my anxiety disappearing. I trade cable TV-fueled nightmares for long evenings watching the sun go down, sipping pretty drinks and heaving deep sighs.

Above: The overwater villas of the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort. Below: a candlelit dinner at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.St. Regis Resort and Spa

If all I had done was stare at the water all day while the world’s troubles faded away, my dreams would have come true. But I quickly realize that my dreams of Bora Bora may go further than what I have read in magazines or seen in luxury advertisements. The physical beauty of the island captivates me at first, but I quickly realize that there is a lot more below the surface.

I have one of my first glimpses of this deeper connection gently floating along the waters on a Polynesian canoe with Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tours. Owner Nariihau Taruoura and his wife started the business in 2019 in hopes of keeping tourists away from their overwater bungalows and connecting them to the history, culture and crafts of his ancestors.

Nariihau Taruoura, founder and guide of Bora Bora Cultural Lagoon Tours, offers excursions that showcase the region’s natural offerings as well as Polynesian history and culture.Heather Greenwood Davis / The Globe and Mail

I walk away from our experience with a greater appreciation for the skill required to create the beaded bracelets for sale in gift shops, a healthier respect for how people have long lived off the bounty of the earth, and sore arms after trying a short paddle in a traditional outrigger canoe.

And during a mountain bike excursion to Mount Popoti, the guide Toiki Ferrand, a young Polynesian so proud of the natural wonders of his country that it seems to ooze from his pores, ends my visit with a visit to the family compound. The Faanui Valley site is a garden oasis where the family’s art studio is located overlooking the bay below. There I watch her aunt lovingly paint her hand laden with hibiscus pareos (fabric envelopes). With each brushstroke, they transform. And as hokey as it sounds, on this dream getaway I’m transformed too.

The writer traveled as a guest of Tahiti Tourism and Air Tahiti Nui. They have not reviewed or approved this article.

A guest dives into the lagoonarium at the St. Regis Resort and Spa.Heather Greenwood Davis / The Globe and Mail

If you are going to

Flights usually arrive in Tahiti in the late evening and you will probably need a hotel for the night before your flight to Bora Bora in the morning (I stayed at the Hilton Tahiti). Tiurai Tours provided excellent service for trips to and from the airport.

The five-star St. Regis Resort and Spa offers the view of Mount Otemanu you probably saw in the photos, and the terrace of the Lagoon by Jean-Georges restaurant offers incredible views of the sunset. The large complex provides each guest with a bicycle, which makes getting around fun and easy. The hotel has the area’s largest entry-level overwater villas at 1,550 square feet. Prices start at around $ 2,500 per night based on double occupancy in low season and include daily breakfast for two. Round-trip boat transfers to the hotel from the airport can be arranged in advance (approximately $ 179 per person). Family options for up to eight people are also available. All accommodation has a private outdoor dining area and lounge.

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