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Bora Bora: Sharks, Jet Skis and Beaches

Swimming with Blacktip Reef Sharks

It would certainly be easy to spend all day in Bora Bora relaxing on the beach, but there’s plenty of other stuff to do as well, so we thought we’d take advantage. There’s a huge list of activities offered by the Le Meridien, but after talking to the staff, we decided on two: the highly rated Ray and Shark Feeding excursion and the Jet Ski tour.

The Ray and Shark Feeding excursion departed early the next morning from the hotel. After a bit of orientation, we were soon on our way to the first of three sites, where we would jump in the water with some blacktip reef sharks. There were plenty of jokes about sharks eating tourists and the like, but in reality they aren’t aggressive and would require some serious provoking before they’d even think of attacking. In our case, they were far more interested in their usual food (chum tossed in the water by our guides) than the curious onlookers in the water with them. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to be a bit nervous when getting in the open ocean with dozens of sharks.

Playing with stingrays

Our next stop took us to a shallow part of the lagoon populated by a large group of stingrays. Our guide hopped in the water and lured in one swimming near his feet. Though a bit feisty at first, the stingray was pretty calm by the time we got in the water. We took turns petting it before our guide gave it a big sloppy kiss for the camera. Lest you be concerned for the stingray’s welfare, they seem to be pretty used to the attention, since multiple excursions are out there every day and the guides feed them in exchange for their trouble.

Busted by the fuzz!

Our third and final stop was to a reef home to hundreds of brightly colored fish. After swimming with the fish for a while, we started our journey back to the hotel. About halfway back though, we were stopped by the local police. Unable to understand much French, we didn’t really know what was going on, but we were told it was something about not wearing lifejackets. I’m not sure if our guides ended up with a citation, but it made for a rather interesting end to the tour. An excellent excursion overall though, highly recommended for your visit.

Our jetski tour was the following day, so we met our tour guide on the hotel’s beach and were on our merry way. Now, you may think you have a great job, maybe even one of the best. But I’ll tell you, after talking to our guy, I’m pretty sure that “Bora Bora Jet Ski Tour Guide” is the best job out there. What’s not to love? Apparently he’s been there for 4 years and will be returning to France soon, so there may be an opening coming up. Act fast, I’m sure the position won’t be open for long!

Jetskiing by some bungalows

Our tour took us on a loop through the lagoon around the main island, with the occasional stop for some history or information about the area. We saw a couple World War II installations on the hillside and some of the smaller, privately owned islands. About midway through the tour, we stopped at another shallow portion of the lagoon, tied the jetskis together and just enjoyed the water and scenery. After a while, when the pineapple and coconut ran out, we returned to the jetskis and made our way back to the hotel.

A resident of the Lagoonarium

Left with a little more time after the tour, we headed over to the hotel’s lagoonarium. As you may recall, the Le Meridien is home to a turtle sanctuary. Though the youngsters are kept in a more protected area, the adults are free to roam through the enclosed lagoon and interact with the hotel’s guests. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to hang out with some turtles, we jumped in the water and started swimming. Turns out, the lagoon is pretty big, so it actually can take a bit to find them, but find them we did.

This was our last day at the Le Meridien, so we parted ways with the turtles and retreated to the bungalow to clean up and pack. But our trip wasn’t over yet. Since Kristen still had a few Starpoints left, we planned to visit both of the Starwood hotels in Bora Bora. Next stop, the St. Regis!

Pure relaxation

Bora Bora: Arrival and the Le Meridien

Bora Bora from the Air Tahiti flight

Though geographically remote, Tahiti feels like most other tropical island destinations. There are still shopping centers, lots of restaurants and supermarkets with plenty of American food (including some that can’t be found in Australia… jackpot!) Bora Bora, on the other hand, feels like miles away from everything. Perhaps it’s the landscape or the insulated nature of the resorts, but the place is just a pure escape from reality.

Bora Bora taxi line

The Air Tahiti flight from Papeete was only about an hour with a stop in the middle at Moorea, another nearby island. The views from the propeller-driven plane were spectacular, serving to heighten the anticipation of the travelers (mostly honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries and the occasional professional athlete). After a great flyby of the island, we landed on the solitary airstrip and headed over to baggage claim. The airstrip on Bora Bora was actually the first on French Polynesia, built by the U.S. military during World War II as part of their fortification of the island. Perhaps not the legacy that we would like to leave behind, but the activity and infrastructure no doubt promoted economic growth on the island.

Our overwater bungalow at the Le Meridien

After collecting our bags, we walked outside and met our boat to take us to the hotel. Since the airport and each of the hotels sit on their own island, the only way to get around is by boat. Not that this is a bad way to travel… more anticipation and excitement. After a quick 15 minute ride to the Le Meridien, we checked in and took a quick tour of the hotel before hopping on a golf cart (seriously) and heading to our bungalow.

"Tahitian Television"

Of the many iconic elements of Bora Bora, the overwater bungalows stand out as one of the most recognizable. Though you can get beach- or lagoon-front bungalows as well, if you’re making the trip, why not go for over the water? Each bungalow comes with its own balcony and ladder directly into the lagoon below and is connected by a series of golf cart-size catwalks back to the main hotel. You also get what’s called a “Tahitian Television”, which is, well, just check out the picture.

The Le Tipanie restaurant

After settling in and unpacking a bit, we set out to explore some more of the hotel. In addition to the sets of overwater bungalows, there were also several larger units on the edge of the lagoonarium. A combination of a lagoon and an aquarium, the Le Meridien’s lagoonarium is basically a giant swimming pool inhabited by a variety of fish and turtles. We finished off the night at the hotel’s main restaurant, Le Tipanie. Situated on the edge of the lagoonarium, you can check out the fish and turtles while enjoying dinner thanks to the underwater lighting. The meals were great – local fare and an elaborate buffet – but the setting stole the show.

It’s difficult to articulate the serenity of a place like Bora Bora. As habitual city-dwellers, Kristen and I are pretty used to a constant level of ambient noise and activity. Here, there’s nothing between you, the sand, the sun and the sky, and endless ocean between you and the rest of the world. It really has to be experienced to be understood. Of course, there are still plenty of activities if you’re interested, and we were. Stay tuned 🙂

Ryan, Kristen and Mount Otemanu

Pictures from Tahiti: May 2011

Pictures from part 1 of the Tahiti and Bora Bora trip. More are on the way!

Tahiti and the Le Meridien – May 2011

Tahiti Safari and Le Belvedere Dinner – May 2011