You can tell how good some places are by their airport. This isn’t a tried and true method, of course. Some not so good places have good airports, some good places have bad airports, and some great places have no airport at all. Sometimes the fact that a place doesn’t have an airport is part of what makes that place so special.
Bora Bora is one of those great places with a great airport. We visited Bora Bora nearly four years ago in 2013, after Kathryn’s last deployment. Although part of the goodness of it all was remembering that trip, this visit was all good in its own right as well.
Bora Bora’s airport is tiny. It has one runway, one gate, one baggage claim, one check-in counter, one coffee shop. The one baggage claim is just a couple of shelves near the one exit where someone pulls up on an orange tractor and hands the bags over.
Although its size does make it endearing, it’s the location that makes it so cool. The main island of Bora Bora is largely mountainous. Motus, or small islets, surround the island and form a peaceful lagoon. The airport is on one of the motus. Since it is not connected by land to the main island, the airport public transportation, and hotel taxis are all boats.
(The one coffee shop is called “Pora Pora.” You may be thinking that is a fun play on both the name of the island and the fact coffee is poured; at least, I did. If so, you’d be wrong; at least, I was. Bora Bora is in French Polynesia, and “pour” isn’t “pour” in French, so that play on words wouldn’t make any sense. Also, and probably more importantly, the name of the island was Pora Pora before Europeans arrived and thought the locals were saying Bora Bora.
I told Kathryn how great an idea it was to put a coffee shop in the airport. My thought was you must take a boat here and all, and where else are people going to get food or drinks? I failed to mention that, though, and her blank stare turned into a smile, “Yes, it is a great idea to put a coffee shop in an airport.” She patted my back and laughed.)
The plane landed and we were happy to note most things had not changed. We crossed the tarmac as passengers stopped for photos. In the terminal, hotel staff welcomed their guests with leis and smiles. We walked past our hotel staff and instead went to the baggage claim.
I grabbed our one checked bag and we also bypassed the hotel’s expensive boat. We boarded the airline’s free boat and immediately went to the open air second level. Every large hotel in Bora Bora offers a transfer from the airport, and the price is in accordance with most everything else there, very expensive. For the hotels on the motus, there isn’t another option. However, since our hotel was located on the main island, we were able to take the free boat and catch a taxi from the main dock at a fraction of what we would have paid on the hotel’s boat, more money for tropical drinks! By the way, we found this tip on Travel is Free, one of our favorite blogs!
The water was a gorgeous turquoise around the boat and fish swam about. Palms swayed in the wind, birds glided lazily, and Mount Otemanu stood watch in the distance. Ours was the first boat to depart the dock and we wondered if we would beat the other guests going to our hotel.
The water deepened and darkened as we pulled into the main channel of the lagoon. The trip really is like a dream, one from which you don’t want to wake. It’s hard not to smile in moments like those, and we normally don’t try too hard to fight the full-face show of joy.
Vaitape, the main town, came into view. The red-roofed church was still there and we even recognized some of the hotel boats that were tied up. We stepped onto the dock, two smiling people, in search of a taxi.
I wandered off into the parking lot. Kathryn stopped and asked where I was going. It seemed obvious to me, but I told her anyway that I was looking for a taxi. She asked why we didn’t just wait at the taxi stand. On such a small island I sometimes don’t expect these things to exist. However, that seemed like just as good as any other place to catch a ride to our hotel. I took the long way to meet her at the “Taxi” sign and a man beat us there by a few steps. Within a couple minutes a taxi van stopped right in front of us.
The man started loudly talking to the driver and his approaching friends. They had all just gotten off one of the hotel boats. Kathryn asked if they were headed to our hotel, but they were headed to a popular yacht club for food and drinks. While the man kept trying to get everyone where he wanted them the driver cleared the front seats. We joined the driver on the front bench, piled in with the man’s group of about eight others and set off.
They immediately started talking about parties and work while the three of us in the front seat sat silently. We gathered they were top salespeople for a major American insurance company who had been sent to the Four Seasons Bora Bora as either a reward or a work retreat.
After they had been dropped off, the three of us in the front seat agreed they were about to have a good time; our driver chuckled. We discussed the schedule of a taxi driver on Bora Bora (yesterday was boring with only one ride but today was busy and good). Once we had gotten out at our hotel, Intercontinental Le Moana, she gave us her card and instructed us to call her whenever we needed a ride, “Dora from Bora Bora, it’s easy to remember!” We all laughed and waved so long.
I asked Kathryn if that apparent work retreat convinced her to get a corporate job so she could go on them. “Nope,” was all she said, immediately. Although I didn’t expect her answer so quickly, I had to agree. It was quite a luxurious work trip, but we were also there and as our own bosses, albeit at a hotel that wasn’t the Four Seasons. We enjoy this travel method, and it’s much easier to tell your boss to f@*$ off this way (as long as it’s to yourself and not your spouse/business partner). Besides, I’d be a terrible insurance salesman.
The lady at the hotel reception was busy and seemed quite confused when we greeted her to check in. It turned out we did beat the other guests who were taking the hotel’s boat. She led us to the bar and gave us each a glass of juice and a scented moist towel while she gathered the necessary paperwork. People were lazing around and we could see the pool, beach, overwater bungalows, and lovely water. This was going to do just fine.
We both have an IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) branded credit card that awards one free night at any of their properties each year. The card does have a $49 annual fee, so you could say the “free” night is technically not free. Regardless, we were excited to stay two nights in a beachfront bungalow for $0 or $98, depending on how you look at it.
(Check out our first post about responsible credit card use if you’re interested in the more advanced uses, like this. This is just the beginning and we will post more information, but you should do more research to determine if this strategy is right for you.)
Another perk of the credit card is that it gives the card holder platinum status in the hotel’s loyalty program. This status provides welcome gifts and a free upgrade when it’s available. The same lady whom we surprised upon arrival told us they had upgraded us. She walked us through the gardens and we wondered what the upgrade meant. She turned onto the walkway that headed over the water! We were going to be in an overwater bungalow for two nights!
She unlocked the door, showed us our complimentary platinum member welcome fruit basket, and gave a quick tour. The bungalow was quite large, comfortable, air-conditioned, and had a glass coffee table that opened to a hole in the floor to watch the fish below. There was a great view of the lagoon even from the king-size bed. Like the rest of the hotel, it was furnished and decorated with lots of palms, a traditional Polynesian style.
But of course, the best part was walking onto the private deck. Two loungers were on either side of the sliding glass door. A shower was two steps down on the lower level. A ladder took you the last few feet into the crystal clear turquoise water (that seems to be an oxymoron, but Bora Bora is good like that). The water wasn’t deep enough to jump into, but it was oh so relaxing. We swear the water feels better in Bora Bora!
After soaking it in for a bit we decided to go for a stand-up paddleboard session. It had been months since we had done it, but after we convinced the attendant we knew what we were doing to some degree, we set off from shore. The boards were inflatable, which we had never seen before. The increased flexibility did take some getting used to, but we were soon past all the bungalows and into the main part of the lagoon.
A fish about three feet long kept darting at my board. I was pretty sure it was a shark based on how quickly it moved as I chased it. Its fins were also a close match, but I couldn’t confirm my guess because I had no goggles or camera. Kathryn was a bit away and unable to see it, so we followed some rays instead. The water was gorgeous and inviting, but the shallow depth prevented jumping off except in a calm and careful manner. We headed for deeper water.
As soon as we were over dark turquoise, we took the opportunity to jump into its cool embrace. It was one of those moments that make you sure there is no other place you would rather be.
While in Tahiti, Kathryn mentioned she had never figured out how to properly dive into water. Diving is such a wonderful sensation, I wanted to share it with her! I encouraged her to try it off her board – the water was much too inviting to just jump in, a dive would be more fitting!
My recommended method for ease of execution was to just keep leaning forward and let gravity take over. Although probably not technically a dive, I figured it would be easier than trying to push off the board since it would just move away and make a belly flop. The method works when you do it from a diving board or other raised surface due to your entry angle. It doesn’t work when you do it from essentially the surface of the water. Kathryn found this out the hard way, and we agreed that this was one of those times she shouldn’t trust me so much. My assurance that everyone belly flops when trying new water tricks did little to soothe the sting.
Our overwater bungalow was a great place to return to after an active afternoon. We got ready for happy hour and dinner by the beach, eager for a nice evening. That is such a vacation thing to do! You have your fun during the day. At the beach, it normally includes salt water, sand, and sun, so being clean in real clothes feels so good and fancy. Excitement builds as you leave your room (or bungalow) and head off towards the restaurant. The evening air is cool, the golden light is beautiful, the flowers smell lovely, and it’s all smiles.
We ordered two cocktails and settled into a couch by the pool overlooking the lagoon. The drinks were good, we had fish tacos for dinner, and the conversation flowed as it always does with good moods. We knew we would return the next day for the advertised live music. Our vacation was off to a great start.
Waking up in a new hotel for the first time is so promising. There is no telling what the day will bring! They had left some cookies for us the previous night that we had missed in the dark, and they were a pleasant surprise that went well with our coffee. Soon enough, we were on the water again, paddling away.
Stand-up paddleboards offer great views. Since you’re standing instead of sitting, like in a kayak, you can see a lot more of your surroundings. This is a great feature when coral and marine life are plentiful. Kathryn followed me and we soon found the “shark” from the previous day. I jumped in with goggles and the camera to confirm it was a shark.
The length estimate was accurate, about three feet long. It was certainly fast, zipping this way and that. The teeth were also formidable, jutting out of its mouth menacingly. But it wasn’t a shark. “Nope, it’s just a barracuda,” I called to her. Our disappointment showed a bit, but it was still cool to see such a big fish so close.
Turquoise, azure, sapphire, indigo, the water gradient was sublime as we paddled to the open lagoon. Dark splotches of coral broke it all up. Black and white spotted rays, pure grey rays, and other fish cruised through all the colors. Times like those make you proclaim, “This is gorgeous,” to whomever you are with more times than is necessary. They are there with you, after all. I think it’s because we all want to share our favorite things, and we don’t want those we love to miss any part of the beauty that surrounds us. It’s also just sometimes so amazing you don’t know what else to say.
We paddled around taking turns with our one set of goggles and camera. Though the sky was mainly cloudy, occasionally the sun burst through to illuminate the underwater world. It somehow got even better with the radiance. Whether on the board or in the water you just had to chuckle at your situation, thankful and happy.
At one point, Kathryn spotted four spotted rays in the depths. They were gliding and flying over the sandy bottom, the graceful pilots of the lagoon. Though I was too far to see them, I imagine it was magical, just like she said.
Storm clouds moved in to the west. The darkening sky made a dramatic contrast with the bright water. It was as if we were paddling in a two-color world – gray and turquoise. Although we didn’t snap a picture often, the ones we did take weren’t even close to how awesome the experience was in person. That’s nothing new, and why we are writing things down.
That night’s happy hour scene was hopping. The live music was quite a draw, and we snagged one of the last remaining seats. Our cocktails came and we settled in for the French Polynesian music. Soon, a classic Frank Sinatra standard began to play and a solo singer began crooning. This was not what I expected! It was technically French Polynesian, since that’s where we were. He was good and we were sure he had his resort rotation solidly booked.
The show was a draw to the locals as well. Friends would greet each other at different tables, and occasionally at the microphone. One guy, in particular, was partying and sang a couple songs with the artist, to include the last number. We sensed the singer’s frustration but also guessed it wasn’t an unusual occurrence, something like, “Seriously?! It’s my last song of the night! We talked about this last week!” The mood wasn’t tarnished, though, and it was clear everyone had a great night.
Although the next morning was dampened a bit by the fact it was our last one at the hotel, it was still excellent to wake up in that place. Luckily, it was only day three of two weeks in Bora Bora, so our moods weren’t the normal forlorn ones that come with leaving a hotel on the last day of a vacation. Dora from Bora Bora was waiting to pick up other guests.
While we waited for our host to arrive we crossed the street to a gorgeous public beach. A large palm-roofed pavilion was four feet from a white sand beach. The same beautiful water we so easily fell in love with lapped against it and went as far as you could see. Waves broke along the barrier reef and motus. A curved bay embraced it all. This was Matira Beach, and a spot to where we would absolutely visit.
We’ve now returned to several places years after our first visits. It’s always a bit unnerving to go back to a place you loved. Will it be different? If it is different, will it be worse? Will I constantly compare it to the last time we were here? Bora Bora was an amazing vacation for us in 2013, for more reasons than it is a gorgeous island. We were pretty sure this trip would be great as well, and our first two nights certainly didn’t disappoint us. We were ready for more and happy to not be leaving.
© Cheers Life Partners 2017