The very first time I visited the island of Bora Bora, (a lagoon enclosed by a coral reef) the most famous in the group of the Society Islands which include Tahiti in the South Pacific, I came away saying I had come from Boring Boring. I was far too young to appreciate the dramatic mountain, Mount Otemanu, the island’s trademark that looks like a pregnant woman, too hyper to sit on the white sand and just enjoy the sound of the swish of the turquoise waters, or to learn about the magic of the Polynesian culture. But how times have changed. Then, being about 17 years ago, there were only a few decent hotels on the island. Now the plethora of deluxe accommodations makes it difficult to decide which one. I chose the newest of the luxury hotels, Sofital Coralia Motu . This new private gem-like motu (islet) with a complex of 30 thatched woven pandanus leaf roofs, peue-lined fares (bungalows), 20 sitting on stilts over the azure and coral filled water, is breath taking.
After the Air Tahiti Nui’s landing, at Vaitape Airport on Motu Mute, this on the edge of the barrier reef, our luggage is placed on one waiting boat while a few of us staying at the islet hotel, take the waiting water taxi, the only way to get to Sofitel Coralia Motu’s Motu Piti Uu’uta.. The 25-minute boat ride takes us over various shades of aqua water, the perfect introduction to this visually exquisite part of the world. As we approach the dock, I see an 18 meter conical thatched roof building which I could only describe as gigantic, but similar in shape structure, as Madonna’s bra-outfits. The lobby cum restaurant, which I will soon discover has an exceptional French born and trained chef, is the meeting place.
While our luggage is being delivered to our cabins, we have lunch of delicious tomato soup, fresh Mahi Mahi and sand lobster garnished with turnips, carrots and a reduced lobster sauce but even while enthusing about the meal, the detailing of the building doesn’t go unnoticed. Kohu wood imported from Indonesia is effectively uses for the beams, tables and chairs, done by local craftsmen.. Shortly after the far too caloric dessert of hazelnut mouse, we change into our hiking gear. The general manager, Dennis de Schrevel, reminds us not to forget to take bug repellent, I don’t know what I’m in for but we take the small shuttle boat to the facing, sister hotel, Sofitel Marara where we climb into the waiting truck, always referred to as ‘le truck,’. We arrive at a 12-hectare estate, Pension Chez Ato, where Ato and his young wife and two young children are waiting. After a short and whimsical lecture about preparing a coconut, we’re ready for our so-called soft adventure. The only give-away that perhaps Ato isn’t as young as he seems, is his grey hair. The former French banker is so agile, without an inch to pinch of fat and he’s 70. I see why he stays in such great shape as he hacks away at branches and offensive leaves. Soon we’re climbing the still slippery hills from the evening’s torrential rain. Ato is barefoot and doesn’t even give a hint of unsteadiness while the rest of us carefully hang on to whatever tree, branch – anything we can find. First he takes us through the floral part of his grounds. So many unfamiliar names, such a palette of color, what a fragrant aroma! We climb high and further into the rain forest. Ato points out the endless variety of vegetation, herbs, many still used for medicinal purposes. After 3 hours, while some of us are longing for the promised fresh juices and fruit at the end of this botanical journey, Ato is still energized and negotiating to show us more. We relent and maybe, he was keeping the best for last. There is a huge and ancient petroglyph in the shape of a tortoise and a pond, the “Queen’s tub” which dates back unknown thousands of years. Ato urges me to take a strange plant, looking like a large bulbous notched red radish. “After you wash your hair, just squeeze out the lotion and rub it into your hair,” he suggests. I must admit to being skeptical however this natural conditioner turns out to be astonishing.
Day 2. Today after breakfast, we take the water ferry across to the mainland (five minutes away) where le truck takes us to the Povai dock near the famous (infamous?) Bloody Mary’s . Obviously, it’s far too early to even contemplate imbibing but this famous restaurant is the meeting place for Richard, our captain of the 50 foot catamaran, Tara Vana, on which famous stars have also spent the days cruising – Kurt Russell, Charlie Sheen, Pearce Brosnan, Ringo Starr. The breeze is perfect and soon the sails are fluttering in the gentle but effective gust. After an hour, Captain Richard puts down the anchor and without any hesitation we all swim in the warmest turquoise water. Today the sun is at our latitude –immediately overhead. “You’ll be toast if you don’t put on tons of sun screen,” Captain Richard warns us. The water is perfectly clear; the countless species of colorful tropical fish are easy to see in the crystal clear water even without equipment although some opt to wear snorkel gear and flippers. After doing my Esther Williams session for about a half-hour, we’re told that lunch is ready. The table, in the galley, has been set out with plates of seafood, turkey, chicken and many salads. About 4 PM we dock and head for Bloody Mary’s Restaurant-Bar where each evening you can choose from the large selection of seafood, steak or chicken. But almost everyone starts off with the world famous drink. I discover that the managing partner was born in Montreal and “wouldn’t and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else ” than this South Seas paradise. The sand floor has created a new notion a la coat checks. There are shoe check boxes. Nobody wears footwear here.
It seems not only is the water the star attraction, but a helicopter flight for 15 minutes over this lagoon makes you want to run away from home. At one point I feel as though we’ve just skimmed the mountainside. But it’s the various shades of the Pacific that really are breathtaking.
Although it’s been a full day, there’s still another ‘act’. A buffet dinner and show is being held at the Hotel Marara. There’s an interesting story about this hotel’s origins. It was originally was built in l977 by director Dino De Laurentis for his star, Mia Farrow and the crew while shooting the movie, The Hurricane. It was sold to the Sofitel group about 19 years ago, which added many of the very luxe touches, which now are available.
After a torrential rainstorm during the night I‘m sure our planned activities for day 3 would be cancelled. However, in this part of the world, just 17 degrees south of the equator, weather changes quickly. Soon the sun is hot and overhead and we canoe to a shark-infested area. Here, John Delors, carries a bucket of fish and actually goes into the water. Within a nanosecond there were at least l0 four foot long black tailed sharks circling our boat and Delors. “They won’t bother you . They aren’t dangerous,” he tries to convince me. A few brave souls go into the water but heed the suggestion to behind the rope, which had been placed there for us. The view from the boat is even better and at one point, Delors throws several pieces of fish, which incite incredible shark frenzy. From there we head to an open area, clear of sharks, I am promised. Now, so infatuated with the water, we dive in for a refreshing swim. It’s so shallow that standing and walking is easy and getting sun burned is inevitable. Soon we’re heading off to yet another area, this time for sea creature feeding. This time it’s for the friendly mamarays, flat disc- shaped creatures with long strange tails and white undersides, which snuggle up to us. Their mouths seemed to be where their navels would have been placed and they “smooch” with the swimmers.
This evening , I go native and I wear my newly purchased floral pareo. We watch the sunset of brilliant orange and red. When it disappears, Dennis has a surprise for us. For the first time since the hotel opened in August 1999, he and his staff have prepared something special and unique at the top of the mountain of the motu, up and behind the hotel. It could only be described as a movie set. Under a white tent, the poles covered with palm leaves are two buffet tables elaborately decorated with flowers and fruits, the food perfectly displayed, Over at the other side the chef busily grills beef and fish. The long table looks regal with more flowers and red overlays. The twenty guests are speechless as a gentle breeze makes the evening cooler and the native dancers performance makes even the shyest onlooker want to get up and shake those hips
I could only say that the reality is better than the promotional pamphlets.