ROAD TOUR AROUND BORA BORA
Read in conjunction with this site’s Map of Bora Bora on which the placement of sites mentioned in this report are recorded.
Vaitape is the logical place from which to commence a tour. A 32km sealed road encircles the island almost totally by the edge of the lagoon. It is a matter of personal choice but I prefer the clockwise run with a morning start for the sheer beauty of the spectacle that awaits you & the chance to take in lunch at a choice of destinations as part of the overall experience.
1. A Guided Tour
This is probably the best option for most – undertaken in a high ground clearance 4×4 with appropriate ‘nobbly’ tyres, it’s the only option for those lacking a good level of fitness & wishing to climb to the many elevated sites & vantage points.
Many of the sights to be visited are on private property & the guides will have arrangements in place to permit entry to the places they take you. This raises the issue of your knowing where you wish to go – do your research in advance, know what you want to see & then make sure the tour being proposed by your guide will/can take you there.
TIP: Tour operator have their own planned routes – know what you want & ensure you will see it before booking. Book directly with the tour operator – you can save a significant amounts.
2. Motorbike or Scooter (or Car)
Gives you the freedom to choose when & where you eat, swim, or whatever. With no guide, however, you must know where you wish to go. The climbs you will wish to undertake are TOTALLY unsuitable for bikes. Be sure to secure bikes properly on any occasion you leave them. As a general rule – if you are not fit enough to ride a bicycle around the island you will not be fit enough to make some of the climbs you may wish to undertake
TIP: Rent from a company providing road service &, if taking a motorbike or scooter, ask for a security chain.
The same factors apply as in 2.) above but a bicycle is a good option for the fit. Its not a difficult road with only a couple of small hills to climb. Those fit enough to ride will logically be fit enough to be able to undertake any walk up to any desired vantage point.
It’s feasible if you are fit & have the time – start early!
NOTE: There is a lot to see & do on a “full” island tour but as there is little information available to assist tourists it’s difficult for them to know what they want to see. It can become quite frustrating trying firstly to determine & secondly to then locate what it is you wish to see.
This report gives you an insight into the major points of interest for tourists – full details of what you can see & do, where to go & how to get there, times/difficulty involved & much, much more. I kid you not – many locals would not have yet visited several of the sites mentioned here. Read closely the information to help you determine those activities that you wish to ensure are included in any tour that you consider undertaking.
We headed north out of Vaitape on bicycle ensuring we had plenty of water & a snack (note that petrol is available at 2 petrol stations on your left opposite the 2 supermarkets heading north out of town; no petrol is available outside of Vaitape) continuing around to Farepiti Wharf, built by the Americans during WWII it now serves as Bora Bora’s deep water wharf for larger vessels. West of the wharf, on the point facing Teavanui Pass lies Marae Marotetini (later known as Fare-rua).
Maraes are sacred grounds of rectangular shape often constructed on the coast so that visiting kings could walk on the marae without touching the land, a form of claiming the land in the time of ancient warriors. A huge altar of a great height often crafted from coral stood at one end. Maraes were used for the worship of gods & other important events such as births, funerals or in times of crisis (war, for example). Offerings consisted of fruit, vegetables, fish, pigs & dogs but during ceremonies in times of great crisis a young male human could be sacrificed – females (other than of the highest rank) were not permitted to even walk on a marae. Captain Cook witnessed a human sacrifice where the victim was held securely in place on a platform whilst priest smashed his skull with a mace.
We walked along the shoreline to Marae Marotetini (watching for any dogs) restored in 1968 by Professor Yosihiko Sinoto. In his novel Hawaii, James Michener had his fictional Polynesians leave this point to discover and settle the Hawaiian Islands. There are 2 large tombs near the marae in which members of Bora Bora’s royal family were buried last century – the southernmost is that of King Tapoa (the dogs ensured we had no chance of taking a photo). Their remains were removed by family & buried elsewhere so as to prevent desecration.
Two true stories concerning Marae Marotetini that will enthral readers:
Milas Hinshaw, the American cinematographer recounts: “In 1973 my son Tom & I discovered the skeletal remains of a human arm & part of a jawbone in front of the altar of Marae Marotetini, pushed to the surface by land crabs. Despite warnings from the locals, we took the bones as souvenirs. Shortly after my right arm became swollen to twice its normal size, followed by a swelling of the right side of my jaw. Upon taking the bones back to Los Angeles, Tom’s leg was broken in several places during a freak motorcycle accident, followed by a series of family sicknesses & bad luck that did not stop until we returned the bones to Marotetini in 1976.”
An interesting story from a reliable source (my wife who worked on the set of ‘Hurricane’) is that of Mia Farrow’s experience at Marae Marotetini. A scene for the movie was being shot on the marae. Whilst waiting for her part Mia Farrow noticed a statuette found by one of the Tahitian stage hands who kindly presented it to her. She returned home with the statuette & soon after developed a very high fever & severe swelling in one leg. The film’s doctor could find no cause for her illness. A tahua (Tahitian priest) was called who after learning of her taking the statuette from the marae told her to return it forthwith. In doing so the actress quickly recovered.
On the hillside some 200m or so along the island road past Marae Marotetini lies a 4×4 access road to 2 Cannons on Point Pahua of a total of 8 installed on Bora Bora by the Americans during WWII. We secured our bikes at the foot of a 10-12 minute climb at a steady pace – the first 5 minutes is fairly strenuous but takes you to a level area with fine views over the lagoon & mountains –Teavanui Pass, the Pearl Beach Resort & the motus running down to the airport in front of you & Faanui Bay & Mts Pahia & Otemanu behind you:
From there a further, but easier, 5 minute effort is well rewarded in finding 2 cannons perched high on the hill of an area known as Poo Po Uri Roa. As the word uri means penis & roa means big, the derivation of the name merits further investigation.
The site offers sensational views leftwards over Vaitape, Motu Toopua & Teavanui Pass whilst from the right, the Pearl Beach Resort & the motus extending up to the airport:
If climbing in the late afternoon stay for a brilliant sunset, or if thirst is getting you, head down to the Bora Bora Yacht Club – lagoon-side just past Farepiti Wharf on your way back to town – for the best cold beer/brilliant sunset combination possible!
Extensive information, indeed the only full account on-line, on how to reach ALL of Bora Bora’s cannons can be found here in the special report Locating Bora Bora’s Cannons.
Back in the saddle heading northwards we could clearly see the remains of Marae Taianapa on the mountainside just past the Brasserie de Tahiti depot. The marae which dates back to around 1400AD & was the first marae restored (by Emory in 1963) in the Leeward Islands is of interest due to its association with the chieftess Unutea & her sickly younger brother Maehai. After Unutea married Raanui the chief of Tupuai, Raanui became jealous of the love of his people for Maehai to the extent that he killed him. Unutea would avenge the death of her brother by in turn killing her husband & subsequently building Marae Taianapa.
In 1981 several giant human footprints were found at water’s edge in front of Marae Taianapa. Government officials & the press rushed to the site, but the mystery remains unsolved. (If you wish to visit the marae first seek permission of the owners of the land on which the marae stands – they can be found in the house directly behind the marae).
Continuing on to Fa’anui one is welcomed by its lovely church standing graciously at the head of the bay behind which one can access Mt Pahia & the Valley of the Kings. A little further along the island road is Marae Fare Opu or what remains of it as half of it was recklessly buried under the roadway! Its petroglyphic turtles carved into the huge coral stones of the ahu (altar) are worth a look. Almost immediately after the marae is the small boat harbour which was used by the Americans as a submarine base during the war.
There are another two gun mounts on the hills of Tereia Point access to which we found mountainside some 20m or so past the ferry stop for the Pearl Beach Resort. Its an easy climb to the Cannons on Tereia Point. One of the two cannons has been disassembled:
We rode on to Taihi Point, the mountainside behind which was used by the Americans as their WWII radar station & watch tower – Popoti lookout as the Tahitains know it. The not easy to find access is via a steep 4×4 route on the western side of the point (its on private property so ask permission of the owners in the unlikelihood of being challenged). There is usually no concern for those willing to take the time consuming & strenuous walk up & back – the reward is 360 degrees of magic; an absolutely mind-blowing array of views. I’ll let the photos do the talking, starting with this shot half way up:
Views over the Pearl Beach Resort:
Postcard shots from every angle you look; its staggeringly beautiful. The stretch of sand where the ‘big’ hotels are installed:
The motus out towards the airport:
Through monoliths across to Tahaa & Raiatea:
Stroll out to this rock & climb to its peak; you’ll want to stay forever. Yes from here you can see clearly the famously heart-shaped atoll of Tupai but I’ll leave that to you to discover:
This is unquestionably the best mountain-top viewpoint in Bora Bora – an absolute knock-out array of unendingly spectacular scenery. Be sure to find it in reading the report on Locating Bora Bora’s Cannons.
On the road again, we were extremely thirsty after the long haul up & down Point Taihi & so grabbed a couple of the coconuts being sold roadside – EXCELLENT way to quench the thirst!
Just around the actual point of Taihi Point on the lagoon-side you’ll find the Musee de la Marine (Maritime Museum) a privately owned collection of model boats built by Bertrand Darasse & related to Tahiti’s history and exploration. Entry is by donation. Below is a photo of Bertrand, beside him the second only model he made at the age of 17 (he made his first model at 15 years of age) – both models were exhibited in the Maritime Museum in Paris in the year in which each was constructed:
The ride southwards offered scenic outlooks over Haamaire and Taimoo Bays before the road climbed slightly upon reaching Fitiiu Point, the main island’s most eastern point. We stopped at the top upon seeing the awe inspiring view of Mt Otemanu. High up on Otemanu you can see Te Ana Opea, the cave where Veri the legendary centerpede lived. The cave can be reached by a somewhat difficult track but the reward is eye-popping ecstacy with sensational views of the world’s best lagoon, the world’s best hotels & over the motus to Tahaa & Raiatea – read the Report on Mt Oemanu’s Cave here. Fregate birds now nest in the cave.
As you look down over Varou Bay you will see Marae Aehautai on the bay’s shoreline:
You are overlooking the district of Anau from where Marlon Brando’s wife Tarita comes. There are a number of Marae’s in the area & the remains of a ‘pa’ (traditional fortress) but the missionaries spared little from destruction & Aehautai remains the most intact.
Whilst taking in the view photographed above you may notice two houses perched atop the road on the lagoon-side. Behind them is a well defined track which leads along the ridge of the point. You’ll need permission of the house owners to cross their property to reach the track – they are wonderful people predisposed to assist anyone taking the time to ask, as we did, but do ask. The track is a gem passing the huge boulder, known as Hiro’s Finger (though others mischievously indicate it represents another part of Hiro’s anatomy):
From here 2 American Cannons on Fitiiu Point are clearly visible towards the end of the point & you can continue all the way down to the cannons if you wish. The walk offers sensational views of the lagoon, of some of the world’s best hotels with their over-water bungalows, of Tahaa, Raiatea & even Huahine on a clear day:
Fetiiu Point is the area presently most frequented by manta rays. Manta rays have long lived & bred in the waters of Bora Bora, some in Teavanui Pass, more around Motu Toopua & mostly in the waters off Fetiiu Point. During the construction of hotels the number of rays was seen to decrease; thankfully they are now returning. Swimming with the rays makes for a truly exceptional outing – Check it out on the Report on Sharks, Stingrays & Manta Rays here.
From Anau one can access a track that crosses the island from end to end as well as a couple of other tracks from permitting access to the centre of the island – Teatae track which ends at Tevaitapu in Fa’anui valley & Apuapa track which leads to Amanahune.
We followed the coastal road onwards from Anau towards Matira Beach winding up past the former Club Med which sits beside Faaopore Bay. Recently purchased by Australian mining magnate, Clive Palmer, it is currently undergoing renovations:
Straight after Club Med on regaining the water’s edge is a captivating view of the Sofitel Private Island Resort, the Sofitel Resort Hotel &, in the distance, the overwater bungalows of the Intercontinental Moana Beach Resort. Here are shots of The Sofitel Private Island Resort & a shot taken later the same night of the moon rising over the Intercontinental Moana Beach:
Take the turn-off to the Intercontinental Moana Beach Hotel opposite which is the public access to Matira Beach with its large open thatched pavilion fronting the stunningly beautiful beach. It’s a great place from which to swim with facilities such as showers & toilets. The beach extends some 2 kms around to your right to the headland on which the buildings of the famous Hotel Bora Bora are visible. The shallowness prevents yachts with keels being able to sail around all of Bora Bora. Its a staggeringly beautiful stretch of water……..
A shot overlooking the Intercontinental Moana Beach Hotel & the Sofitel Island Resort:
In years gone by Matira Point was a heavily wooded area where Polynesians would come in their large double outrigger canoes to strengthen or replace their masts. We waded out almost to the reef enjoying the sensational views & swimming opportunities & were occasionally joined by the island’s friendly rays.
As you wade past Point Matira you’ll see Motu Piti U’uUta to your left accommodating the Sofitel Private Island Resort behind which is the ‘Coral Garden’ providing some of the best snorkeling in Bora Bora. You can visualise where it is in the following photo, reef-side of the island where the boats are moored. You can reach it by a combination of wading & swimming from Point Matira….we did!:
The road follows the long swing of Matira Beach down past a small number of yachts moored in the last deep waters before Matira Point. If you have timed your arrival for Matira for lunch this stretch of road also offers a number of eating options including Restaurant Matira & Snack Matira which offer sensational views over the beautiful waters of Matira. Check out the Review of Restaurants in Matira here.
Some shots of the moored yachts in front of Snack Matira & a sunset shot we took from the same spot once we were back having returned our bikes. How good is it; just how good is it:
It is along this stretch that 2 further huge American naval guns from WWII are located, poised on the ridge in a now totally overgrown position overlooking Matira Beach. Access involves a very strenuous climb through the jungle via private property & you would need both permission & to know in advance where to find the cannons (although things are improving as the mobile telephone operators seek positions for transmission towers).
I should also mention that the access option mentioned on other sites & guidebooks, apparently taken from a posting on internet which was accepted as gospel, has been closed for years. It explains the clear lack of directions the guidebooks give to assist in finding the guns. If you wish to locate ALL the guns please contact this site for confirmed access advice.
Here is a photos of one the guns concerned & a shot taken further along the ridge towards Matira Point to give an idea of the gunner’s outlook :
Just around the corner from the huge banyan tree that marks the entrance to the Hotel Bora Bora, just as our tongues were almost touching the road, we found Bloody Mary’s, the best watering hole on the island tour & another good eating option. Its worth stopping to see the impressive list of stars who have frequented the place & for the beer or ten the road & your bicycle are urging you to consider!
Around 100m after Bloody Mary’s opposite an electrical box a road leads up the mountains past a number of homes to a transmission tower atop the mountain. Take the road which veers left & head up the partially cemented road now in a somewhat poor condition (if you have difficulties there’s another (dirt) access route opposite The Farm situated 100m (back) on the other side of Bloody Mary’s).
It’s a 10-15 minute hike up the hill for fabulous, truly sensational views on either side of the ridge taking in the full ambit from Mt Otemanu, over Vaitape, Teavanui Pass & right around to Point Matira; you can even see Tahaa & Raiatea in the background. Here’s a shot looking out over the lagoon, across to Motu Toopua & the Hilton Hotel:
The view up ‘the main drag’ towards Teavanui Pass with the 2850 passenger/1250 crew ‘Celebrity Solstice’ in port & James Packer’s tug ‘Arctic 1’ in the foreground:
Matira below with Raiatea just visible on the top left in the far distance. Its interesting to compare the water colours with those above as all 3 shots were taken around mid-day but the shades of blue differed greatly with the position of the sun:
Myriama PROKOP POTTERY
Around 200m past Bloody Marys & just before the Moana Tours, Aqua Safari & the Tiki Bar ‘gathering’ you’ll find ‘Myriama Prokop Pottery’.
It is set back one house from the road on the mountainside without any major publicity panel along the road but a stop-over at this well known potter who has exhibited internationally is ‘colourful’ to say the least & a great spot to find something ‘uniquely Bora Bora’.
The Missing Cannon
A couple of kilometres past Bloody Mary’s you’ll see Alan & Linda’s Galerie d’Art opposite which lies an American naval gun – the one taken from Tereia Point.
Whilst you are there consider taking the mountainside road you have just passed (50m south of the galerie) which climbs to the transmission tower you can see from the road. The top offers good views over both sides of the island (but frankly nothing when compared to the views from transmission tower viewpoint up above Bloody Mary’s covered previously in this report).
The road passes alongside Povai Bay giving mystical views of Mt Otemanu. A great spot from which to take a photo is the Sporting Complex just after Galerie d’Art. Take you time & be swept away in the mysticism & mythodology – some visitors report seeing a large face of Buddah on the left as well as an elephant, a regal symbol in Asiatic countries; others talk of the reclining face of a previous king to the right……..
The Queen’s Bath & Ofa’i Honu
Povai Bay is an area extremely rich in cultural & historical relics & it is here in the foothills of the bay where once stood Marae Vaiotaha, built around 1000AD & the oldest marae in Bora Bora & one of the most important in the Society Islands. It is also here that one can find the most fascinating & culturally significant relics of the Queen’s Bath & Ofa’i Honu.
The Queen’s Bath makes for a wonderful discovery. Lying at the foot of Mt Otemanu, the baths were the priviledged place of female members of the royal family & contain excellent examples of petroglyphic turtles. The site was also used for grand celebrations especially at the time of abundance (spring) & for the moral, physical & intellectual formation of the population.
A shot of the Queen’s Bath showing petroglyphic turtles & the seat from which the Queen would bathe:
For full & complete information on the Queen’s Bath, see: http://www.bora-bora-insider.com/bora-bora/the-queens-bath-mt-otemanu.html
At the foot of Mt Pahia, you can find Ofai’i Honu (turtle rock) held in legend to have, in a union with the cliffs of Mt Pahia, produced Firiamata-o-Vavau, the founding ancestor of Bora Bora, the first arii’i (royal personage) of Bora Bora who marks the beginning of the most important lineage of Bora Bora. Ofa’i Honu in symbolisung the birth of Firiamata-o-Vavau, is, therefore, the foundation stone of Bora Bora, the stone of fertility & life, of alliances & of abundance; a relic of the upmost importance.
In an excellent detour from the main road offering wonderful mountain & farming scenery along an easy going dirt road built by the Americans to store ammunition during WWII, seeing Ofa’i Honu makes for a powerful encounter:
See: http://www.bora-bora-insider.com/bora-bora/ofai-honu-the-turtle-rock-of-bora-bora.html for more, including access,details.
The Queen’s Bath & Ofa’i Honu make for a moving ending to the road trip.
It’s now only a short 2km trip back to town for a few well-deserved beers to celebrate a great trip. If you have decided to eat in Vaitape & are looking for something overlooking the lagoon check out the St James Restaurant or the Mai Kai Restaurant down past the Toa Amok supermarket north of town (the St James is in the shopping centre almost directly opposite Toa Amok, the Mai Kai slightly further north). Another choice in the same area offering good chinese food but not overlooking the lagoon is Pandora d’Or. For a full review of restaurants in Vaitape read the Review of Restaurants in Vaitape here.
There truly is so much more to do on Bora Bora – start contemplating climbing Te Ana Opea cave or hiking up Mt Pahia, plan a visit to the Valley of the Kings or crossing over the island via the Teatae & Apuapa tracks or simply go find that last cannon.
Just go for it!