Vaitape always held a place of importance on Bora Bora – the word vaitape signifying “the place where bodies are taken at maturity” in reference to the fact that in times gone by it was here that deceased persons of distinction were embalmed for their voyage to Rohotu No’ana’a (Polynesian heaven). King Tapoa II (see below) was probably the last monarch to be embalmed.
Bora Bora’s first Pastor, the London Missionary Society’s John Muggridge Orsmond, arrived at Vaitape on 18th November 1820 where he lived until 1824. A carpenter, he undertook a number of substantial works including the building of a large temple during 1821 & 1822. The current Protestant Temple is a much later construction.
Orsmand also built a jetty at Vaitape – scandalously using stones from the Marae Fare Opu – & constructed various roads (once more using stones from the maraes) as well as several habitable constructions using coral bricks sealed with quicklime. In doing so Orsmand laid the basis for what today is the village of Vaitape – Bora Bora’s only town & the island’s administrative centre.
Vatape’s quay hosts those coming & going between the main island & the airport, cruise ships, resorts, private vessels & the motus amongst others. There’s an Information Centre in the middle of the wharf area & it should be your first stop so as to pick up maps for Vaitape & for the island itself.
Vaitape is lined with cafes, banks, a post office, supermarkets, service stations, doctors, dentists, a pharmacy, hardware & electronics outlets, pearl shops & even more pearl shops! The Gendarmarie (police), & Mairie (Town Hall) are also here.
MAKING IT EASY
Most people will arrive in Vaitape via the wharf. So, if you are on the wharf looking towards the mountain – Mt Pahia – then:
- The Information Centre is in the small building situated in middle of the wharf area. Read this site’s Bora Bora Road Tour report before booking your island tour;
- The Town Hall (Bora Bora’s administrative centre) is complex waterside to the immediate right;
- There are banks/ATMs behind & opposite the Town Hall;
- Air Tahiti & the Helicopter Tours are based along the quay opposite the Town Hall;
- The Gendarmarie (police) are straight ahead across the main road as are some car/motor-bike rental shops.
HEADING RIGHT (the way to go for urgent medical attention):
- Along the main road to your right are a snack, a number of galleries & pearl shops, the Post Office, Catholic Church & doctors. About 500m out from the Post Office is a new commercial centre (opened late 2015) with a doctor, dentist & Bora Bora best bakery! The centre is also situated opposite the ‘Bora Bora Medical Centre’ (the ‘dispensaire’) – there is no hospital on Bora Bora but if you have a major health condition needing urgent attention this is the place to head.
HEADING LEFT (the island’s only pharmacy):
- Along the main road heading left are a newsagency, some pearl shops, T-shirt & pareo shops & car/bike rentals;
- A little further left along the main road is the Evangelist (Protestant) Church with its clearly red steeple;
- There’s a decent coffee to be found at the far end of the commercial centre opposite the Temple;
- Behind the commercial centre via a laneway behind Sibani Pearls is the library opened at the end of February 2015;
- Past the Protestant Temple you’ll find the supermarket, petrol stations, dentist, a number of good waterfront restaurants, more pearl shops, the island’s only pharmacy, doctors, hardware, coffee shops, clothes boutiques, a great patissierie (pastry shop) & electronic outlets whilst he MaiKai & the Yacht Club restaurants are further along this route.
The Chin Lee Supermarket – situated just after the Protestant Temple – is open from 5am to 8pm, 7 days a week.
There are a number of good restaurants in town details of which can be found here in the Restaurant Review for Vaitape.
Saint Pierre Celestin Catholic Church, situated opposite the Post Office was designed by architect David Chauvin. The imposing stained glass windows above the altar were built by the French stained glass workshop ‘Mari et Femme’ & are reinforced to resist cyclones. The impressive work represents the seven sacraments:
- Sunday Mass at the Catholic Church is at 9.30am.
The Protestant Temple is arguably Vaitape’s most imposing structure with its red steeple reaching high into the skies directly below Mt Pahia:
The Taurua Varua, a ceremony dating back centuries & unique to Bora Bora, is organised each year by the Protestant Church. Of arguably an equal cultural significance as the Heiva i Bora Bora it is a ‘must see’ if you are in Bora Bora at the time (as, most certainly, is the Heiva).
- Sunday Service at the Protestant Temple is at 10am.
The Seventh Day Adventists can be found on the lagoon-side of the road around 150m past the Protestant Church; the Jehovah’s Witness are in Anau. The Mormons are reportedly looking to build slightly out of town on the Matira side of Vaitape.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Here are a couple of other interesting things to do whilst in Vaitape:
In between the Banque de Tahiti & the Artisanat Centre you will find a monument unveiled in 1951 to famed French socialite, war hero, world tennis vice-champion, author, and yachtsman Alain Gerbault who between 1925 & 1929 became the first Frenchman to sail single-handed around the world & the first in the world to cross the Atlantic from east to west when he circumnavigated the globe aboard the 12m Firecrest.
He stopped in French Polynesia in 1926 & would return in 1933 when he introduced soccer to the locals whilst campaigning against the local French with the excesses of colonialism & the destruction of paradise.
Disliked for his reported lack of hygene & homosexuality & particularly for his open support of the pro-Nazi Vichy government in Paris he was interned on Moorea at the outbreak of World War II but released in September 1940 on the condition he leave the country. He sailed to Indonesia where he died of malaria on Timor in 1941, aged 48. Six years later, at the initiative of the Yacht Club de France, the French navy returned his ashes to be buried on Bora Bora, his last wish.
Alongside the Gerbault Memorial, the Arisanat Centre is worth a look to see the ‘mamas’ creating an amazing array of Tahitian works of art made uniquely from locally available materials using skills past down through the centuries.
KING TAPOA II
Further along the quay, beside Radio Bora Bora, a fairly non-descript site shelters a most interesting story in Bora Bora’s history gleaned from Fichaux’s ‘History of Bora Bora’:
A little background – at the time of the arrival of the missionaries Polynesian custom held that a king lost his throne upon the birth of a son, acting simply on the son’s behalf thereafter, a custom that saw infanticide practiced on occasion – Pomare I, for example, killed his first-born son, the elder brother of Pomare II. Bora Bora was the exception – Omai, the Raiatean who travelled with Captain Cook, felt that the superiority of Bora Bora’s warriors was due to the fact that infanticide was not practiced on the island.
When Bora Bora’s King Tapoa I died in 1819 he left a young son, also named Topoa. Pomare II adopted the young Topoa, exercising power on his behalf before dieing soon after in 1827 leaving the throne to his infant son Pomare III……with the English missionaries governing in his name! Soon after Pomare III also died leaving his sister, Aimata, & his adopted step-brother, Tapoa, in line for the throne.
Polynesian tradition held that it was the male child, Tapoa, even if adopted, who was king. English tradition, however, held that it was the legitimate child, Aimata, who must reign. Faced with the dilemma, the English missionaries ‘resolved’ matters by simply marrying Aimata aged 9 years & Tapoa aged 11 years! Tapoa II became king of the Society Islands – but the missionaries continuing to govern!
During this time Orsmond, the first pastor of Bora Bora, had arrived in Bora Bora & set about rigourously applying puritanism to the island. Fichaux records that adulterous boys & girls were punished by being compelled to fill sections of the route – around 2.5km long & 2.5m wide – Orsmond built out from Vaitape. More intriguing again, Orsmond, on the basis of the biblical verse: “You will earn your bread from the sweat of your brow”, marked the road’s extremities with bread-fruit trees!
Orsmond had both support & opposition on the island but such division gave rise to trouble, in particular, a practice of mixing Christianity with certain ancient traditions. The missionaries appointed Tapoa II to determine who was at fault but when he held that it was Ormand who was to blame the missionaries took to him with vengeance enforcing a divorce between Tapoa II & Aimata, despite their having an adopted daughter, on the basis they were too young to have been legally married then banished Tapoa II to Bora Bora. The banishment caused a revolt against the missionaries on Bora Bora, the missionaries responding by orchestrating a revolt against Bora Bora on the other Society Islands. In the upshot Tapoa II lost all power – in those days a dozen or so guns made all the difference between success or failure – & found himself left to wander the islands. The troubles in Bora Bora persisted, however, with peace only being attained once the adopted daughter of Tapoa II was declared Queen of Bora Bora taking the name Terriimaevarua (after whom Bora Bora’s sporting complex is named.)
With his daughter now Queen, Tapoa II would return home to Bora Bora. He would build a small cottage at water’s edge at Vaitape. Overlooking the water alongside Radio Bora Bora you can find the scant remains of the foundations of a square rock terrace (sealed with quicklime obtained by burning coral at high temperatures) of the small cottage of Tapoa II, the last King of Bora Bora.
UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 2015. This historical site has been demolished & landscaped, presumably to make the public toilet area look better. Well done Bora Bora!
PLACE TU VAVAU
Tu Vavau is the extensive open area that greets people upon their arrival at Vaitape Quay. This public place is the theatre of a most fascinating story.
So intriguing is the story that it is the subject of a separate report on this site which can be found here at: Place Motoi – Bora Bora’s “Motu of Circumcision“.
Mt Pahia, photographed above behind Vaitape’s prominent Evangelic (Protestant) Temple, provides a magnificent backdrop to the town. The name Mt Pahia stems from the Tahitian ‘pai’ha’ signifying ‘what has been hit’ in reference to the legend that the mountain’s shape was formed by the masive hit from the god Marama in a moment of great rage.
Vaitape marks the starting point of a spectacular but challenging hike up Mt Pahia along an unmarked trail requiring around 3 hours of effort for the ascent & 2 hours for the descent. Despite the destructive fires of September 2013 it is a wonderful climb through forests of mape (chestnut tree), giant ferns & wild orchids to reach the summit offering sensational views of Bora Bora & of the Leeward Islands.
The hike should only be attempted with an experienced guide – I do not wish to be an alarmist but people die climbing this mountain without a guide; an experienced teacher died earlier this year (2013) whilst taking photographs not far up the mountain.
I hope this made your visit to Vaitape all the more enjoyable!