Anau is located on the east side of the island, and less known by tourists. Here you will find the typical charm of ancient Polynesian villages. The lagoon is very tight on this side because of the big Motu Piti Aau on the other side of the lagoon. Here the lagoon looks more like a lake shore with a great view on Mt Otemanu (727 m).
Bora Bora was formed by volcanic eruptions some three to four million years ago. It is one of the oldest islands of the Leeward Islands.
The sharp cliffs of basaltic rock form the central mountain chain that runs through the main island of Bora Bora.
Mount Otemanu (727 m/2,384 feet), Mount Pahia (661 m/2,168 feet), and Mount Hue (619 m/2,030 feet) are the most spectacular chimney peaks of the crater that once spewed molten lava.
Vaitape is the main town of Bora Bora. It has a port where all ships dock. The village is built at the foot of the impressive cliff of Mount Pahia, in front of the island's only pass, Teavanui. Here you can find all public services like post office, gendarmerie, town hall and schools. But also shops and a museum.
Spend some time here to experience the real life in Bora Bora.
North of Vaitape lies another town called Faanui. The scenery in this area is different from that on the south side. Here you will find copra dryers and manioc plantations, great vista points, amazing tranquility, and wild guava trees bordering the road. There is also a museum about marine life at Outuorahu point.
During our trip to Bora Bora, Sarah and I decided that we would rent a mode of transportation to get a feel for the whole island, rather than the basic tour that the guides would recommend. Although I was thinking about a scooter for the cost savings, Sarah wanted to rent a car, so we compromised and rented the Be-Up (check out my transportation tips for a picture). This was great, and we got the chance to see some views of the mountains that you do not get from most tours!
Bora Bora's main island is only 10 kilometers (5.2 miles) long and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide. A partially paved road circles the coastline for 29 kilometers (18 miles). You will pass the villages of Vaitape, Faanui and Anau.
I have read contradicting information about the number of inhabitants Bora Bora has. The number varies from 6000 to 7000. Wikipedia cites the 2007 census which counted 8880 inhabitants. So still not a real lot… ;-)
About 4000 of those people live in Vaitape, the main town.
Not only there it is sometimes hard to determine where the town ends and no-man’s-land starts, or if some lonesome houses belong to the previous or the next village.
There is a green sign with the name of the township at the official start of a village, and soon after that you normally spot a church.
As you can expect, you find all kinds of businesses and public service in Vaitape, including post-office (Bureau de Poste), police station (gendarmerie), town hall (Mairie), school, pharmacy, bank (Banque de Polynésie), Maison de la Presse (newspapers, magazines, books, and tobacco products), fire brigade (Pompiers), petrol station (Station Service), car rentals, hairdresser, etc..
With a day only you have to set priorities, and our two priorities was to see as much of the island and the landscape as possible and have a swim in the bathtub-warm water of the lagoon. This was perfect, as with the slow pace of the one-gear bicycles we got a feeling of the life on the island, and did not just tick tourist attractions with the tour guide being the only local you would meet.
So things we have missed, including some things we would not even have wanted to experience were:
Boat or outrigger canoe tour around the island with shark and manta ray watching.
Tour in a glass-bottom boat or submarine.
Helicopter Flight over the island.
Do jetskiing or wake-boarding.
Check out the marae. (As we had visited marae on the other French Polynesian islands, especially Raiatea, we neglected the search for those on Bora Bora, as we did not want to miss to get into this lagoon.)
We could have checked out some of the WW2 defense guns. There would have been time to check out at least one, especially the one at Matira Point, I have to admit… However, in an updated (online) guide, the Moon Handbook of Tahiti, I read that residential construction blocks the access track, so they cannot be visited anymore…
The Lonely Planet Guide describes the locations quite well. Note them on a map before you set out. The South Pacific Handbook by David Stanley, on the other hand, says that most cannons are not worth the walk(s) – but the views you get from there are worth the effort in most cases.
We could have snorkelled in the Coral Garden but preferred to relax on the beach and swim at Matira Beach..
Go on a mountain safari tour in a 4WD vehicle or quad bike.
Go trekking in the centre of the island. (We would have loved to do this but there was no time.) The most strenuous walk is up to Mt. Pahia, it takes about 5 hours, and you should not go without a guide, most travel books say.
Sail on a yacht.
Visit the Lagoonarium (turtles, sharks, rays and tropical fish).
Swim with turtles at the care centre at the Meridien Hotel.
Visit the Marine Museum (Musée de la Marine) in Faanui which is said to have nice model ships..
Visit the Coral Nursery Toa Nui under the overwater bungalows of the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa.
You see, you have to choose carefully what you want to do, not only because of time restraints. To do it all you might have to win Lotto first ;-)
From now on I will post the tips more or less chronologically, following the route of our bicycle tour around the island. As said, we travelled clockwise although we had to cross the road to take photos from the shore, as in French Polynesia you drive on the right side of the road, like in France.
The first reason to do so is that this way round is that you have only two very short climbs.
The second reason is that you have only 6 km left when you arrive at Matira Point for a swim and sunbath. If you do it the other way round, you have to cycle back to Matira Point, and from there back to Vaitape, so this would add 12 km to your tour.
It does not play a role, of course, if you stay at Matira Point during a longer stay. Lucky you!
Here is a link to a circle island tour – unfortunately counter-clockwise:
Soon after leaving Vaitape you get this beautiful view of rather a high mountain that is never mentioned anywhere. Its name is Mt. Hue and is 619 metres high, and it is not really far from Mt. Pahia and its twin, Mt. Otemanu. And you see, the water is already showing its magic…
From the north-west of the island you look out to a chain of very small motu(s). Hôtel Paradis is one of the hotels in this motu agglomeration.
A bit further to the right of this photo would be the Motu Mute, the location of Bora Bora's airport.
The north-east and the east of the island are enclosed by two narrowish major motu(s).
This view is from Vairupe Bay.
This bay was rather unique as the colour of the water was neither turquoise blue nor turquoise green but just a brilliant green.
You have a great view from a lookout off Fitiiu Point. This comes after a steep climb on the unsealed stretch of road, where the road leaves the coastline and goes inland, and before a long descent down towards Anau.
If you are interested, the lookout area is rich of places to check out. Further out to Fitiiu Point you can walk on a jeep track to a spot from where you can see some of those useless American defense guns. If you look down to the shore you see the Marae Aehuatai.
(If you want to have a close look, just drive down the hill towards Anau, at the bottom a track leads to the marae - and from there up to the guns.)
When looking at my photos you might be impressed by the many spectacular mountains of Bora Bora. But this impression is completely wrong.
You somehow permanently circle around the two giants Mt. Otemanu and Mt. Pahia, and they change their faces so dramatically with every turn you take that you would not think they are the same mountains.
Sometimes a lower mountain adds to the picture, but the highest ones are always only Mt. Otemanu (727 metres) and Mt. Pahia (662 metres).
The next-highest peak is Mt. Hue with 619 metres, followed by Mt. Mataihua (314 metres) which sits between Faanui and Vairau Bay, and in the very north you have the Popotei Ridge.
You can walk up to the summit of Mt. Pahia. This will take you several hours (about 5 hours return). The hike starts in Vaitape. You have to take the inland road south of the Protestant church, and find your way through the bush. Either take a guide or get good instructions before you start. And, of course, do not try it in wet conditions, as the track will get muddy and slippery.
Do not try to climb Mt. Otemanu. Its crumbling face would make an ascent very dangerous.
A short walk I would consider is the island crossing from Faanui (start/end on a dirt track starting at the church) to Vairau Bay, south of Fitiiu Point. We saw the start of the track on the Vairau Bay side when we passed there on our bicycles.
On photo 2 you see the mountains the other way round, as you see them from Nunue, south of Vaitape.
This picturesque church in front of the island’s towering giants is located at the start of Faanui Bay.
Faanui is about 5 kilometres north of Vaitape.
The area once was the site of the Pomare dynasty. That is why you find some marae there – or not. As said, there are no signs. So if you want to have a look at them, ask the locals.
In Faanui you have a good chance of meeting people, as there are several shops and stalls with pareos (sarongs) blowing in the wind. We overtook a tour bus several times (and they overtook us in return), as it stopped at those shops, and the tour group had to get in and out.
If you want to know more about the church, this is really annoying… Unfortunately all three travel guides I had are hopeless if you search information about the churches on Bora Bora. The internet and the brochures do not help much either. They consider the locations of restaurants and jetski bases more important – and so much more important that they do not bother giving out any information about the churches which BTW are mainly protestant on Bora Bora.
We did not do any more research on site and left faster than I would normally have done, even Kimi the Bear complained about not being photographed here, but I did not want to mix up with the tour groups and get all those people in my photos.
Eglise Evangélique de Polynésie Française: You see such signs quite a lot in French Polynesia and especially on Bora Bora, as here most people are protestant.
The name of this nice church in Vaitape “Temple Ebene Ezera de Vaitape”.
It is located on the mountain side of the main street, just some steps north of the shops, opposite the tender wharf for cruise ship passengers.
Sunday service is at 10am.
The Catholic Church is a bit further south, opposite the Post Office.
North of Anau on the eastern side of the island, there is a short unsealed stretch of road.
It also is a short steepisch winding uphill section, ending at the former Club Med which was relocated after being devastated by hurricanes several times.
As I did not succeed to pedal to the top on my one-gear bike, I could see what the road was made up of . And it was not just red soil but under the soil emerged the original coral road.
This coral, of course, was once under the water’s surface and was pushed up by volcanic eruptions.