6th December 2019
Bora Bora. Is it real?
I have read that Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world.
Her spectacular twin peaks surrounded by a glorious blue lagoon.
It’s truly gorgeous to look at as you arrive by sea, sail in through the pass and find a spot to anchor on the huge turquoise sandbanks.
But is it a real place any more?
After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US military formed a plan to control the Pacific and Bora Bora was selected as the site for a strategic supply and re-fuelling base. A task force was despatched with 4500 troops to turn a sleepy French overseas territory into the centre of the US Pacific theatre of war.
When the ships arrived in February 1942 they found a small Polynesian population living a very simple, un-mechanised life. There were palm thatch huts, no roads, and coconut tree trunks for bridges over streams.
Within a year the US troops had built roads, defences and an airport. The twentieth century arrived here in a rush.
That airport is still in use today and it feeds a steady flow of tourists to the high-end resorts. The product they consume is the Bora Bora dream island. Over-water bungalows, incredible views of mountains and lagoon, breakfast delivered by outrigger canoe! It’s amazing, and yours for about $3,000 a night.
Our take on the place is a bit different. We are enjoying all the same views, but we also need to go to town, buy groceries, do some laundry, maybe find a bar with some wifi. The ‘town’ of Vaitape is a strange place, no food market, no bars, really just a dock to welcome tourists and a strip of shops to sell them souvenirs before they are whisked away to their resorts.
We jumped out of the dinghy to snorkel a patch of reef.
We were immediately surrounded by a cloud of colourful reef fish, swimming right up to our hands and masks.
Wow, they are very friendly! But this is not normal behaviour. Adjacent to the reef is a small island resort. The guests come to snorkel with some leftover bread from the breakfast buffet and take photos of the daily feeding frenzy. The fish population now expects every human swimmer to have some stale baguettes with them. They don’t behave like wild fish anymore, we thought they don’t even look like normal reef fish, that high carb diet perhaps?
Nature tainted by human activity, nothing new there. We are missing the authentic wild reefs of the Tuamotus, but what is authentic really? I’m sure we’re changing behaviour there too, the moment we drop anchor we have changed the neighbourhood. The sharks soon learn to get easy snacks from the hapless spearfisherman.
The Bora Bora lagoon is still very beautiful and we were happily surprised to find patches of reef thriving, despite proximity to the human world.
If you like a shallow turquoise anchorage with plenty of breeze for wind-foiling, you really are spoilt for choice here.
To celebrate Dawn’s birthday we went ashore for dinner in one of the five-star honeymoon hotels. Our table and chairs on a glass floor with sharks swimming in the flood-lit lagoon below us.
17th December 2019
Another volcano breaks the horizon, 30 miles west of Bora Bora. I read of a pristine lagoon, a tricky pass, few visiting boats. We couldn’t resist.
An early morning start, and a weather forecast that was totally wrong, as they often are in this area. We negotiated the dog-leg pass and found our way to the anchorage off the village.
Something’s wrong here. The water is murky, with great orange algal blooms flowing across the lagoon. For the first time in weeks we can’t see our anchor in the sand. What’s happened here? This is one of the more remote spots in the Society Islands, no tourism and a small community, usually all the ingredients for healthy coral and spectacular diving, but in Maupiti we didn’t want to get in the water.
The answer, as well as we could understand it, is a watermelon farm on one of the motus.
The farmers are using artificial fertilisers to improve their crop, the chemicals run off into the lagoon, where they also fertilise the algae.
For now, the equilibrium has been upset and the lagoon is a sad sight. I hope it’s reversible.
We sailed back to Bora Bora where I was bitten by the world’s most dangerous animal.
I started complaining of aching joints, soon I was in my bunk with chattering teeth and a temperature.
Dr Dawn diagnosed Dengue Fever.
It’s not serious, starts with a bite from an infected mosquito and usually lasts a week. Now as you know, I’m not one to make a fuss, but I’m very grateful that Dawn remained fit and was there to nurse me through the symptoms and mop my delirious brow. At about the same time, the rain clouds closed in on the islands.
I shivered and slept, the rain kept falling.
A lost week in the wet season.
Dawn was fine. At some point she sailed us singlehandedly back to Raiatea while I was mainly horizontal.
28th December 2019
Seemed a long time without sun or moon.
By the 10th day the skies finally cleared, we emerged into the sunlight to see waterfalls on the mountains.
I’m recovering my strength and the sun is shining on the end of 2019.