trip report: Bora Bora, March 2019

Bora Bora is one of the premier resort islands in the world and probably the most traveled to island for tourists in French Polynesia. On the other hand, it also has the nickname “Boring Boring” in the backpacker world for the lack of unguided adventure available and the isolation of the resorts on the perimeter atoll islands. The truth, ofcourse, is somewhere in between.

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This is the second entry of the French Polynesia trip series covering our experiences on Bora Bora (3). You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.

index

click to expand
1 planning & research
2 trip report: getting in via Tahiti
3 trip report: Bora Bora
      3.1 St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
      3.2 InterContinental Thalasso
      3.3 diving Bora Bora
            3.3.1 dive 1 – Anau
            3.3.2 dive 2 – Tapu
            3.3.3 dive 3 – Muri Muri
            3.3.4 dive 4 – Haapiti
      3.4 Bora Bora to Fakarava transit
4 trip report: Fakarava
5 trip report: getting out
6 final impressions & budget
7 trip videos
      7.1 Bora Bora
      7.2 Fakarava & the North Pass (Passe de Garuae)
      7.3 Fakarava & the South Pass (Tetamanu)

St. Regis Bora Bora Resort

It was a cloudy day when we landed in the afternoon at Bora Bora airport (BOB). In the lobby of the small airport, many of the resorts have their own little stand with their individual boat shuttle.

For the St. Regis Bora Bora (SRB), the direct shuttle service is XPF6750 per person one way (USD$64.46 equivalent at the time of charge; for current quote see SRB webpage). According to my emails with the guest liaison ahead of time, there is an option to take the free Air Tahiti shuttle to the major town of Vaitape on the west side,

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Air Tahiti free shuttle, typically the cheaper option

then take a taxi to St. Regis base in Anau on the east side (about XPF5000 – Frommers or about USD$40 quoted by the guest liaison), and lastly take the either a private boat transfer at XPF2500 per person or a scheduled boat transfer for XPF1250 per person (schedule from SRB)  from Anau to the SRB. There is one bus shuttle daily connecting St. Regis base and Robert Wan Pearl Shop – owners of the resort – in Vaitape, but it may only be free for those checked in already.

With the time and savings of only about a USD$20 per person, we opted to just take the expensive direct transfer to the resort. On the boat, we were greeted by the only other person coming off the plane, the general manager of the resort who knew us by name.

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Once we arrived at the resort complex, we were offered a tour of the complex by our guest liaison while our butler took our bags to our room.

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map of the St. Regis, our room was a PLB

I thought it was pretty clear we were not in our element with a cooler bag, lack of luggage, and awkwardness from all the attention that we aren’t use to, but they didn’t show it. The attention didn’t stop at the check in, it seemed like someone was checking in on us ever couple of hours to see if we needed anything. It was a bit overwhelming since we are so use to just slumming it when we travel.

My only Marriott status was gold elite, which I have through my AMEX Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card (formerly the SPG Lux, see details at Frequent Miler). That was enough for us to get upgraded 1 level to a Beachside Garden Villa facing the lagoon from the Reefside Garden Villa facing the ocean.

Shortly after we settled in, our butler brought us a bottle of wine and some really good macaroon.

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the perks

Bora Bora in March was very humid and hot, no wonder it was the low season. After going for a dip in the lagoon (referring the the side of the water within the atoll islands) and rising off in our private pool to cool off,

the ominous clouds opened up to a heavy downpour for about an hour.

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Once it was over, the sunset that was left behind provided a perfect end to our day.

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Being still on eastern time, we fell asleep with sundown. The wine saw to that for sure.

It was natural that we woke up at the butt crack of the dawn the following day. We walked around the complex while it was still tolerable temperature wise to get to know the facilities better. While we walked, we were joined by many crabs also out for the morning stroll.

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Our main loop was around the salt water pond maintained within the garden of the resort. There were plenty of colorful fish and the large resident Napoleon Wrasse swimming around and looking to get fed.

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I was already sweating by this time, so I joined him for a swim.

My gold elite status didn’t qualify us for free breakfast, it would have been about USD$50 per person. We opted for the fruit and sandwiches we brought with us and the complementary hot cocoa and coffee services in the morning.

On the subject of free and fruits, the graduate student free food compass in my head pointed me to the gym on our morning stroll where we found free apples for the taking. I may have dropped by the gym a couple times on the way back to our villa.

Our second day turned out to be a perfect sunny day. It was very hot ofcourse, but we spent plenty of the morning enjoying the water activities available at the beach. This started with trying out the paddleboards. Meg was a natural, but I could only stay on my knees. There may have been a few close call face plants when I tried to stand up.

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I gave up with the paddleboards after a while and switched over to a kayak. We spent a good amount of the day paddling around the teal blue lagoon all the way out to a small inlet where the sea was rushing into the lagoon.

By the time it was lunch time, we were thoroughly drained from the sun and heat. We returned to our room for lunch, nap, and relaxing the rest of the afternoon. When we returned we found the service staff left us a couple bottles of complementary local rum. We were convinced the resort wanted us to get drunk.

We decided to have date night and splurge on a meal at the Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges, no idea who that actually is. Reservation was required and the available time slot was relatively late for us at 8:30pm, that’s late when we been going to bed at sundown.

While waiting for our reservation time, we headed to the fenced in area of the lagoon that contains a few Blacktip Reef Sharks near the restaurant. The elegance of the sharks moving in the water was very mesmerizing. On a couple of the weekday mornings, they are fed. I guess these sharks aren’t really wild sharks, so I suppose the feeding is fine even though the captivity aspect is questionable. There were no feedings on the days we were there, but they were out and about during the night.

The dinner was indeed fancy with expected small portions. My favorite was the seared tuna while Meg was really impressed by the sauce that came with her fish. We ordered a side of fries intending to fill out the rest of the meal, but they were probably the biggest surprise for us.

The ambiance of the dinner was nice, plus the sharks swimming below us provided for good entertainment, I probably know I could watch them for hours. But it was time for bed after dinner as we still haven’t adjusted for to the timezone.

After two nights, our time at the St. Regis Bora Bora was at an end. This isn’t meant to be a fully detailed review of the resort, but rather a trip report of how we enjoyed our time here. For reviews of St. Regis Bora Bora, see OMAAT, Frequent Miler’s review & tips, TPG, flyertalk.

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Before we moved onto the next resort the next day, we were in for some underwater adventure. Actually the dive boat was also our transport between the resorts, which typically results in hefty extra costs. I’ve also read you can hire a private boat for around USD$150 to make the quick trip a more “affordable” than the rides arranged by the resorts. The cheap way to transfer would involve taking the free St. Regis shuttle to Vaitape, taxing to InterContinental Le Moana, and then take the inter resort shuttle there.

Our dive boat met us at the St. Regis dock around 8am and we headed off with all our belongings for two dives that morning (extended details in the diving section below).  

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InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso

We arrived at the docks for InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso (Thalasso) to much less fanfare after our dives and walked down toward reception.

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map of InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso

The check-in desk was very surprised and somewhat confused to how we had gotten there, as he later explained. Part of it was probably our fault since we didn’t communicate how we would arrive on the island, but they never contacted us ahead of time like the St. Regis did. Apparently, they said the St. Regis was suppose to inform them when we left, but they never did. It took them a bit a time to figure out everything.

In the end he said our room was not ready yet since it was just after noon, but we could use a day room to store our things, shower, and change. He didn’t mention it since it was a very discombobulated check in, but I believe we were upgraded to a Sapphire Overwater Villa facing the lagoon from an Emerald Overwater Villa that faced the resort. This was possibly due to my Platinum Ambassador status that I used 30k IHG points on. The status was acknowledged when given 2 free drink vouchers, so who knows. Last thing was that we opted in for the 50% breakfast (XPF2430 per person per day, USD$23.21 equivalent) for our 3 days as it seemed good value. We were only charged for breakfast for one day, so that’s a win.

Since we had some time before our room was ready, we decided to take the inter resort shuttle to the InterContinental Le Moana (Le Moana) on the main island to check out a grocery store and restock up on food after our shower.

The ride was relatively quick and main island had a completely different feel than the resort. Just outside Le Moana was a public park/beach called Matira Beach and plenty of family homes.

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the other InterContinental property (Le Moana)

Waking down to the main road, we came to Magasin Matira (google maps), the nearest grocery store and known for their rotisserie chickens sold to resort goers, but it was closed.

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There was a small restaurant called The Lucky House – Fae Manuia here and we were starving at this point. We ordered too much food in a ceviche, a fish burger, and a pizza, but we didn’t mind leftovers.

Afterwards, we continued east down the road for about 10-15 minutes to arrive at the next grocery store, Tiare Market (google maps). I don’t recall what we bought other than the lack of fresh veggies and fruit, but we ended up spending about USD$65.

We spent the rest of the half hour before the inter resort shuttle chilling on the dock at Le Moana.

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I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes
Watchin’ the ships roll in
Then I watch ’em roll away again
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay

Once we returned to the Thalasso, our room was ready. The check-in person took us to the room and apologized for the confusion earlier. The Overwater Bungalow wasn’t as big as our villa on the St. Regis and there were no corals around Thalasso, but you won’t get any complaints from me.

Our view out of our bedroom window didn’t point out to Mt. Otemanu, we were able to see it from our deck.

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Shortly after we got to the room, we were welcomed with a fresh fruit plate as part of the Ambassador benefits. The service staff was less attentive here and didn’t check on us every few hours, but we actually liked it better since we were happy to be left to our devices. 

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In our living room, we had a transparent glass floor so we can check out any creatures that may swim by. However, it is all sand under the overwater bungalows at Thalasso making fish sighting a rarity.

Sleep once again came early with sundown and once again we were up early the next day to explore the grounds before it got too hot.

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During our exploration, we found the small gym that was useful for really cold water and a free fruit bowl, graduate student spidey sense strikes again. Lastly, we wondered behind the resort looking out reefside and caught a nice sunrise over the pacific.

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By the time we returned to the main dining area, the breakfast buffet was open. It was a fully stocked breakfast buffet and we made a point to eat our money’s worth.

Our activity for the second day was another 2 dives with Top Dive, which took up the majority of our morning (see details below in the diving section). By the time we returned, we were pretty tired so we mostly relaxed the rest of the day in our bungalow where the air conditioning was on full blast. Once in a while we’d jump out the back of our bungalow into the lagoon. The heat during the day can be a bit intolerable, so much so that my phone overheated at one point just sitting in the sun. So you can imagine we limited our deck time outside.

We did venture out of our bungalow to see the daily stingray feeding at 2pm. Again feeding wildlife is questionable as the rays were already circling the beach way before the staff came by with tuna trimming.

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It was still cool to see them circling around your legs as you stood in the shallow water nuzzling up to you once in a while.

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The rays were so use to people there that there is no fear of their stingers.

We continued the same pattern of relaxing, jumping into the lagoon, and repeat pattern over the next day and half we had at the resort.

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The pattern was only broken when we’d go see the stingrays again, check out the paddle boards, or grab our free drinks at the bar and infinite pool.

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More diving would come at the next island. For the rest of our time we’d just relax and enjoy ourselves.

For reviews of InterContinental Thalasso, see Travel is FreeTPG.

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diving Bora Bora

We completed 4 dives during our time on Bora Bora with Top Dive, based out of the InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso an Vaitape. As I mentioned in the earlier section, Top Dive is a large scale operation across multiple islands and sold dive packages that can be used across any of their sites. They also provide free Nitrox diving, which is nice and helps with the fatigue. While this may be convenient at times, I’m not sure booking ahead of time with Top Dive is the cheapest option or most convenient option. We were happy with their services on Bora Bora in general and you can check out other reviews on Trip Advisor.

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Top Dive boats at the InterContinental Thalasso dock

The dives were divided into 2 dives on our 3rd day and 2 dives on our 4th day. Our dives on the 3rd day allowed us a free transfer between the St. Regis and Thalasso, saving us plenty of time or money.

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dive sites around Bora Bora, interactive map can be found on Top Dive’s webpage.

The general characteristics of the island seems to be mostly sandy lagoon side and more corals oceanside. Talking to one of the other divers that traveled to Bora Bora multiple times, it seems like the corals in the lagoon were mostly wiped out within the last 20 years by cyclones (science daily), but there seemed to be an effort to grow corals.

For our dives, the temperature was relatively warm so some divers went with just their bathing suits. We used short sleeve and leg wetsuits, though Meg typically get colder so she used a thicker one that I did. As such the weights I had was 8 pounds and she used 12 pounds to compensate for the thicker suit.

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suited up

dive 1 – Anau

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dive log stats

  • date: 2019/3/17
  • depth: 58 ft
  • duration: 43 min
  • Nitrox: 32% Oxygen
  • dive guide: Manuel

topdive_anau

Anau was a lagoon dive and typically the first dive they’ll take divers on because the lagoon waters are calmer. Secondly, the visibility of the dive gets progressively worse throughout the day since boats will kick up more and more sand in the lagoon. Out visibility was good.

It is an area where the corals are regrown. The high point of interest here as you can see by the description above is that Manta Rays frequent the corals because of the large population of cleaner fish. We weren’t so lucky on our first dive since we didn’t see any Manta Rays. We did see plenty of small fish and hard corals. Some of the formations were cool, but overall it wasn’t too interesting of a dive for us.

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The most interesting thing our guide Manuel pointed to was an outline of a turtle drawn in the sand with small stones.

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Our dive was a bit shorter though since one of the 2 girls diving with us had an issue with her goggles. She wasn’t comfortable clearing them underwater and she had some soap that was stinging her eyes.

dive 2 – Tapu

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dive log stats

  • date: 2019/3/17
  • depth: 53 ft
  • duration: 47 min
  • Nitrox: 32% Oxygen
  • dive guide: Manuel

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I’m guessing at some of these sites a little because our dive guide was french and I had a hard time getting the names correctly. What I wrote down was Papu, so I think it’s close. Either way, this dive was seemed like it was around the pass. Since we were outside the lagoon, it seemed like the visibility was a great.

The 2 girls that had dove with us at the first spot decided to sit out for the second dive so it was just Meg and I with the guide for this one.

The defining feature of this dive was that it was where the snorkelers are taken to see sharks. The snorkel tour would throw chicken in the water to draw all the sharks toward the area for the snorkelers to see.

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Again I’m not sure I really agree with the practice, but we did benefit as well since we would be diving around the periphery of their boat and enjoy the many sharks.

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We saw 2 types of the sharks. The larger and more interesting were the Lemon Sharks, which were distinct by the 2 dorsal fins.

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They are typically accompanied by a Remora, also called a sharksucker or suckerfish.

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The second type of shark were the smaller Black Tip Reef Sharks, signified by their black tipped fins.

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There wasn’t much to this dive as we just circled and chill around the snorkel boat looked at the sharks swim around.

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However, it was still the most enjoyable of the dives that we did on Bora Bora.

dive 3 – Muri Muri

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dive log stats

  • date: 2019/3/18
  • depth: 90 ft
  • duration: 46 min
  • Nitrox: 32% Oxygen
  • dive guide: Laurent

topdive_muri

On our second day of diving on Bora Bora, we headed straight out to the Oceanside. We also had a larger group and a new different dive guide, Laurent. The dive site Muri Muri was going a dive where we were dropped off on the reef and drifted toward the west keeping the reef on our left. The visibility was good on the dive.

During our descent, I saw a gray shark swimming away from us in the blue.

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That was the most interesting thing can say about the dive. I might of saw an Moray Eel, but I’m not sure from my pictures.

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Otherwise, we drifted along the reef and saw some interesting hard reef structures.

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We didn’t see much else in terms of wildlife unfortunately.

dive 4 – Haapiti

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dive log stats

  • date: 2019/3/18
  • depth: 60 ft
  • duration: 46 min
  • Nitrox: 32% Oxygen
  • dive guide: Laurent

topdive_haapiti

For our last die at Bora Bora, we stayed oceanside. The name I wrote down was Apo, but I think Haapiti was the dive site based on where we were. We were dropped off on a shallower reef and spend a good amount of time swimming against the current before just circling. We felt the waves come in and out strongly while we circled. I’m not sure our dive master had a clear plan for this dive or his plans were just completely thrown off by the strong current.

There was more smaller fish around this dive site.

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While we were circling, I followed a smaller Wrasse for a bit.

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Overall, I enjoyed this site more than Muri Muri, but it wasn’t the most interesting.

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Bora Bora to Fakarava transit

After several days of sunny and beautiful weather, the skies were looking ominous as we left Thalasso on the shuttle boat toward Le Moana.

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The rain did not wait for our boat ride to be over before the straight downpour begin. Luckily there was an umbrella available for us a the dock to shield us until we reached the Le Moana front desk where we waited for our taxi into Vaitape.

We asked the taxi to drop us off at the grocery store in town, so they took us to Supermarché Chin Lee.

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It was the best stocked grocery store we’d seen and we took advantage of it by loading up for our next destination, the Fakarava Atoll. It was said to be very sparse in terms of fresh fruits and veggies.

The rain stopped after shopping so we walked back to the public boat dock and waited the free Air Tahiti ferry. It was an uneventful ride back to the airport.

The first leg of our flight would take us from BOB to Rangiroa, where we had an hour stop over.

Afterwards, it was a short 45 min flight

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one of the many atolls we flew over

before we landed in Fakarava where our adventure continued.

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7 comments

    1. The good thing about that is I can’t imagine kids would find sitting on the beach all that interesting. Lol.

      For me and I’ll get to in my final impressions, I thought Bora Bora was a beautiful island to stare at, but I’m not sure it would be worth it to go back. What’s your take.

      Like

      1. Hmmm… I can see your point. When we left our honeymoon we agreed we’d come back, kid or no kid, for ten year anniversary. Now we have a kid, and wouldn’t think of going back because yes, for a kid would be pretty boring. And my mindset has changed too. Before kid I was all about fancy places and glamour. Now I’m just happy to just go anywhere! No time for fancy trips when you have a kid so going anywhere in the world is a bonus!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yea, it was a great place for us as a couple going there and I definitely understand it being a perfect honeymoon place. It was indeed the most fancy place I’ve traveled to and I felt out of place after our typical style of camping and hostels. My friends are starting to have kids now and they share that same sentiment, fancy is for trips on your own schedule and with a kid, that is never the case. lol

          Liked by 1 person

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