It’s an impossible to describe the waters of Bora Bora.
I heard the “oohhs” and “aahhs” on the propeller plan carrying 75 passengers to paradise on Earth.
Unfortunately, because I was on the right side of the plane, I wasn’t catching the spectacular views. I jumped out of my seat and rushed to the left side to catch a glimpse of what half the plane was experiencing.
The Beauty Of #BoraBora Has To Be Seen To Be Believed, No #PhotoShop Needed! #FSBoraBora #boraborabirthday #Tahiti #FourSeasons #tropics #beaches #frenchpolynesia #marlonbrando #paradise #moorea #sunsets #luxurytravel #tropical #chocolate #nature
The view was that spell bounding that the French woman turned me down for a peak through her window.
My optimistic inner-self told me it’s because she didn’t understand my English.
When we landed, I saw the turquoise blue waters that would be the first splash of my adventure in paradise on Earth.
The Air Tahiti Nui overnight flight from the Los Angeles International Airport into Paipettee, Tahiti lasted a little more than eight hours – about 3 three hours more than Hawaii or approximately the same timeframe if we were traveling from the East Coast of the U.S.
Air Tahiti Nui sports colors Boeing airplane befitting its destination’s tropical colors.
The jade and bunt orange interior colors with paintings of French-born artist Paul Gauguin helps transitions passengers to the Tahitian spirit.
I was surprised that the trip to Tahiti didn’t require a Visa nor did we need to cross the International Date Line. In fact, it’s directly south of the equator from Hawaii.
Charming Early Tahitian Surprise
We arrived early in the morning at Faa’a International Airport in Tahiti’s capital of Papeete and had a long layover until taking a 45-minute Tahiti Air flight to Bora Bora.
Since the shops at the airport hadn’t yet opened, we went outside to a delightful surprise: encountering local women making beautiful flower leis for arriving tourists.
Bora Bora has become synonymous with overwater bungalows and romantic honeymoons.
My special trip was to celebrate my 45 years living on this planet, but little did I know that I would soon be transported to paradise on Earth.
Travel brochures and websites often liberally proclaim their tropical destinations as such heaven on Earth and a slice of paradise, etc. But after experiencing Bora Bora for a week, I can unequivocally state that no other travel destination will match its vivid physical beauty and emotional resonance.
Bora Bora is located northwest of Tahiti, which is the largest island in a group of South Pacific islands called French Polynesia. French is the official language although Tahitian and English widely spoken – especially in Bora Bora.
The islanders have a special place in their heart for Americans with the natives being conversant with all things Americans – at least with pop culture.
The Bora Bora airport was built by Americans and used by the U.S. military during World War II. Upon landing at the airport, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The white sands sparkled alongside the sky blue hues of the lagoon. “If the airport looks this beautiful, I can’t imagine what the rest of the island looks like,” I exclaimed.
Other passengers forgot their luggage as they were too occupied capturing the first sights of paradise at the airstrip as if it were a mirage that would soon vanish.
Used to the distractions, flight attendants would reunite luggage, purses and backpacks to the otherwise occupied tourists.
The airport makes finding your final destination easy with kiosks with all the resorts.
We spotted the Four Seasons one with the service agents greeting us by name and offering traditional Tahitian leis of the Tiaré flower that had a unique gardenia-like citrus aroma that will forever forge in my mind and heart as the scent of the best vacation I’ve experienced – ever.
Transported to Paradise
We boarded a classic wood yacht for a 30-minute ride across the near placid lagoon.
In addition to the immense beauty of the water, all eyes were transfixed on Mount Otemanu with its jagged volcanic peak rising magically above the swirling clouds.
Named “Bird of Paradise” by the Tahitians, the extinct volcano would serve as my constant compass of comfort and luxury throughout my five-day adventure in the South Pacific.
Seconds after the hospitality team gave us Tiaré-scented refreshing towels and cold water bottles, all of the 15 passengers on the boat rushed to snap photos.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful in my life,” a visitor from Canada exclaimed.
“Every angle is a photo-op,” remarked another tourist from California. “It’s unbelievable.”
And so my unbelievable 45th birthday in Bora Bora begins. Hashtag #BoraBoraBirthday!
As the boat docked, about 15 team members greeted us at the lobby greeted with the traditional Tahitian greeting, “Ia Ora Na,” and offered us a passion fruit smoothie.
Marketing Specialist Aurelie Voituron and Resort Manager Christophe Chabaud gave us a warm welcome to the Four Seasons Bora Bora.
Within a few minutes, we were whisked away on a golf cart with Aurelie, a native of Paris, who proudly gave us a tour of the expansive and perfectly landscaped tropical resort surrounded by private lagoons and sparkling white sand beaches set amidst lush tropical gardens.
Optimizing Private Luxury
Architects and landscape designers planned the resort with location, privacy and luxury in mind after learning from all of the other resorts built before the Four Seasons.
The 100 overwater bungalows and seven private beachside villas are strategically positioned to maximize the sweeping vistas yet they all somehow retain a level of privacy.
We divided our trip to take advantage of both accommodations.
Riding on the pontoons above the fantastical waters, I couldn’t help to feel transported to another world.
Stepping into the bungalow, my eyes became immediately transfixed onto the deck and spacious outdoor area with commanding views of Mount Otemanu.
The water was beckoning me to enter.
I listened as Aurelie provided a tour of our luxury accommodations, but I all I wanted to do was to take a plunge into the lagoon just steps away.
That’s true desire especially for somebody who doesn’t know how to swim. But luckily, I had both patience and a life vest with snorkeling gear waiting.
The 1,000-square-foot overwater bungalow featured native dark woods on the floor, walls and ceilings with all the modern amenities – Wi-Fi, CD and DVD player, iPod docking stations and private bars – one would expect from the Four Seasons brand.
Teak furnishings and native artwork exuded tropical charm. The high ceilings with traditional-thatched roofs created an elevated ambiance, taking full advantage of the natural light.
The floor even features cut-outs to bring in the colors of the waters glistening below. The unique lighting effect is even more brilliant at night with flooring lights illuminating the waters.
One of my favorite moments was waking up in the middle of the night and going out to the bungalow’s deck. I would lie there eyes stretched in almost every possible direction at the bright stars of the Southern Hemisphere that formed the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross.
It was such awe-inspiring sight that will forever live in my mind.
My Private Water Oasis
Diving into the next 45 years of my life! #boraborabirthday #borabora #tahiti #bungalow #jumpingshot #instagramphotooftheday #nofilters #lagoon View on Instagram
At last, it was time for my plunge. I put on my life vest and took a dive into my own private paradise.
Floating in the calm lagoon, I felt I was the only person in the world. There were no other sounds than my breath and the splashes of waves lapping against me.
I suddenly felt the layers of stress and anxiety built over 45 years melt away. I would revisit that feeling numerous times during my stay.
After devouring a mid-afternoon snack of tropical fruits, juices and cheeses, I had an appointment with marine biologist Oliver Martin at the resort’s Ruahatu Lagoon Sanctuary.
Preserving Marine Life
I had known about Oliver from his blog showcasing his worldwide travels with young daughter, Alyx.
Since 2008, Oliver and his team have created one of the largest aquatic areas in French Polynesia.
It’s a testament to his passion for preserving the most sensitive of sea creatures against the tide of global warming.
After a three-year research study of French Polynesian reef ecosystems and a six-year world tour to research worldwide anthropogenic impacts, he now works with the cutting-edge program to protect the delicate marine ecosystem.
Today is World Oceans Day! Saluting hardworking people that protect our oceans like @FourSeasons @FSBoraBora marine biologist Oliver Martin #worldoceansday #marine #marinebiologist #borabora #boraborabirthday #fourseasons #southpacific #tahiti #lagoon #paradise #tropics #tropical #pufferfish #coral #tropicalfish View on Instagram
He leads guests on snorkeling tours of the inner lagoons to enhance their knowledge about marine life.
One of the highlights of my trip was getting to know Oliver and meeting his daughter as well as to experience the underwater living creatures of tropical fish and corals.
Snorkeling in the lagoon was like swimming in a tropical fish aquarium with a kaleidoscope of colorful fish darting about. But as soon as I emerged from the water, I could see the majesty of the surroundings – with Mount Otemanu as the constant background.
I miss my tropical fish in Bora Bora, especially the rare yellow puffer fish that followed me around in the lagoon. #tropical #tropicalfish #boraborabirthday #borabora #tahiti #snorkel #snorkeling #fsfotog #lagoon #pufferfish
I had the chance to graft corals on large sheets of concrete. They look like exotic herbs in an underwater version of Alice in Wonderland.
I took my turn in grafting five corals which can grow up to 10 inches long a year. I hope to return someday to see Oliver’s dream realized of creating a center on the Pacific side of the island – and to see how my five corals are faring.
Though Tahiti certainly attracts honeymooners and couples celebrating special occasions, I noticed there were many multi-generational families and groups of friends spending quality time in and out of the lagoon.
We spent a brilliant day on an excursion with other guests at the Four Seasons Bora Bora – a family of seven from Japan and a couple from our hometown of Laguna Niguel, Calif. The extended family was made up of grandparents, parents and grandchild – all on a group vacation.
Swimming with Friendly Sharks and Families
Knowing that I had on the internary of the shark and stingray excursion rattled my nerves partly because I couldn’t swim but mostly because of the sharks and stingrays.
The resort helped prepare me for the trip after explaining to me that the sharks were lemon sharks and reef sharks that did not eat humans and that the stingrays and manta rays would be harmless.
The excursion began with two cousins – Manu and Ray – of Lagoon Tours welcoming our group with some fast-playing ukulele and soothing songs to calm anxious nerves.
I wonder if they really are cousins because in that part of the world, your close friends are considered family. I also think their names sound suspiciously close to manta rays.
But the reality is that the duo delivered an amazing day. It began with musical ride on a motorized outrigger canoe that took us to the other side of the main island of Bora Bora where we could see the other resorts along the way.
The common comment from the group was how much bigger the Four Seasons bungalows looked compared to the others and the view of Mount Otemanu wasn’t as impressive from those vantage points.
The other consensus of the group was the spectacular shades of blue changing from minute to minute depending on the depth of the water.
The first stop along Manu and Ray’s “ocean office” was to feed the stingrays and manta rays. Still a bit hesitant, I safely stood away from the feeding frenzy about neck-deep in water.
So unreal to be swimming with sharks! #snorkel #snorkeling #boraborabirthday #borabora #sharks #tropicalparadise @fsborabora @fourseasons #diving #tahiti View on Instagram
Not a boring Bora birthday with life teeming underneath. #borabora #boraborabirthday #tropical #fish #tropicalfish #snorkel #snorkeling #instagramphotooftheday #nofilters
I was in awe as I saw the couple of my hometown embrace the stingrays while the Japanese grandmother kiss another sea creature.
I put on my snorkeling gear and became entranced by the rays gliding around as giddy humans – old and young alike – squealed in pure delight. It was magical.
It happened all too fast. The time had come for us to return to the canoe for the second part of the trek – the sharks.
After singing Steam’s or Bananarama’s versions of “Kiss Him Goodbye,” we took a plunge into a deeper sea coral garden where schools of tropical fish circled our boat, and eight to 10 sharks awaited their uneasy friends.
I waited for a while next to the boat to get my sea bearings and my strength. But I mostly wanted to watch to make sure it was perfectly O.K. to be in the water with sharks.
Conquering my fear of the ocean, I made the plunge and was mesmerized by what I saw under water.
It as impossible to describe colors of translucent fish darting about along with how to describe the engineering marvel of giant lemon sharks and reef sharks flying through water.
The near silence under water provided me an extra level of insulation of a shark grazing inches away from head – its body and tail zipping through the water while pummeling me away.
Mantu appeared next to me and asked via hand gestures under the water if I needed help. I gave him the thumbs up sign, and he grabbed by GoPro camera as he made a quick dive toward the gentle giant and filmed it as it was swimming all around us.
After getting back on the canoe, I realized I conquered three fears – swimming, sharks and swimming with sharks. I survived my birthday vacation.
Private Island Picnic
As we all took turns sharing our close encounters with sharks, Mantu and Ray took us to a private motu or small island where we would have lunch.
I would have my next surreal experience – being served red wine by Tahitians wearing loincloths.
The dining experience certainly qualifies as a gourmet one with any Four Seasons resort but in the most special of settings.
The delectable meal was prepared by a Tahitian family. And by the pure genuine hospitality, one could tell it was shared with much affection for their guests and pride in their warm culture.
We feasted with Manu and Ray and their extended family on picnic tables in the lagoon.
Never before had I experienced small fish swimming between my toes while dinning. Yes, only in Bora Bora and with cousins named after fish.
Pampered in Paradise
With all the excitement, it was time for relaxation.
I think taking a nap would suffice but I’m one to always indulge in some massage time. The spa at the Four Seasons Bora Bora could easily be summed up by one word: Heavenly.
The spa’s architecture resembles a cathedral with high-pitched roofs. It’s nestled between the calm inner lagoons and the energetic waves of the Pacific with large trees and colorful flowers surrounding the sanctuary of well-being and relaxation.
I opted for the traditional Polynesian massage inspired by the French Polynesians’ love for graceful and soothing dance-like motions called “taurumi.” This treatment along with the selection of vanilla and tiara natural oils quickly put me into a zen-like state.
A Culinary and Cultural Fiery Feast
A trip to the South Pacific would not be complete without the traditional luau.
I’ve always preferred the luau’s cultural performance over its food, I found the Four Season’s interpretation of luau cuisine to be just as delectable and delightful as its entertainment.
The appetizers feature traditional luau fare of fresh seafood, native root vegetables with an Asian twist. The main course consists of quality preparations of beef, pork, chicken and fish with savory side dishes.
Vegetarians also will delight in the bountiful assortment of meatless offerings. I marvel at the variety of fresh produce and protein that must be shipped in by boat or airplane that are expertly prepared per the high standards according to the Four Seasons brand.
Tahitian dancers entertained guests with traditional performance. And for those who indulged in dinner too much, they can shake off some calories with some hip-swirling routines to the sheer delight or utter bemusement of their loved ones.
The highlight of the night’s luau was the traditional Tahitian fire knife dance with high-fueled fire on both ends of the sharp knife.
I noted that all of the performers had burn marks on their arms and legs – likely earned from entertaining guests like myself. At the end of the high-octane performance, I joined the crowd in clapping until my hand hurt in appreciation of the team’s work.
Private Beach Villa
I went back to what was even a more luxury accommodations than Bora Bora’s iconic overwater bungalow.
It was a 2,000-foot private villa with two master suites with enough entertainment space for the U.S. presidential family and their guests.
The tropical gardens surround the villa provided privacy yet offered sweeping views of the lagoon and the main island. It came complete with an outdoor spa, swimming pool and a lovely hammock on a private beach with soft powder white sand.
Thanks, kind @fsborabora team, for the delectable apres jet ski snacks and the delightful visual treats! #boraborabirthday #borabora #tahiti #luxurytravel #luxuryvilla #tropical #paradise
A Fond Farewell
I awoke from my slumber with the realization that it was my last day of my Bora Bora birthday. I spent the day absorbing every minute of the sights, scents and sounds of paradise.
It also gave me one last chance to go snorkeling in the lagoon with my fish friends. One rare fish – a gold puffer fish – had followed me around from one end of the lagoon to the next before. And it was trailing me again.
As I got out of the water, it circled around and splashed water on my eyes as if it were waving its fond farewell to me.
I was trying to savor every last detail of the Bora Bora Four Seasons as we were checking out, and I noticed the sad faces on the others checking out.
Among the long faces were two newly wed couples – one straight and one gay – along with a multi-generational family of five.
We all agreed that it was the most magical place we’ve ever experienced and relished the opportunity to visit paradise again.
Perhaps it will be for Bora Bora Birthday No. 50 for me.
More Travel Tedbits
No travel article – even this multimedia feature – could capture the mesmerizing beauty and charm of Bora Bora.
I’ve included a photo slideshow and audio podcasts to help you experience this mystical island paradise. But you truly have to experience it for yourself.