More than just perfect beaches: get up close with marine life (like this lemon shark) off the island of Bora Bora.
Part of Tahiti and French Polynesia, Bora Bora is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
Although it's just an eight-hour flight from LAX, visiting Bora Bora is like stepping back in time to an idyllic South Seas enclave. The island actually compromises a main island characterized by sharp mountain peaks, surrounded by a circle of smaller islets (motu), where most of the luxury hotels are found.
Bora Bora is known for its famous overwater bungalows and is a true romance destination. In fact, most visitors are honeymooning couples. Striking natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere, beautiful people, exotic Polynesian resorts and fine dining all add to the island's mystique.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Le Moana, one of the older hotels on the main island with easy access to Matira beach and environs. From our overwater bungalow, we had easy access to the lagoon for swimming and snorkeling. A unique feature of the bungalow is a clear glass viewing panel in the coffee table, which allowed us to feed the fish at night from our room.
Evenings are quiet in Bora Bora, and were spent sipping Mai Tais, watching the sunset, and enjoying the occasional Polynesian music and dance show.
The lagoon surrounding the island contains more shades of blue than you can imagine. Calm, crystal-clear waters host a myriad of marine life as well as water sports and excursions for visitors.
One of the most popular activities on the lagoon is the shark and ray feeding tour. We went with Moana Tours on a small motorized catamaran, the first stop being the coral gardens for snorkeling. Here we encountered beautiful coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish, giant clams and even a large moray eel.
The next stop was the shallow sand banks, where playful stingrays congregate. With the amazing mountain of Bora Bora as a backdrop, we spent about a half-hour in waist- to chest-high water feeding and cavorting with the rays, which allowed us to pet them. They often brushed up against us with firm pressure – which is alarming at first. They're harmless animals unless stepped on, but most were without tail barbs. The texture of their skin was very smooth and slippery.
Spotting a blacktip shark.
The final stop was just outside the barrier reef to a spot populated by sharks. After throwing chum in the water we were greeted by several blacktip reef sharks and two rather large (around 7 feet long) lemon sharks.
While most of our group watched from the boat, a few of us went in with our snorkel gear and snapped photos while the tour leader had a few physical encounters with the sharks. No one lost a toe, and a good time was had by all.