Thursday, September 15, 2011

Society Islands - Bora Bora (2011)

On August 2nd, we made the half-day sail from Tahaa to Bora Bora.  It was a pleasant trip, and we were through the pass and in the lagoon by lunch time.  For our first stop, we decided not go to the main island of Bora Bora, but instead anchored off of Ile Toopua, which is on the SW side of the lagoon.  We dropped the hook in ten feet of crystal clear water and immediately jumped in to look at the anchor and the small coral heads under the boat.  After we established that the anchor was set and we were in no danger of bumping the coral heads, we had lunch in what turned out to be one of our favorite anchorages in French Polynesia.  It was a really nice spot for swimming, snorkeling and relaxing, which is what we did for the first few days.  

Bora Bora

After three days, we weighed anchor and headed to the island of Bora Bora.  The main village of Vaitape is on the west side of the island and the anchorages on the west side are quite deep.  Fortunately, there are mooring balls located at several places which make life easy, and those at the Bloody Mary’s restaurant are free for customers.  So our first stop was one of those moorings, where we tied up and enjoyed some cheeseburgers for lunch.  We then spent the afternoon walking around trying to figure out where things were located.  An hour walk north brought us to the main village of Vaitape, where we headed to the tourist information center to get a map.  We then walked another half hour to the dive shop to talk to the instructors about the last three dives that we needed to get our open water certifications.  We scheduled them for four days out, and then we did some shopping in the village on our way back to Saviah.

Since we had a few days before our dives, we decided to make our way around the north side of the island and anchor off the motus inside the fringing reef on the east side of Bora Bora.  We were a bit nervous about crossing the north side of the lagoon, because it is very shallow in areas and there are quite a few dangerous coral heads. Our thought was that since it is further away from the main village and more difficult to get to, it would be an unspoiled area with lots of good snorkeling. 
We spent some time studying the charts and putting in a track on the GPS and then nervously headed around the island, with one of us on the bow looking for hazards along the way.  At one point we spent about 20 minutes motoring through an area with one to three feet of water under our keel.  As we came around the north end, we could see the area that we wanted to anchor in, but the motus were just covered with hotel after hotel, which was disappointing.  So we stayed on the north side of the island and found a nice spot in twelve feet of water and dropped the anchor. 
It was a bit breezy compared to the leeward side of the island, but there weren’t any other boats around, so we were able to work on a few projects and study our open water dive manual without any distractions. After a few nights anchored off the motu, we enjoyed a nice sail in the flat waters of the lagoon back to the leeward side of the island to the Bora Bora Yacht Club.  We picked up a mooring at the yacht club, as we wanted to be near the dive shop and the main village.
The first things you notice when you approach Bora Bora are the steep green peaks of the island, and so Andrew’s first question was whether there was a hike up to the top.  The woman at the tourist information center told us there was a trail going to the top, but you aren’t allowed to do the hike unless you have a local guide, which costs around $250.  We weren’t sure if that was per person or per group, but either way, it was more than we were willing to pay.  So the decision was whether we would skip it or just risk doing it without a guide.
Our friend Gayle aboard Ri Ri told us that she had recently done the hike with another group of cruisers, and they did it without a guide.  So we decided to take our chances and started up the trail around 6:30 the next morning.   The hike was one of the more difficult we have ever done.  There was a lot of scrambling on all fours and grabbing on to roots and tree branches, as well as about a dozen sections with ropes that you had to pull yourself up.  It took us three hours to climb up to the top of Mount Pahia, which was 2,169 ft high.  It was definitely worth doing, and the 360 degree views of the lagoon and the nearby islands were amazing.   
One our way back down, we had a close call.  The first part of the descent from the peak was a rope section about 50 feet high.  Di went down first, and then Andrew followed.  We both made it down without issue, but had a close call as the section Andrew was standing on gave way and his feet were now dangling over the edge of the cliff.  Thankfully, he was still holding onto the rope when it happened, and Di scrambled back up to grab his backpack and pulled him back to solid ground.  That shook us up a bit, and we were even more cautious all the way back down.
hiking Mt Pahia in Bora Bora

The next day, sore from our hike, we did our first of three dives in Bora Bora.  For our first one, the dive boat took us out through the pass and then anchored right outside the reef.  After we were in the water, we dove to 60 feet and hung out at the bottom for about ten minutes, practicing some exercises for the certification program.  It was a bit distracting to have a dozen white tip reef sharks swimming around us while we took off our masks and practiced clearing them.  Then a 12-foot lemon shark swam by really close as we were practicing our buddy breathing.  If we had done the certification before we left the states, these drills would have been done in a swimming pool.  We spent the rest of the dive following the instructor around the dive site viewing the abundant marine life and then headed back to the boat.  Back at the dive shop, we were given a copy of the test to take back to the boat with us.  We didn’t realize it was a take home test, so that was a nice surprise. 
Our last two dives were scheduled for the following morning.  This was our first time to do repetitive dives.  The first dive was outside the pass at about 60 feet deep again.  We saw a few sharks, some lion fish, shrimp, and a moray eel, as well as many other fish.  The second dive was inside the lagoon and was only 30-40 feet deep.  We spent quite a bit of time sitting in the sand on the bottom watching the 20-25 eagle rays swim around us.  On the way back to the dive boat, we swam through some huge schools of colorful fish.  After our dives and back at the dive shop, we learned that we passed our tests.  Having finished all of our training dives, it was exciting to get our dive certification cards.  We’re really looking forward to doing some more diving over the next couple months in Tonga and Fiji.
The next morning, August 11th, we decided to do a tour of the island.  We rented bikes and rode around the main road that skirts the outside of the island.  It took us about four hours to make it all the way around, including a stop for lunch.  It had been a long time since we’ve ridden bikes, and we were pretty sore afterwards.  Even though the rental was for eight hours, we didn’t mind giving them back after only four hours of use.    
biking around Bora Bora
After our bike ride, we headed back to the Bloody Mary’s moorings where we had dinner to celebrate our 10-year anniversary.  The dining experience there was unique, as they have all of the fresh seafood on display at the front of the restaurant where they describe all the menu offerings for the evening and you place your order.  After you order, they show you to a table.  The restaurant was very touristy, but we had a good time and the food was really good. 
A few more days were spent at the Bora Bora Yacht Club, running around town doing errands.  Formalities required a stop at the Gendarmerie to clear out of French Polynesia, and then we made a few trips back and forth from the grocery store, and lots of trips to shore to fill up our water jugs.  After departing Bora Bora, it would be about three weeks before food or water would be available again.
After we provisioned, we decided to spend a couple days relaxing and headed back to our favorite anchorage off Ile Toopua.  We anchored in the same spot as when we first arrived, and spent three really nice days there with very calm winds and clear skies.  With the nearly full moon, we were able to see our anchor chain in the sand and the fish swimming around the boat through the night almost as clearly as we could during the day.   Andrew spent a couple hours a day scrubbing the growth off the bottom of the boat, since we hadn’t done a good job of that since Mexico.   
anchorage off Ile Toopua
We finally left Bora Bora and French Polynesia on August 16th, our visas having expired five days earlier.  After a week of unusually calm trades, the forecast showed the winds picking up to about 15 knots for the following week.  That was just what we were hoping for, and we set off on our next passage to Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, 680 miles to the northwest.