Bora Bora – Society Islands, French Polynesia

South Pacific Beauty and an Idyllic Lagoon

Grab a seat on the left side of the plane for your first glimpse of the island that mesmerized Captain James Cook some 225 years ago. James Michener called it “the most beautiful in the world” and “the South Pacific at its unforgettable best” – so beautiful it’s said to have been the inspiration for Bali H’ai in his Tales of the South Pacific.

Four miles long and 2/2 miles wide, Bora Bora rises as an oasis in the deep indigo sea, its circular palm-covered barrier reef of semiconnected motu islets embracing a wide lagoon whose palette of blues and greens defies description. The lagoon, in turn, surrounds the high green island, whose renowned, twin-peaked volcanic cones rise nearly a half mile above the water.

When the original owners of the Hotel Bora Bora arrived to build the first resort on this beautiful isle in the 1960s, they had their pick of locations and so secured the prime spot: exquisite, sugar-white Matira Beach, possibly the most idyllic in the Pacific.

On it, they built a series of thatched bungalows, some on the beach and some out over the water, with two- tiered sundecks and steps that lead directly into the beautiful lagoon. A group of beach- or garden-sited farés (villas), some with their own private pools and Jacuzzis, are some of the largest accom­modations on the island. The atmosphere is one of elegant South Pacific charm and sim­plicity, designed to blend harmoniously with the tropical splendor of the setting. With the powdery palm-studded beach at your fingertips, the blue lagoon at your door, and Mounts Otemanu and Pahia looming over your shoulder, you’ll be effortlessly lulled into the torpor of the island’s kick-back rhythm. But some of the Pacific’s best inshore snorkeling calls, offering underwater traffic jams of trumpet fish, angelfish, parrot fish, and the curiously named Pinocchio and Napoleon fish.

Shark feeding is one of the hotel’s more dramatic activities: Willing guests submerge themselves amid dozens of 5-foot blackfin lagoon sharks, which are regularly hand-fed by local divers. A four- wheel-drive journey that jounces and rattles you through the lush interior terrain is worth it for the cliffside views, which are as heart-stopping as the morning’s nose-to-nose shark encounter.

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