Friday, March 4, 2011

Bora Bora Excursions

For my last post on Bora Bora, I’m going to review the three excursions we did.

Tupuna 4X4 Safari 

Husband really wanted to do this trip because one of the stops involved looking at some old World War Two stuff. I was less into the idea but in the end, I think I enjoyed it more than he did.

The trip was just over three hours in length and we were with only one other couple. This turned out to be a very good thing because we did some actual 4x4ing and things got pretty bumpy.

But in a fun way! Unfortunately, a muddy road kept us from getting to the main lookout spot so we had to settle for the back-up spot but even it gave us some great views of the ocean and the motus that ring the main island.

Then it was off to see a set of cannons from World War Two and learn about Bora Bora’s rather minimal involvement in that war. The location of the guns was also a great spot to take pictures from.

After that, there was some more 4x4ing before heading back down the mountain to look at some other stuff, including an old temple and a coconut plantation. As we drove, our guide told us about Bora Bora and did a great job at pointing out the many different types of plants that now live on the island (many of them aren’t native).

At the end of the trip, we got a hands-on lesson in how to open up a coconut. This was followed by the only less-than-fun part of the trip: A visit to The Farm, the pearl farm/tourist trap that most 4x4 trips end up at.

I should though say that while we didn’t care for The Farm, the other couple who was with us seemed to enjoy hearing about how pearls are farmed (having already been to Moorea, we were all pearled out by this point in time).

While I think Husband was a bit disappointed in the World War Two guns, I found the whole trip to be fun and quite educational. And since we got a buy-one-get-half-off rate (around $80 for the full rate), it wasn’t too pricey either.

Shark Feeding/Coral Garden/Lagoonarium

This was Husband’s favourite excursion of our whole trip and a close second for me, after diving with the sharks in Moorea.

We did the full-day package which means our day went like this: was picked up and taken to the boat; went out near the reef ring and snorkelled while the guides fed some black-tipped reef sharks and some rays; went to “the Coral Garden” where we did more snorkelling; went to the lagoonarium where we met some turtles and then got to snorkel in three different animal pens (one for rays, one for fish and a giant pen that housed rays, all kinds of fish and black-tipped and lemon sharks); had a yummy BBQ lunch; had a couple hours of free time and then, before leaving, got lessons in how to dress and dance like a local (yes, there is audience participation).

While the full-day was more expensive than the half day option (around $140 vs $95), I definitely recommend it since the “free time” was my favourite part of the day. The lagoonarium, a pretty simple and un-commercial place, is located on a beautiful motu that’s perfect for exploring, thanks to a field of exposed coral on one end.

During the free time, you can also go back into the lagoonarium pen and snorkel some more with the animals (yes, even the sharks).

Roughly half of the people we went with only did the half-day tour. While this made for a wonderful second half of the day, since our numbers were reduced, it meant that the first half was very crowded. One very annoying thing about this tour is that they cram as many people as they can onto it so expect some squishy times on the boat and bring your patience since many people apparently have no idea how to swim, snorkel or use a ladder.

To make the first half of the day more enjoyable, we tried to either be at the front of the pack or away from the pack. For example, when we did the shark feeding, Husband and I hung out at the very end of the rope while we tried to be the first in the water during the lagoonarium part.

For the snorkelling, we tried to be far enough away from the group with we didn't get kicked in the head but close enough that we could watch the guides since they would point out things like the moray eel that lives in the Coral Gardens.

Besides the crowds, my only other compliant about this excursion is that we didn’t have long enough to snorkel in the Coral Gardens (I think we were there for under 30 minutes).

A couple other tips:

  1.  Bring your own snorkelling stuff or borrow gear from your hotel. People who used the tour's gear weren't very impressed and the tour also didn't give you flippers and trust me, you want flippers so that you can maximize your swimming time.
  2.  Make sure to feed the rays at the lagoonarium (the guides have a chum bucket). Once they know you have food, they come and swirl all around you and they feel so soft. 

The Meridian Bora Bora Turtle Sanctuary

Unlike the other two excursions, this one wasn’t purchased through our hotel. Instead, Husband and I sorted it out for ourselves.

I can’t remember how we heard that Le Meridian Bora Bora had a turtle sanctuary where you could swim with turtles but somehow we learned about this place and decided to check it out on our second last day.

The sanctuary is a free thing for those people staying at The Meridian and if you can, I would totally recommend staying at this hotel. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with two pools, a nice sandy beach and amazing views of the main Bora Bora island.

Since we weren’t lucky enough to be staying at The Meridian, we had to take a cab to the Meridian’s shuttle dock, then take the Meridian’s shuttle boat over to the resort (we had our hotel call them to get the shuttle times). Once there, we paid just over $20 each as a donation to the turtle sanctuary and then we could snorkel with the turtles as much as we wanted.

The lagoon itself is surprising large and it’s home to a ton of fish as well as easily over a dozen turtles.  This was the only place, other than when we were diving, where we saw clown fish.

There are no “turtle guards” or anyone monitoring the lagoon and while there was plenty of Meridian staff walking about, none of them seemed to care when we left the lagoon and hung out at one of the pools. So of you happen not to be loving your Bora Bora hotel, come to the turtle sanctuary just so you can spend some time at a beautiful hotel.

The only part of this excursion that I wasn’t crazy about was The Meridian’s restaurant, where we had lunch. I had a less than great pizza while Husband had an OK pulled pork sandwiches and both items were overpriced.

At least the turtles were worth the price of admission.

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