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Travel Bora Bora by Day . . . and Night

October 5, 2012
A blacktip reef shark, Bora Bora
Shark dive, anyone? A blacktip reef shark swims in the clear Polynesian waters.
Photography Adam H. Graham

Our private jet departed Kona and headed south on a five-hour course across the equator to Papeete, Tahiti. From there, we took a 50-minute charter flight followed by a 25-minute sunset boat-crossing to the island paradise beloved by everyone from Melville, Michener and Gauguin to more modern mavericks such as Brando and Nicholson. Welcome to Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. Ia Orana (yo-rah-nah)!

Bora Bora’s cerulean seas, cottony peach clouds, and flamboyant flowers and fish have been much photographed. “I felt like I woke up in a screen saver,” says TCS & Starquest Expeditions guide Amber Shearer. Bora Bora’s sunny days are filled with activities like snorkelling with sharks and rays. (Our own lagoon excursion included a plunge into the famous gin-clear waters teeming with 30 blacktip reef sharks and half a dozen ghostly lemon sharks.) But little is said of Bora Bora’s incredibly starry black nights. When night falls, the island takes on a certain grace. Female guests emerge from the over-water bungalows with tanned skin set off by attractive dresses and newly purchased black Tahitian pearls, men with crisp shirts, combed wet hair and smiles that run deep. The ukulele- and guitar-strumming golf cart drivers shuttle guests to and from the restaurants, their melodic voices lilting over the floodlit green waters below. Best of all is the starry sky, which becomes its own IMAX theatre at night. Hawaii gets a lot of ink for its dark skies and stars, but Bora Bora’s are no less exhilarating. As if that weren’t enough, Paihia and Otemanu, the iconic two peaks formed by an extinct volcano, are transformed from a lush and jagged green mountain into a dark Polynesian spectre lording it over the island.

The Polynesians were famous for using the stars in the night sky to navigate their way across these waters. Long before Bora Bora was part of French Polynesia’s Society Islands, ancient Polynesian navigators were sharing astronomy intel by way of song. This oral tradition noted the motion of specific zenith stars and their rising and setting points on the horizon. Other wayfinding techniques included the observation of cloud and wave patterns and wildlife behavior, which kept the Polynesians in tune with nature and deepened their sense of place in the world. The ancient methods are still taught in Solomon Islands today.

The Polynesians’ global reach is still being debated by archaeologists and historians. Some theorise that they ventured as far as Chile and the subantarctic Antipodes Islands. But the biggest mystery is why they felt compelled to leave paradise in the first place. Like many of today’s guests, I already have a hard time thinking about leaving.


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Adam H. Graham

Blogger Adam H. Graham

Based in Zürich and New York, Adam H. Graham is a veteran journalist who’s travelled to more than 70 countries and written for numerous publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Monocle, and Travel + Leisure.

Read more about Adam H. Graham

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