The name Bora Bora instantly gives you the image of a perfect lagoon surrounding a lush volcanic island with bures out over the water with thatched rooves. This image gave Bora Bora the reputation of the most beautiful island in the Pacific, a pretty good title considering the competition.
So it was with great anticipation that we would go there and we looked forward to diving the waters of the lagoon that were home to a manta ray cleaning station, the best way to see manta’s as they aren’t swimming away from you. Well that was until we read the information on Noonsite.com advising that sailors are no longer allowed around the eastern side to snorkel. A while ago you couldn’t even take the yacht around there but now you can take the yacht, but can’t snorkel. This is due to the large drop off in Manta Rays in the region. But we’ll get to our opinion on this later.
We sailed across on a perfect morning from Tahaa, out through Pai Pai pass and over to the one and only pass on Bora Bora which is on the North-west side. Once again, we held hope to dive the pass but on arrival, the tide was going out so we aborted that idea and said we could try again in the morning. So we headed to the south end of Toopua Island where we were told there is a good dive with eagle rays. We tried to pick up a mooring but it was too shallow for our 1.9m draft so we anchored off to the side of the channel. We got our dive gear ready and on entering the water near the mooring we’d been told to go down on, we came across 4 eagle rays swimming in the current. The current was quite strong on this day so we dropped to the bottom, hid behind some rocks and just watched these 4 rays fly around in the waters. They really are majestic creatures that glide effortlessly along. The contours of the channel were awesome too. Visibility was pretty poor with more rain run off but better than Tahiti had been.
After our dive we got back to the surface to find the boat surrounded in debris. We had anchored on the edge of the current line it seemed and all around us were floating bottles, containers, even a piece of synthetic grass. We picked up our anchor and as we cruised along we saw a pod of 50 odd small spinner dolphins, swimming not far from this debris line. Hopefully they weren’t consuming anything nasty. We cruised up to the Bora Bora Yacht Club. This is the older of the two clubs and was damaged in a cyclone a while ago and new owners had fixed it up. We had a few drinks at the club before our guests took off to their resort on the east side.
After a quiet night on the boat we had the two male guests join us again the following morning for a half day of diving. We went straight to the pass and with an outgoing tide, I stayed on the boat whilst Annika and the boys went diving in the current. Much safer to use the yacht as a chase boat than our tender with a small outboard. Another pass dive and another let down it seemed. Annika came up saying that they had hardly seen anything. Whilst they were down I saw lots of boats coming and going through the reef to a spot just down the west wall. I decided that it must be the shark dive I’d heard about so I said we could go and once again I would stay on the yacht to allow Annika and the boys to dive. One of the boys has been diving for 10 years and had never seen any of the major creatures before this trip. He says he has dived all the good places such as the red sea, and all the med has to offer but no sharks, rays or anything of the sort.
So when we pull up and there are 20 or so black tips on the surface near the local boats, with water visibility of 30m plus, it didn’t take them too long to get in the water. The smiles said it all when they came to the surface. 20 odd black tips and two 2.5m greys all in one area. Of course they do feed them here so that is why they are in the area but they have the freedom to leave and that is the best thing about these sorts of spots. I was a little jealous so said I wanted to do a quick snorkel. So Annika drove the boat and as I got in, a group of divers from Top Dive Bora Bora jumped in. Maybe it is me, but experienced tour guides should know better than to chase sharks. As I get to the area, I see their dive guide chase the big greys and they simply disappeared and I didn’t see them come back. Then another guide chases the black tips and they too dispersed, not disappearing but they spread out far and wide. Annika and the boys had done what you should do with any creature in the water, chill out and relax and they will most often come to you. My snorkel didn’t last long and I was back on the boat somewhat annoyed at the local dive operator.
We went back to the south end of Toopua after this and Annika and the boys jumped in for a final dive with the rays. This time they saw 12 of them flying around. They actually went across the channel to the reef but found the reef nowhere near as exciting as the rays. We then cruised back to the Bora Bora Yacht Club for lunch with the ladies. It had been a great trip for our guests and after 5 more days in Bora Bora they went back to Switzerland and sent an email to us saying that the boat was much more fun than the land. They got bored on Bora Bora as the thing to see is the lagoon and the best way to see it is on a boat of course.
Now back to the Manta Rays. We had hoped to see them but no sightings. We didn’t go around the east side this time as we had to return to Tahiti within 5 days to pick up Annika’s best friend from school days and her family. However you could see very clearly that the biggest issue, in my opinion, is not the cruisers who cruise around at 6 knots, if not less avoiding reefs, but the hundreds of jetski tours and transfer boats that kept transiting the lagoon all day and even into the night. There is so much marine traffic at high speed that if I was a Manta Ray, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this place. I’d find a nice peaceful place to relax. Nowhere on the lagoon will you find a smooth anchorage, there will always be boats flying around everywhere. Jetski’s, don’t get me started, but they use a lot of oil and where does that oil go, into the ocean.
No I don’t think the cruisers are the problem, I think the over growth in tourism and development is the problem. There is even a closed resort on Toopua, which is left in ruin. It’s a shame but they didn’t have the bures over the water and that was probably the reason, who knows. But with development comes debris and the rains had washed a lot into the lagoon where the dolphins, eagle and manta rays swim around. It really wasn’t the most beautiful island in the pacific anymore, it is just another tourist destination. It wasn’t as bad as Tahiti but it still wasn’t good, and in the past it was meant to have been great.
The following day we started making our way back to Tahiti. It would be all upwind so a tough slog but stay tuned for our next episode for more details and another try at Tahiti.
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