Nothing Bora boring about mixing with rich and famous
Tahiti and her islands beckon for a taste of movie-star lifestyle, writes Evonne Barry
ROBERT De Niro is in the hotel’s foyer, looking much more Meet The Parents than Taxi Driver. He’s wearing beige pants, sensible shoes and a striped blue T-shirt – there’s no sign of the famous face’s typical accessory, weaponry – and he is holding a tourist brochure, pointing something out to a woman I assume is his wife.
I’ve hit the jackpot, I think, as I find myself approaching one of the world’s most celebrated actors ( minus a feasible conversation starter).
Bora Bora is apparently a magnet for big names, and I have been hoping to catch sight of at least one. Hollywood royalty would do very nicely, first up, thank you very much.
Except Robert De Niro turns around and shows he is only a vague lookalike. My celebrity count is still at zero. It stays at zero over three nights on Bora Bora, but I quickly learn how this spectacular Pacific island trades on its reputation.
It is a renowned haunt of the famous and, as the exorbitant cost of living here dictates, the wealthy.
With no expectations of being either, I appreciate this trip as a once-in-a lifetime experience. That’s how I justify forking out almost $40 on a basic spirit and Coke at one of the clubs.
And no doubt it helps the bottom line at Bloody Mary’s, a waterside, seafood restaurant a speedboat ride from our hotel.
Here you choose your meal from a massive variety of seafood — the extensive day’s catch is on display, on ice, ready for diners’ handpicking.
But before you get to the food, you walk past even bigger wooden boards. They are covered with the names of hundreds of past (celebrity) guests, including Marlon Brando, Prince Rainier, Julio Iglesias, Ringo Starr, Billy Idol, Rod Stewart, Raquel Welch, Tommy Lee, George Michael, Janet Jackson, Pamela Anderson, Slash, Buzz Aldrin, Cameron Diaz and Johnny Depp.
There is no sign of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, who were caught by paparazzi honeymooning at a luxurious Bora Bora hotel in 2006. Nor Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and now-husband Tony Parker, who happened to be staying at the flashy St Regis resort at the same time as the Aussie newlyweds.
However, ‘‘Harisson’’ Ford and ‘‘ Dianna’’ Ross will notice typos should they return.
The appeal of this place is obvious. Like few holiday destinations, Bora Bora looks like it does in the postcards. The beautiful blue waters are as clear and bright as imaginable, the dramatic mountainscape is deep green and the sand pristine white.
It befits the 1970s Imperial Leather ad, which made ‘‘ Tahiti Looks Nice’’ a catchphrase. Except this isn’t Tahiti.
The island of Tahiti is one of 118 that make up French Polynesia, which is a French possession and sometimes marketed as ‘‘Tahiti and her islands’’. All these islands cover an ocean surface of 4 million sq km, about the size of continental Europe.
Tahiti is the biggest and most populous. And aside from it being home to the international airport, in Papeete, there is a reason why tour guides recommend it as a first stop.
On landing, Tahiti presents as an ideal tropical getaway. But it has an average tourist stay rate of two nights, largely because it is nowhere near as picture-perfect as at least two of its neighbouring islands — Bora Bora and Moorea.
For example, much of Tahiti’s coastline is covered in black sand (which is beautiful nonetheless).
Moorea, the second stop on our three-island visit, is my favourite.
It doesn’t have the eye-popping extravagance of Bora Bora, though there are many five-star places to stay if that suits your taste and budget.
Instead it remains largely, and thankfully, untouched.
We catch a ferry from Papeete to Moorea’s port, less than 20km away. During the half-hour journey, a pod of dolphins swims freely in the ocean. A few hours later, a pair of these animals look decidedly less content in an enclosure of a five-star hotel.
The best way to see this island is on a bicycle. It’s also the best way to get a glimpse of local life. We set off and stop for lunch at a roadside stall. A sandwich and freshly squeezed juice is among the most enjoyable of meals of this trip, simply because of the setting. A quad-bike tour, which is open to kids as well as adults, is another way to see this magnificent island.
There are three main peaks on Moorea. This tour takes you to the top of the middle one, via fruit and vanilla plantations, providing an incredible panorama of the island.
The last stop, Bora Bora, is truly exceptional.
I’m in an over-water bungalow at the Four Seasons resort, off which I can dive and swim to my travelling companions’ rooms.
However I wasn’t feeling so confident during the snorkelling trip.
I coped swimming among the (apparently harmless) sharks, but the dozens of manta rays were another story.
These gentle, rubbery giants wrap themselves around you, seemingly licking the sun screen off your body – a sensation I’ll happily leave in the once-in-a-lifetime file.
Life on the lagoon: A luxury bungalow is a swim away through the manta rays from the neighbourhood dinner party on Bora Bora.
Quad-bike terrain: Children can join quad-bike tours (above) as the girls get set for scuba diving at Bora Bora.