Bora Bora - paradise in the South Pacific

by Richard Baker

Richard Baker visted Bora Bora and found out why it's such a favourite with the rich and famous

MARLON Brando had a home there and Pierce Brosnan is a regular visitor - Bora Bora, the tiny French Polynesian atoll, has become something of a celebrities' playground.

Indeed, one local restaurant proudly displays a board outside its door showing the dozens of well-known names who have dined there, including Martin Sheen and Lauren Bacall.

It's not surprising the rich and famous flock to this particular dot in the South Pacific, as it really is the stuff of which dreams are made.

White, sandy beaches on a string of small islets - or motus - surround a crystal-clear lagoon which is probably bluer than anything you'll see in even the most heavily doctored travel brochure.

In fact, according to the American novelist James A Mitchener, it is "so stunning that there are really no adequate words to describe it".

Towering over the lagoon which so impressed him is a rugged, volcanic landscape which boasts no less than three fully-fledged mountains, all covered in lush green vegetation.

Add some luxury resort hotels - with prices to match - along with a reasonable selection of fine dining, and it's clearly just the kind of place guaranteed to appeal to your average movie star.

Not that there were any about when my wife and I made the 45-minute island-hopping flight from Tahiti, just wall-to-wall American newly-weds, all of whom seemed to be from San Diego for some reason.

Love certainly was in the air and doubtless in many a hotel room, too, during our 10-day stay on the island.

In fact, the romance of the place hit us as soon as we landed at Bora Bora's airport, which is located on its own motu.

After having welcoming garlands strung round our necks, we and the other new arrivals boarded boats to be taken across that wonderful lagoon to our various hotels.

In our case that meant a 10-minute ride to the Pearl Beach resort on Motu Tevairoa, where we were staying in an over-water bungalow.

This was mounted on stilts about 150 yards out into the lagoon and was reached by an elevated, wooden walkway.

Inside it had glass viewing panels in the floors you could see marine life swimming underneath.

And what marine life! Shoals of highly colourful fish, sharks and rays make the waters of Bora Bora a draw for scuba divers and snorklers from all over the world.

Typically, of course, most of the fish decided to give our place a wide berth, while holding large-scale community get-togethers beneath the bungalow next door.

Despite that, we still had our fair share of close encounters of the aquatic kind, particularly with one large ray which seemed to put on a show for us near a lagoon-side restaurant.

This fellow was about the size of a coffee table and he ran through a whole routine of tumbles and turns for us and a couple of the San Diego honeymooners.

Vaitape, the island's main town, isn't the liveliest place on the planet and, apart from a handful of decent eateries, its biggest attraction are the games of petanque played by the locals just about every day from late afternoon until well after dark.

It's the natural attractions which are Bora Bora's greatest asset and it didn't take long for us to fall under the spell of a place rightly considered one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

"I could just look at this view for ever," my wife breathed langorously from our hotel pool one hot and lazy afternoon.

She wasn't gazing at me - or some other hunk for that matter - but the eye-catching lagoon shoreline and beyond those three volcanic mountains - Hue, Pahia and Otemanu.

Some energetic folk dedicate the better part of a day to slogging up the 727-metre high slopes of the tallest of the trio, Otemanu, for a panoramic view of the island from its plateaued top.

They are probably the same enthusiastic types happy to take bicycle tours around the nine kilometre by four kilometre island, or suffer a distinctly bumpy ride in a 4x4 vehicle.

We opted for the less stressful - if more expensive - option for a bird's-eye view of beauty, with a 15-minute helicopter ride.

We skirted the mountains and waved at the intrepid souls who'd made it to the top, and swooped over a group feeding sharks and rays from a sandbank just inside the reef.

We also took an aerial look at the naval guns installed on the island by the Americans during the Second World War in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven of the eight guns are still there, never having fired a shot in anger.

Towards the end of our flight we flew above the overwater-bungalow which had been owned by Brando.

I couldn't help thinking that Bora Bora doesn't actually need celebrities - it has a star quality all of its own.