A swimsuit and a snorkel are all you need to explore the islands of Bora Bora and Tetiaroa.
A lazy current is doing all the work for me as I float down a coral-filled lagoon in Bora Bora. Brilliant striped angel fish, translucent silver skate and a few comically spotted puffer fish are darting inches from my mask in the crystal clear water.
All I can hear is my own Darth Vader-like exhalations through my snorkel as I try to keep as still as possible so I don’t scare off the schools of fish that are allowing a human intruder to follow them downstream. But in truth, they seem almost as curious about me as I am about them.
In French Polynesia, it’s all about the water. Whichever of its islands you decide to visit, you’ll want to spend most of your time in or on it, and the rest of the time staring at it, wondering how such an unreal colour of turquoise can be found in nature.
In Bora Bora, many resorts get you as close to the water as possible in luxurious bungalows perched on stilts over the water. At Four Seasons, plexiglass panels in the floor let you watch the water lapping below as you brush your teeth. And if you feel like getting wet, all you have to do is climb down the wooden ladder from your private deck into the ocean.
Want to live a little more on the edge? Book a half-day boat trip to swim and snorkel with stingrays and lemon sharks — all of which, our guide assured us with a sly smile, are vegetarians.
From the air, Tetiaroa — another of the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia — looks like nothing more than a forest of palm trees ringed by turquoise water. It’s only as the small plane makes its final approach that you can pick out the thatched roofs of villas set well back from the beach.
Tetiaroa was the private paradise of Marlon Brando until his death a decade ago. He bought it in the 1960s while filming Mutiny on the Bounty nearby. The untouched beauty that appealed to Brando is still one of the main draws of The Brando, the resort that opened there in 2014.
Every one of its 35 plush contemporary villas has direct access to a stretch of white-sand beach so pristine you might be content to lounge there for the duration of your stay. But that would be a shame, because you’d miss out on the resort’s packed roster of daily activities, most of which are on the water, and all of which are included in your room rate.
The Tetiaroa ultimate tour is the ideal introduction to the surrounding islands and waters. The half-day boat tour includes stops at an island bird sanctuary and a lagoon sanctuary for baby lemon sharks. On the way back, there’s a stop for snorkelling in a pristine lagoon that has earned the cheeky nickname “the billionaires’ bathtub.”
Back at the resort, dry off with your feet in the sand at an outdoor table at one of the resort’s restaurants, order from a menu created by a two-Michelin-star Paris chef and watch the sun disappear into the horizon. Paradise doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
When to go: December through March is considered the wet season and slightly hotter, June through October is the dry season and a bit cooler. But the temperature in French Polynesia is fairly steady year-round, between about 28 and 32 degrees.
Where to go: Bora Bora has several waterfront resorts with overwater bungalows, but Four Seasons Bora Bora consistently tops visitor ratings. Tetiaroa is for people who want to experience a new and exclusive destination — The Brando is the only resort on the island.
What to do: Anywhere you go in French Polynesia, prepare to get wet. Activities include snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, jet skiing and stand-up paddleboarding. On dry land, shop for black pearls, enjoy fresh seafood at one of the resort’s restaurants, or just relax at the spa.
What to bring: Pack more than one swimsuit — you’ll need it. Waterproof sunscreen and insect repellent are also good ideas.
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