We’re on the tarmac at Bora Bora Motu Mute Airport For maybe seven seconds when every single passenger pulls out a camera. We’ve just stepped into a prehistorical postcard of paradise. The towering, monolithic Mt. Otemanu volcano is rimmed with a ring of atolls Separated by a sparkling emerald and sapphire lagoon. No one can move, literally. We’ve been paralyzed by beauty.
I am, seemingly, the only single person between here and China. The islands of Bora Bora and Moorea are, to many, the ultimate couples incentive program, but many planners are surprised just how close they are. French Polynesia is actually east of Hawaii, about eight hours from LAX aboard Air Tahiti Nui. International flights land on the main island of Tahiti. From there, prop planes fly 10 minutes to Moorea and 45 to Bora.
Those signature overwater villas that make everyone swoon and sigh deeply really do deliver on their promise. And then some. You very quickly become connected to the fluid rhythms of the shimmering water because you spend so much time in it, around it and on top of it. The feeling is visceral. It’s like the earth is pulling you back into the beginning of time when life began in the sea.
HILTON BORA BORA NUI
While most of the big brand resorts are located on the east side of Mt. Otemanu, the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa is located all alone on the southwestern atoll of Toopua. Arriving by boat, you feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth as the water turns cobalt blue past the reef. The 86 overwater villas stretch along the longest beach in French Polynesia while 36 land villas slope up the palm-swathed hillside.
Both The Bachelor and the ballyhooed Kardashian honeymoon were filmed here because of the privacy, and it’s one of the few mountainous atolls, which lends an even more heightened sense of drama.
Perched on the crest of a leafy promontory, the Hina Spa is a citadel of serenity with three large spa cabins overlooking a 360° panorama. On a trail leading to the edge of the bluff, a sign reads: “The Million Dollar View.” At the end of the trail, there’s an open-air covered deck with two spa beds, and if anything, the sign is underestimating the view.
It’s here where I meet spa director Anthony Nayeli. He is one of many people I’ll meet who are striving to protect this impossibly pristine environment as the region’s hotel product continues to expand.
“I want us to be doing so much in terms of sustainability that the rest of the hotels are shamed by our example,” he says. “So a visit here is not just incredibly luxurious, but it’s also not exploitive in any way.”
“So this is something that’s evolved over the last three or four years?” I ask.
“Geez, no,” says Nayeli. “It’s only been within the last year that there’s been a concerted effort to understand the ecosystem and what needs to be done to preserve it.”
Proceeds from the signature spa treatments are donated to local environmental organizations. For example, the “Bambu Renu” massage uses bamboo stalks to address deep pressure points. From that, partial proceeds go to the Green Island Project, a local renewable energy company. The “Te Moana” treatment is a hot stone and cold seashell massage. The heat is designed to increase circulation while the shells release toxins through the skin. Donations go to BIOROCK, which uses electrostimulation to promote coral generation. And the “Be the Difference” signature treatment includes a sea salt and ylang ylang body scrub, marine algae body wrap and a 50-minute massage. Funds from that are given to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation for its anti-pollution initiatives throughout the islands.
In the heart of the Hilton, the tiered beachfront pool is the largest in Bora Bora. Adjacent, the Tamure Grill is a casual thatch roof restaurant with a big sandy floor. This is a fantastic place for groups to gather for breakfast in shorts and flip flops, with a quiet breeze coming off the water. On the other side of the pool, the Iriatai Restaurant and Upa Upa Bar are located on the second story of a Polynesian vernacular wood building with wide vantages of the beach and water. The French, Asian and Pacific Rim fusion menu serves dishes like baked spiny lobster in tarragon lobster bisque. It’s open for group bookings during the day all week and Tuesday nights when Tamure Grill hosts the weekly Polynesian fire-breathing gala.
The big 1,000-sf overwater bungalows are gorgeous with cathedral ceilings, wood floors, intricate woodwork, Italian marble bathrooms and big 4-poster beds with delicate linen drapery. The marquee rooms are the two 3,200-sf Presidential Villas. The 2-story, 2-bedroom structures can be booked for 40-pax cocktail receptions at sunset. Late night events are not permitted.
And this is a must. A 20-minute boat ride away, Motu Tapu is a stunning atoll with permanent facilities and blinding white beaches for private group events. Staff will be waiting with Mai Tais, mahi mahi carpaccio and fresh pineapple crab salad.