Bora Bora beyond the beach

Bora Bora is world-famous for its glinting turquoise lagoon, dazzlingly white sandy stretches of beach and luxurious resorts. With such a dreamlike setting, this magical island is, unsurprisingly, a great spot to decompress. But there’s much more to do than simply sipping a cocktail on your chaise. Here are nine ways to make the most of your stay.

Hiking

Better (and cheaper!) than a helicopter’s view, try the 360-degree panorama from Mt Pahia (661m), one of Bora Bora’s iconic summits. Ribbons of deep blue water flecked with turquoise and sapphire, islets girdled with brilliant scimitars of white sand, lagoons mottled with coral formations… it borders on hallucinogenic. It’s a five- to six-hour hard-going return hike from Vaitape, with some difficult uphill scrambles and a few treacherous sections, but the mesmerising views over the translucent waters will be etched in your memory forever. The most difficult part is towards the end, with a climb up steep rock required to get to the summit. A guide is essential as the track is not properly marked and notoriously difficult to follow – your hotel will help you find a reputable guide. Too intimidating for you? Shorter, easier walks are also available in the mountainous interior – this is a great way to learn about the island’s flora and history.

Hiking to Mt Pahia, view over the lagoon. Photo by Jean-Bernard Carillet.

Snorkelling

Bora Bora’s magnificent lagoon is gin-clear, bath-warm and filled with all manner of tropical marine life, from schools of butterflyfish and parrotfish to manta rays and banks of flame-coloured coral. The best snorkelling sites are the coral gardens that lie near the barrier reef, south and west of the island. And there’s the not-to-be-missed site of Anau, inside the lagoon, where you’ll have the chance to observe majestic manta rays in the morning.

Snorkelling in Bora Bora's lagoon. Photo by Jean-Bernard Carillet.

Diving

Fancy venturing underwater deeper than a snorkel can take you? Now’s your chance. Bora Bora is a perfect starting point for new divers, as the warm waters and the shallow reefs are a forgiving training environment. All local dive centres offer courses for beginners and employ qualified, English-speaking staff. Experienced divers will get a buzz, too, with an array of outstanding dive sites outside the lagoon – sightings of lemon sharks, blacktip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and manta rays are guaranteed. See www.boradiving.com or www.topdive.com to get started.

Lagoon Excursions

The best way to discover Bora Bora’s magnificent lagoon is by joining a lagoon excursion. Various operators offer full-day trips in a pirogue gliding through the blue and stopping periodically to snorkel and free dive in otherwise inaccessible spots. Most tours also include shark and ray feeding (they usually use tuna scraps), on top of swimming stops. Getting up close and personal with blacktip reef sharks and majestic stingrays in gin-clear water is an extraordinary experience. At lunchtime you’ll picnic on an idyllic motu (an islet of the barrier reef) to the sounds of traditional Tahitian music. The menu? Barbecued fish, of course. See bookable tours on lonelyplanet.com or www.reefdiscovery.pf or www.cheznonobora.com for more guided tour options.

Tip: you can explore the lagoon at your own pace, without taking a tour. A couple of outfits hire out small four-seater motor boats that are easy to drive (no license required). A detailed map of the lagoon is provided.

Attending the Heiva i Bora Bora

If your visit is in July, extend your stay on Bora Bora for the hugely popular Heiva, French Polynesia’s premier festival, which is held in Vaitape on a big stage near the quay. It’s so colourful that it’s almost worth timing your trip around it. Expect a series of music and dance contests as well as beauty pageants. Heiva is the best time of year to watch top-notch dancers shake their hips and waggle their knees.

Traditional dancers in motion. Photo by Jean-Bernard Carillet.

Kitesurfing

The combination of regular strong breezes, protected areas with calm water conditions and a lack of obstacles make Bora Bora’s lagoon a prime destination for kitesurfers. The best spot is Matira Point, a small peninsula on the south end of the island. Even if you’re not a watersport aficionado, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the aerials performed by the local pros here. Don’t be put off – it’s also a great place to give it a try. Find out more at www.kitesurf-school-polynesie.com.

Parasailing

Picture this: you’re comfortably seated, gracefully drifting at 50m or 130m over the scintillatingly turquoise lagoon, with a bird’s eye view of the island. Parasailing is a memorable experience, one that can be shared with your loved one during a tandem flight. You don’t even get wet – all you do is clip into a harness, and step onto the wide deck of the specialised towboat where you’ll be taking off once the boat reaches a certain speed. It's super fun, and all ages can do it. Contact Bora Bora Parasail  at parasail@mail.pf for more info.

View from a parasail. Photo by Jean-Bernard Carillet.

Taking a cultural tour

Did you know that during WWII a US supply base was established on Bora Bora, prompted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941? From early 1942 to mid-1946 up to 6000 US soldiers were stationed on the island. Eight massive 7in coastal guns were installed around the island during the war; all but one are still in place. A couple of operators run half-day trips that visit American WWII sites along with locally important archaeological areas and a few stops at lookouts. Try www.vavau4x4adventures.com for 4x4 tours of the island filled with cultural and historical facts.

Swimming with sea turtles

Want to support a local conservation initiative? Make a beeline for the Marine Turtle Protection Centre, a rehabilitation centre hosted by Le Méridien Bora Bora Hotel. Visitors can swim with the turtles in a protected lagoon and watch babies being cared for under the guidance of a conservationist. You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel – contact the hotel reception to arrange transfers. Afterwards, you can have a meal or a cocktail at the restaurant-bar and enjoy the fabulous views of the island.

See all Bora Bora activities and bookable tours through Lonely Planet