I Visited the Little-known ‘Vanilla Island’ — and Discovered Neon Sunsets, Pleasant Sharks, Overwater Bungalows, and Tree Home Eating

I wasn’t imagined to be in Bora Bora. I used to be imagined to be nearly a thousand miles to the northwest, in a unique French Polynesian archipelago. I used to be supposed to be on the hybrid cargo-cruise ship Aranui 5, crusing across the distant Marquesas Islands. However I would examined optimistic for COVID-19 upon arrival in Tahiti and spent every week in quarantine, lacking the Aranui‘s crusing whereas my buddy Bailey (whom I would lured away from actual life with the promise of a tropical cruise) puttered across the close by island of Mo’orea. 

However typically sad accidents develop into pleased ones. As soon as I used to be free to rejoin society, Bailey and I had an sudden week to kill earlier than the ship’s subsequent crusing, and we discovered ourselves taking off from Papeete on certainly one of Air Tahiti’s twin-propeller island hoppers, droning amongst cumulus billows over a white-capped sea, thrilling when Bora Bora’s iconic inexperienced witch’s hat of a central mountain, Mt. Otemanu, tilted into view beneath.

At Pearl Resorts’ freshly renovated 108-room property Le Bora Bora, picket walkways studded with thatched overwater bungalows curve like fern leaves via the aquamarine shallows. The resort is constructed on Bora Bora’s barrier reef, and the deck of our bungalow hovered over heat, clear water, with a view throughout the lagoon to Mt. Otemanu. Some accident of time and geology has given Otemanu a silhouette so spectacular that it appears to imply one thing; it appears to have a message for you, if solely you stare at it lengthy sufficient. We watched the solar rise behind it and later, on a night cruise, a full moon hover over the mountain. On a wet day, we watched it vanish and reappear within the mist, its looming bulk black and ominous amongst flashes of lightning. More often than not, we stared at it via clear, vibrant, tropical sunshine whereas lazing on our deck, often dropping into the water for a snorkel across the resort’s coral backyard.

Le Bora Bora has a really good pool we by no means swam in, three eating places, and a stunning spa — and you may kayak on the lagoon and paddleboard and see a Tahitian dance present. Pearl Resorts is the world’s solely Polynesian-owned resort assortment, and nearly all of its employees are Polynesian, many native sufficient to commute to work by boat. The bungalows and villas are luxurious in an understated means, with sprawling loos and enjoyable complimentary drinks within the minifridge. It’s all exceptionally, dreamily nice, however it turned out that, regardless of my infatuation with Mt. Otemanu, my coronary heart belonged to Taha’a, the Vanilla Island.

To get to Taha’a, you fly to a unique island, Raiatea. The 2 of them share a lagoon and are encircled by one barrier reef. You stroll from the terminal instantly right down to a dock the place the air smells like vanilla and a ship is ready to take you north to Taha’a after which to a small islet, referred to as a motu, simply offshore. Right here, at one other Pearl Resorts property, Le Taha’a, our bungalow was charmingly old skool, with numerous thatch and varnished wooden. Past our deck was sheer tranquility: blue curacao water ending in a distant white line the place surf broke on the reef. Later, I floated and drifted below a neon sundown, the one sound the close by plunk-plunk of leaping fish. We’re within the center of the ocean, Bailey and I marveled out loud. You actually really feel it on Taha’a, the way in which the planet bends away from you.

Le Taha’a’s restaurant is the enormous thatched tree home of childhood desires, and the big brass pineapple wherein my cocktail was served was a extra grown-up fantasy. I ate fish marinated in coconut milk and an area delicacy: korori, the muscle of a pearl oyster, touched with black truffle oil. It was pale and scrumptious, like a firmer scallop. There’s a pool with a swim-up bar at Le Taha’a, and a coral backyard for snorkeling. One breezy night, we paddleboarded away from the seaside, round one other motu. There, on the horizon, was our previous buddy Mt. Otemanu, each far-off and never far in any respect.

One morning, we took the resort’s boat shuttle over to Taha’a correct for a tour with Terainui Excursions. Our information, George Teihotaata, appeared totally delighted to have spent his whole life in Taha’a aside from a stint within the marines that had taken him across the South Pacific. “Right here, we have now no airport. It’s quiet. The lagoon is quiet,” he mentioned about Taha’a. He tipped his head at distant Mt. Otemanu. “On Bora Bora, everyone seems to be in a rush.” 

Winding alongside jungle roads behind a canopied truck, we visited a pearl farm, a rum distillery, and a vanilla plantation that has been in a single household for 4 generations. Do you know that, aside from in Mexico, the place a local bee species does the work, vanilla orchids should be pollinated by hand? It requires a toothpick, a gradual contact, and wonderful timing. As rain clouds gathered, we boarded a small boat, and George steered us out into the lagoon. From behind the helm, he blew a conch shell to announce our arrival to the rising crowd of blacktip reef sharks following in our wake, anticipating the rooster giblets George tossed them. On his days off, he mentioned, he got here to this identical spot, to fish and to swim. The lagoon creatures knew him. When the feeding was over, we hopped off the boat to snorkel among the many curious, innocent sharks. A sting ray appeared and flattened its stomach in opposition to George’s again in a fishy hug. He mentioned he’d named her Sophie.

“The definition of life!” George shouted as we motored away, heading for lunch on a tiny non-public motu he owned along with his aunt. “It’s right here! Taha’a!”

We have a tendency to think about these balmy mid-ocean isles as respites or escapes from life, however in fact they are life, each for we-the-visitors and the individuals who name them residence. Although, there’s nonetheless one thing particular concerning the form of life the place you possibly can pause and take a deep breath, and the air is good with vanilla.