Bora Bora is a 30 km2 (12 sq mi) island in the Leeward group in the western part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the Pacific Ocean. The island, located about 230 kilometres (143 miles) northwest of Papeete, is surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef. In the centre of the island are the remnants of an extinct volcano rising to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the highest point at 727 metres (2,385 feet).
Bora Bora is a major international tourist destination, famous for its aqua-centric luxury resorts. The major settlement, Vaitape, is on the western side of the main island, opposite the main channel into the lagoon. Produce of the island is mostly limited to what can be obtained from the sea and the plentiful coconut trees, which were historically of economic importance for copra. According to a 2008 census, Bora Bora has a permanent population of 8,880.
In ancient times the island was called “Pora pora mai te pora”, meaning “created by the gods” in the local Tahitian dialect. This was often abbreviated Pora Pora meaning simply first born. Because of ambiguities in the phonemes of the Tahitian language, this could also be pronounced Bola Bola or Bora Bora. When explorer Jakob Roggeveen first landed on the island, he and his crew adopted the name Bora Bora which has stood ever since.
The island was inhabited by Polynesian settlers around the 4th century C.E. The first European sighting was made by Jakob Roggeveen in 1722. James Cook sighted the island in 1770 and landed that same year. The London Missionary Society arrived in 1820 and founded a Protestant church in 1890. Bora Bora was an independent kingdom until 1888 when its last queen Teriimaevarua III was forced to abdicate by the French who annexed the island as a colony.
In World War II the United States chose Bora Bora as a South Pacific military supply base, and an oil depot, airstrip, seaplane base, and defensive fortifications were constructed. Known as “Operation Bobcat”, it maintained a supply force of nine ships, 20,000 tons of equipment and nearly 7,000 men. Seven artillery guns were set up at strategic points around the island to protect it against potential military attack.
However, the island saw no combat as the American presence on Bora Bora went uncontested over the course of the war. The base was officially closed on June 2, 1946. The World War II airstrip, which was never able to accommodate large aircraft, was French Polynesia’s only international airport until Faa’a International Airport was opened in Papeete, Tahiti, in 1960.
Today the island’s economy is driven almost solely by tourism. Over the last few years several resorts have been built on motu (small islands, from Tahitian) surrounding the lagoon. Hotel Bora Bora opened in 1961, and nine years later built the first over-the-water bungalows on stilts over the lagoon. Today, over-water bungalows are a standard feature of most Bora Bora resorts. The quality of those bungalows ranges from comparably cheap, basic accommodations to very luxurious and expensive places to stay.
Most of the tourist destinations are aqua-centric; however it is possible to visit attractions on land such as WWII cannons. Air Tahiti has five or six flights daily to the Bora Bora Airport on Motu Mute from Tahiti (as well as from other islands). The island is served by Bora Bora Airport on Motu Mute in the north, with Air Tahiti providing daily flights to and from Papeete on Tahiti.
Public transport on the island is nonexistent. Rental cars and bicycles are the recommended methods of transport. There are also small, two-seater buggies for hire in Vaitape. It is possible to rent a motorboat to explore the lagoon.
Snorkeling and scuba diving in and around the lagoon of Bora Bora are popular activities. Many species of sharks and rays inhabit the surrounding body of water. There are a few dive operators on the island offering manta ray dives and also shark-feeding dives.
In addition to the existing islands of Bora Bora, the new manmade motu of Motu Marfo has been added in the northeastern corner of the lagoon on the property of the St. Regis Resort.