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Over the Blue Lagoon: Bora Bora French Polynesia with Air Tahiti and the Conrad

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  • Over the Blue Lagoon: Bora Bora French Polynesia with Air Tahiti and the Conrad


    To many people, this would be trip of a lifetime, and an idea of paradise. For me, at least until recently, I have the impression that islands are hot, humid and sticky (aka not paradise). So this trip has never been in my radar for many years. Itís also far too far for something that probably feels quite similar to home. As a reference, the great circle distance from Singapore to Tahiti is the same as the distance from Singapore to Iceland! Itís actually further than Europe. However, my Hilton Honors balance have grown quite a fair bit, and I had also reached the Diamond top tier so upgrades are quite likely so I thought letís redeem it in one of the most expensive property in Hiltonís portfolio - the Conrad Bora Bora

    As it turns out to be, I didnít regret it at all.

    It also makes an unusual trip report with non air conditioned airports, free seating airplanes, and absolutely stunning bird eye views of the pacific pearl that is Tahiti and Bora Bora

    Part 1: Tahiti-Borabora via Raiatea

    Flight: Air Tahiti
    Number: VT492
    Aircraft: ATR72
    Registration: F-ORVT
    Seating: Free seating
    Load: 90%

    Our journey to Bora Bora started at Papeeteís domestic terminal which has an island vibe to it with its natural ventilation and non glass-and-steel architecture. All flights check in at a common counter.

    After the mandatory security check, we found ourselves in a spacious non air-conditioned hall which does have plenty of seating.

    Amenity is only this one kiosk.

    There is also a segregated area for premium passengers. I am not sure who this is for as there is only economy class service on all domestic Air Tahiti flights.

    The flight to Bora Bora was flown by an ATR, the backbone of Air Tahiti fleet.

    Papeete airport is in a rather stunning location by the seaside. Where else can you site an airport in a relatively mountainous island. Itís a simple airport, with no jet bridges, and all departures and arrivals require a walk across the tarmac which also allows passengers to enjoy some truly stunning backdrop. Here, mountainous Moorea can be seen in the distance.

    There are no assigned seats on Air Tahiti flights. Itís first come first serve. Fortunately, rowdiness is not the culture here so boarding was orderly.

    Legroom is very generous although there is zero recline. It better be this comfortable considering the EUR 350 or so pricing for the 1 hour flight.

    In flight magazine is colourful with a tropical spirit.

    I am generally most interested in the network Map when on flights.

    French Polynesia is indeed a huge country and it is 99.5% blue ocean. And itís huge. Itís interesting to note that they superimpose the map of Europe in the background to give the infinite blue some scale. This country is as big as a continent.

  • #2
    Our flight that day was a short distance, something like from Paris to Normandy, but still it had a stop at Raiatea. Air Tahiti flights work like local bus service for islanders. I believe they have separate subsidised fares.

    Itís a 45 minute hop from Papeete to Raiatea but it is nothing short of spectacular. No IFE is require considering the views.

    First we took off PPT runway over the local reef which is quite stunningly transparent like a pool.

    Looking back towards Papeete, the capital, which is a nice intimate little town in its own right.

    And then just 15 minutes later (yes, they have flights here too), we passed Moorea which has a beautiful reef hugging its coasts.

    ďMealĒ service was just a cup of juice....

    Next, Raiatea was sighted, where we would be landing on the other side of the island.

    First, we flew Low over the local reef and its lagoon of various shades of blue.

    Before making a sharp U-turn to land at its runway.

    The airport terminal building is island style simple and discreetly hidden amidst greenery. Truly a beautiful setting.

    We spent a few minutes here where half the passengers disembarked and another half reembarked

    Next stop would be Bora Bora. And this is the most famous island of all French Polynesia as seen from Raiatea. This distance would be covered in 20 minutes or so.


    • #3
      Bora Bora is even more stunning from the sky. And the approach to it is nothing short of spectacular. Sit on the left side is best! At least on that day.

      Bora bora, I believe is quite unique geographically. It has an island at the centre, and a lagoon which is enclosed by a ring of small islands (called motus), like a necklace. Many other islands like Moorea and Raiatea have the island and the reef but no motus. The Maldives, have the motus, but no central island. Bora Bora has both. I wonder where else in the world is like this.

      On approach to the airport.

      The airport itself is finally in sight. And at very low flight altitude.

      We flew past it and then made a U-turn manoeuvre.

      We landed smoothly.

      The airport is very modest. This is the Control tower surrounded by tropical palms.

      The terminal building itself is of vernacular design. No jet bridges, no buses required.

      Baggage collection is manual. No belt system. Baggage is placed on shelves instead.

      There are no roads here and the walkway from the exit door ends at the pier.

      Where free boat shuttles depart to the islandís main town connecting with flight departures and arrivals. This is the shuttle by fast boat.

      The hotels in Bora Bora charge exorbitant prices for direct transfer to the resort. The Conrad charges USD250 pp rt. But we know there are these shuttles. And it is good enough. From Vaitape to the hotel, it would be a much cheaper transfer - USD 6 or so per way.

      Direct hotel transfer is on boats like this. One pays that sum of money and it's not even a private transfer. One shares with other guests for the 30 minute journey.


      • #4
        The areas around the airport are also nothing short of spectacular. This is a stunning place, jaw-dropping stunning.

        The boat journey from airport to pier is also about various shades of blue. Stunning.

        Dark blue is deep. Light blue is reef.

        Half an hour later, we found ourselves in the islandís main town, Vaitape. This is a small one-street town basking in the hot sun.

        Where we had a tuna lunch, which was truly fresh and delicious. USD20 at a simple restaurant.

        And also where we found ourselves in the local Chinese supermarket, which in itself is also surreal considering how far we are from Asia. This is a good place to stock up on some snacks before putting ourselves in self-imposed exile in one of the resort islands.

        Transfer to Conrad is from this postcard-picture pier. And it costs just a few dollars. This place is too beautiful - almost dream-like.


        • #5
          Part 2: Conrad Bora Bora

          Conrad Bora Bora is beautiful with some of the clearest water I have ever seen anywhere.

          It consists of mostly overwater villas, some beach villas, many hillside villas, and a few standard suites. Reasonable redemption is only available at the standard suites but being diamond member means double upgrade to the water villa for us. This came as a surprise as I was expecting just the typical one-up upgrade to the hillside villa.

          This would be my first time on a water villa. Generally, I prefer spaciousness of the beach or forest villas (with garden or deck) rather than what my impression usually is of the water villa (smaller and more closely packed together). However, over the days, I began to fall in love with the overwater.

          The water villas in Conrad are all of similar design. Ours is one of the ones with lesser privacy near the main pier, but we can’t really complain since this is an upgrade. I very much appreciated the double upgrade.

          Inside is relatively modest luxury but very much spacious and very comfortable.

          Each one has a spacious deck where one can look out to the open ocean

          These villas sit directly above corals and on some days I dived in and swam among the resident fishes under the villa.

          The resort is sprawling and along the hills on the eastern side are the regular villas. I wouldn’t mind here either as they have lots of privacy.

          The Conrad does not face directly the famous Bora Bora lagoon. Instead it looks over the open sea.

          However, from the top of the hill near the spa, they have a private dining set up overlooking that famous view. This was prepared for some couple that night.

          Last edited by SQueeze; 26 December 2019, 04:55 PM.


          • #6
            Elsewhere, the resort is simply beautiful and it has a nice peaceful calm to it. Most time it feels like the entire place is ours. For some reason, most of the guests stay inside their villas. This is something that I never quite relate to in resort holidays : being inside the villa for days. I need to do activities Ė active ones.

            We spent 3 nights here. And the days were filled with basking in the sun and enjoying the stunning views.

            Very soon, I discovered my favourite activity - the canoe. I travelled around every morning in this. To and from the restaurant, around the resort, towards the lagoon.

            I even pulled this up onto the villa like my own private vehicle (which is not allowed by right).

            I also swam multiple times daily over the shallow lagoon to the resort activity centre and the gym, which I thought is a healthy and unique experience. Unlike most people, I avoid the buggy system preferring these more Creative ways of getting around.

            There is also too much time also to practice the handstand!


            • #7
              A highlight of the trip was the half day tour to swim with sharks. Yes, sharks! And yes, they are actually very friendly creatures. This is a must-have experience.

              There were really quite numerous.

              There were large stingrays too. We can pat them on their backs but should avoid the bellies, so we were told.

              The scenery is also stunning even out of the water. This is a truly beautiful place.

              The water is so blue. And these are not edited colours.

              All in all I thought these 3 days were quite the perfect escapade I didnít expect I could enjoy that much.


              • #8
                Part 3: Bora Bora-Tahiti

                Flight: Air Tahiti
                Number: VT465
                Aircraft: ATR72
                Registration: F-ORVV
                Seating: Free seating
                Load: 90%

                On the fourth day and after some wonderful facial and massage, we packed up to make our long way journey back to the eastern hemisphere.

                We repeated our route, again the USD6 boat transfer to Vaitape instead of the USD125 to the airport option.

                Here we waited for the airport shuttle to arrive.

                And then just as the sun was setting we departed Vaitape and bid Bora Bora one final farewell.

                This is the interior of the shuttle. Just functional. Most people would prefer to sit on the top deck enjoying the views.

                And We arrived at the airport just as the sun was setting.

                Check-in counters were quite crowded. There were 2-3 evening flights to Papeete where there are onward connections to the USA and Paris.

                Waiting area was quite crowded.

                The gate with manual signboard.

                And then itís time to fly back on this ATR that has just arrived from Papeete.

                The flight was quite uneventful and by that time it has also gotten dark. So not much to report on.


                • #9
                  Part 4: Tahiti to Auckland

                  Flight: Air New Zealand
                  Number: NZ43
                  Aircraft: 787-900
                  Registration: ZK-NZL
                  Seating: 25K
                  Load: 100%

                  On arrival at PPT, we waited at the non-air conditioned airport for another 6 hours on this bench. And yes, we endured and we survived.

                  For 6 hours, we were watching these check in counters to open.

                  Flight to Auckland was at 235am ….

                  Finally, it was over, and we managed to get some shower and ate something.

                  The lounge is very good actually. It’s well stocked up with food and various beverages - many items sourced from France directly, reminder that these islands are part of France.

                  Just before the flight, we headed to the gate, which is not an air-conditioned space.

                  Until it was time to board our Air New Zealand dreamliner.

                  We travelled in Premium Economy which is in 2-3-2 configuration.

                  From this point onwards, at 3am local time, I crashed and slept all the way to New Zealand on the other side of the International Dateline.

                  Thank you all for reading. I hope it has been an enjoyable.
                  Last edited by SQueeze; 26 December 2019, 05:04 PM.


                  • #10
                    What an amazing TR, SQueeze! You have single-handedly put Bora Bora on my "To-Go" list...might be a long time before I get there, but I certainly want to go!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by yflyer View Post
                      What an amazing TR, SQueeze! You have single-handedly put Bora Bora on my "To-Go" list...might be a long time before I get there, but I certainly want to go!
                      Well... I actually think that unless one has a lot of points to burn, itís not really worth it to fly all the way there. Itís really nice but itís far too far and too costly for the experience.

                      Maldives is probably a better choice for most of us based around here. I think Maldives has better hotels, same clear water, just lacking that beautiful mountain on the horizon.

                      I probably would still prefer bora bora but itís not so practical if I may say. ;D


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by SQueeze View Post
                        Well... I actually think that unless one has a lot of points to burn, itís not really worth it to fly all the way there. Itís really nice but itís far too far and too costly for the experience.
                        In Asia, we are quite spoilt with so many nice beaches and resorts in the region, just a short flight (Or drive/boat ride) away. But I have to say the scenery in your pics is quite breathtaking.

                        Originally posted by SQueeze View Post
                        Maldives is probably a better choice for most of us based around here. I think Maldives has better hotels, same clear water, just lacking that beautiful mountain on the horizon
                        Your pics did remind me of the Maldives. I've only been to the Maldives once, coincidentally at the Conrad Maldives Rangali, which is also a spectacular resort. Loved my week there, where I also redeemed Hilton points. In fact I still have a stash of Hilton points which I have reserved for a return trip there!

                        Originally posted by SQueeze View Post
                        I probably would still prefer bora bora but itís not so practical if I may say. ;D
                        I love scenery...I would go to Bora Bora just to see the views for myself!


                        • #13

                          I think your main bank of points is with Marriott BonVoy?, the St Regis Bora Bora I think overlooks the inner lagoon with the mountain view. It would be more stunning than the Conrad for the scenery.

                          Itís getting there which is actually very tedious. 3 flights required at the shortest. SQ award is possible up to Auckland, beyond that ANZ doesnít release many seats on the monopoly route, not even in Y. And itís still 5 hour + from AKL. Like SIN-BOM. Then the Air Tahiti domestic flight. Still, itís interesting to note that when we boarded at AKL, there were at least 15 pax connecting from SIN... mostly westerners.

                          Am planning to check out the Maldives next for the new Waldorf Astoria. Still thinking over and twice and thrice. The airport transfer is too much for these resorts and there are no $6 alternatives!


                          • #14
                            Thanks vy much for the interesting TR SQueeze. Not Everyday that we go to Bora Bora - probably not in my lifetime i imagine for me - or fly Air Tahiti. Thanks for the detailed and pictorial report that transports us so vividly and visually to journey with you. Including the headstand


                            • #15
                              Thanks SQueeze for sharing!
                              Always enjoy your TRs to places I'm unlikely to go. My family and I prefer cold places for vacation.