Bora Bora – History and Wildlife

Jocelyn Murray August 3, 2013 No Comments


Partial aerial view of Bora Bora

Surrounded by a barrier reef and a lagoon in variegated hues of pale turquoise and aquamarine, the island of Bora Bora rises from the sea with the two summits of Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia—from a single extinct volcano in the island’s center—reaching for the sky. Several smaller islets called motu ring the main island, where an assortment of resorts await.

Bora Bora Tropical Fish

A Moorish Idol glides peacefully by

Fragrant trade winds sweep over Bora Bora with its fertile cliffs, white sand beaches, and black volcanic rocks that provide a striking contrast to the crystalline lagoon waters lapping at the shore. Its year-round balmy  climate ranges a comfortable high 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit, and beckons tourists from all over the world, whose imaginations regarding this South Pacific paradise can only be exceeded by the haunting beauty of this island that is home to the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This “Pearl of the Pacific” is known for its breathtaking beauty and gracious people who—like the exquisite black Tahitian pearls that are found in this part of the world—are the true gems of this island.


History & Myths

Mount Otemanu Bora Bora

Bora Bora’s Mount Otemanu rising through a cloud of mist above the lagoon

Bora Bora, along with all of Tahiti and the five archipelagoes which comprise French Polynesia—including the Society Islands (Tahiti), the Marquesas, the Australs, the Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotus—all share a history steeped in culture, myths and legends.

Creation myths of ancestral Polynesians believed that the sky’s great dome was supported by pillars, and that it reflected the ocean’s vast surface. With this in mind, the ancient Polynesians developed navigation techniques through their observation of the location and paths of certain stars, the sun, and the moon, as well as the weather, wind, and waves of the ocean. They also studied the migration patterns of birds, and utilized their impressive oral culture that passed down traditions and skills along many generations.

NASA photo of Bora Bora

NASA photo of Bora Bora

The ancient Polynesians originated from Southeast Asia. They were sea-migrating people who traveled in large double-hulled pirogues called Pahi after which our modern-day catamaran is designed. Since they did not have the use of writing, they knotted wood chips and shells to help them map and navigate the unknown waters as they headed courageously towards the eastern islands of the Pacific well over two thousand years ago between 900 BC and AD 1000.

Bora Bora Lagoon Water

The Lagoon waters are crystal clear

Many centuries later in the 1700s, Tahiti and the Society Islands were found by European navigators who discovered an intriguing civilization that had colonized the islands long before. The indigenous Polynesians were organized in society kingdoms of loose chieftainships. Today’s Tahitians, Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Niueans, Marquesans, Cook Islanders, and Maorians are all genetically linked, and share in a rich culture whose languages, diets, traditions and  customs have many similarities.


Bora Bora was once called Mai Te Pora, meaning “created by the gods.” Over time its name changed to Pora Pora, meaning “first born,” as it was believed to have been the first island to rise from the sea after Raiatea. Ancient outdoor stone temples called maraes can be found throughout the island. The maraes were sacred places used for ceremonial purposes which included the offering of sacrifices. They were rectangular sections bordered with stones, some of which were decorated with petroglyphs that can still be seen today.


Plants & Wildlife

Bora Bora Water Visibility

The water’s visibility is amazing

Bora Bora is home to abundant marine life that dwells in the coral reefs of its lagoons. There are stingrays and leopard rays that look like they are flying through the crystal depths of the water with the graceful movement of their wing-like pectoral fins. Sea slugs, sea cucumbers and moray eels peek out among the rocks whose crevices shelter clams and sea urchins with their black spikes that are reminiscent of the quills of a porcupine. Octopuses appear to scurry along the sea floor as they push through the water, raising a sandy cloud in their wake, then hiding among the coral and rocks where they change colors to camouflage themselves against would-be predators.


Bora Bora Lagoon Under Water

The lagoon is like a giant aquarium

Tropical fish of all shapes and sizes glide in a parade of color, where they eye human spectators with casual interest. Everything from iridescent butterflyfish, clownfish and stripped angelfish, to long thin needle fish and trumpet fish, puffer fish, green sea turtles and so much more, can be admired by snorkelers and divers alike in this underwater haven. The water is warm with superbly clear visibility, inviting even the most timid swimmers for an exploratory dip of this marine oasis.


Ficus Tree Bora Bora

A ficus stakes its claim on the island

Bora Bora’s lush vegetation includes a colorful variety of fruit, flowers, and trees that provide refuge to the island’s many birds, geckos, skinks, hermit and coconut crabs. Colorful Lorikeets, white-capped fruit-doves, kingfishers, sandpipers, ground-doves, and reed-warblers that are endemic to French Polynesia, are a few of the species that reflect the splendor of the island.


hibiscus flower

The hibiscus flower symbolizes fertility and beauty

This blooming paradise is made intensely fragrant by such delicate flowers as the white Tahitian Tiare—the flower of Tahiti, gardenia, jasmine, flowering vines of many species, and vibrant hibiscus in stunning shades that can be found all over Bora Bora.


Palm trees bend gracefully, reaching out toward the water, while others bear the heavy clusters of their coconuts with ease. Passion fruit trees, bread fruit, banana, papaya and tamarind among others also flourish here, while birds of paradise, macaw flowers, and red ginger grow in tall spikes from the greenery.



Tips for Parents


Bora Bora Lagoon Fish

The tropical fish are beautiful

While the splendor of the plants and wildlife beckon onlookers for a closer look, visitors need to be cautious as some things can be harmful if touched or handled. Fish like the reef stonefish, lionfish and scorpionfish have venomous spines. Spiny sea urchins can be quite painful if accidentally stepped on, so water shoes are highly recommended and can be purchased ahead of time almost anywhere. There are handy brochures which clearly picture and describe all the fish and sea life one might encounter, so that parents can be informed, and go with peace of mind. The safest approach is to admire without touching for one’s own protection and the preservation of the wildlife and their unspoiled habitat.


Bora Bora Crab

A local crab waves hello

The natural beauty of Tahiti is what most captivates guests, leaving them spellbound by its intriguing history and lushness. It is a far-off place one only dreams about, having inspired many films, writers, navigators like Alain Gerbault and Paul Emile Victor, and renowned artists like Paul Gauguin who was a French Post-Impressionist influenced by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The beauty of Tahiti and its gracious people haunted Gauguin’s imagination with a vibrancy that has immortalized his work.

And just as it has done with many who have visited this South Pacific paradise before, Bora Bora will leave you spellbound as well.

avatarAbout the Author:

Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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