Pacific paradise is worth every cliche, writes Pam Wade.

Turns out there's no actual obligation to hold hands as you walk around Le Meridien Bora Bora. That was a relief: arriving, as marriage lifers, at a place associated with young love, we were afraid of imposter syndrome; but I'm pleased to report that's not the case. In fact, the only disadvantage to being long in the tooth at this luxury resort is that you can get a lot of coconut stuck in there.

In every other respect, however, the resort, and the whole island, are totally predictable and awash with cliches. They start even before you arrive: like "breath-taking". On the approach by air from Tahiti Nui, I watched as the reef came into view, then the lagoon, then the green of the central island — and then, quite literally, gasped in astonishment as the skyline went suddenly vertical with the appearance of Mt Otemanu, a dramatic 727m volcanic peak.

It's also hard to bite back the phrase "tropical paradise" when you land at an airport situated on a tiny motu surrounded by luminous turquoise sea flitting with colourful fish.

Having to take a boat to our hotel? And then a golf cart along a lengthy pontoon to our accommodation? Talk about corny. Naturally, it was an over-water bungalow. Thatched roof, big bed draped with mosquito net curtains, glass floor panels, spiral staircase from the deck down to the warm waters of the shallow lagoon: no cliche left behind.


The thing about such stereotypical features is, of course, that they're there precisely because they work so well and are so very, very enjoyable. Omit a single one, and I'd have felt truly miffed.

Deprivation is not, fortunately, a Meridien thing: ask the couple celebrating a special occasion with a torch-lit dinner on the beach and their own personal musician perched on a stool nearby. Or the delighted woman swimming alongside a recuperating green turtle in the resort's rehabilitation sanctuary. Or even us, effortlessly fitted at the last minute on to the boat attending the final stage of the Hawaiki Nui Va'a race, and afterwards transported by conjured-from-nowhere jetski to join our pre-scheduled 4WD island tour.

Sharing the ride around the island's 32km of ring road with an American couple — with some detours up precipitous crumbling roads for impressive views — we did however feel a bit like gooseberries.

"We owe this all to the GIs," said the guide unctuously, gesturing at the busy commercial wharf, the airport runway, the road itself, eight rust-red cannons pointing incongruously out over a postcard tropical paradise; and referencing too much local DNA. The Americans accepted the gratitude smugly; but paid their dues by being the only ones to get their wallets out during the obligatory craft workshop visit.

Bora Bora in Tahiti. Photo / Pam Wade
Bora Bora in Tahiti. Photo / Pam Wade

Having now been over, on and in that astonishing lagoon, it was time to complete the set by going under it too. And if that wasn't enough, to do it in the company of sharks. First on this day trip, though, came the rays: officially stingrays, their barbs had been removed — a painless procedure, I was assured, like removing a rose thorn — so they were no more threatening than the old rubber squeegees they felt like. There was still plenty of shrieking, however: having a metre-wide ray slither up your body will do that every time.

The second stop was like leaping into an aquarium, so crowded was the water with fish of all sizes, colours and patterns, and snorkelling through them was a sheer delight. Outside the reef, however, at the shark swim, there was no forgetting that these were proper sharks. Admittedly inoffensive black-tipped reef sharks, still they were everywhere; and below them, cruising sinisterly on the bottom, were much larger lemon sharks, well over 3m long. "Not thought to be a large threat to humans," Wikipedia informed me later, less than reassuringly.

The only eating that happened, happily, was on a tiny motu where we did our best with a generous buffet of poisson cru, and barbecued beef and lamb from New Zealand, among other deliciousness. There was entertainment with coconuts and the tying of pareus, leaving us all in the mood to relax and enjoy the cruise back while cheerful guide Mana sang and played the ukulele, steering the boat with his bare feet.

All that was needed to cap off a perfect day was to sit by the infinity pool, clinking drink in hand, and watch as the sun dropped behind Otemanu, its silhouette even more imposing than its daytime incarnation. Subtle lighting came on, there were seductive smells drifting from the lagoon-side restaurant where tiny mullet cruised in the clear water, and the friendly staff were looking forward to their dance display afterwards.


Best of all, though? Lying in bed listening to the rustle of thatch above and the lapping of water beneath. Nothing original there.

Getting there: Air Tahiti Nui flies 3 times weekly from Auckland to Papeete and also flies from Papeete to Bora Bora.

Staying there: Le Meridien has over-water and beach-front bungalows

Further information: See