It was overcast, but at least not raining, when we got up around 6. For the first time since Fakarava, we woke up with the ship already anchored. Candidly, we were a bit underwhelmed with the view, but that could be 1) because it was overcast, 2) we were near the pier, which usually isn't the most scenic spot on an island, and 3) Bora Bora is bound to have high expectations. Our view was of a town, Vaitape, and a mountain shrouded in clouds behind it. We sat around, bored/anxious until the first tender left at 8:30.

Our morning excursion was with Reef Discovery. Christoph is the main person there, and had high reviews online. Our boat captain was Damien, who moved from Continental France over a decade earlier. We were on a very plush boat with comfy, cushy seats, with 8 passengers, 6 from the cruise ship. Damien told us our first stop would be in the lagoon to look for Manta Rays, and then we'd play it by ear from then, depending on conditions. The water temperature in the lagoon was warm, but a little cooler than we would have expected. The water was also less clear than we would have thought, and Damien said that was due to the wind causing a bit of churn. We did see a Manta Ray where we stopped, though, just circling around over and over again. Damien told us that there were "cleaner fish" in the area, and that the Rays liked that.

Since the visibility wasn't so good in the lagoon, our next stop was out in the ocean itself, just outside the reef. Where we stopped, we could see several sharks circling around the boat, and one of the ladies was shocked when Damien said "okay, here's the spot, you can jump in any time." They were just 5-6 foot black-tipped reef sharks, so the two of us had no worries. We hopped in, and there were even more sharks than we thought, probably at least a dozen in different spots. There weren't very many other fish, so we weren't sure exactly why there were so many sharks. The visibility was amazing, far better than the lagoon, so it was easy to see when a shark was approaching. They'd swim right towards you, and then turn away when they got within 10 feet or so. After about 30-45 minutes of amazing snorkeling, we came back in and headed back into the lagoon.

The third spot had visibility about halfway between the first and second spots. There were several other boats already there, and there were two large moray eels about 20 feet down. There was also an exceptionally large barracuda, and frankly it concerned us more than any of the sharks did. We didn't spend too long there before we got back into the boat and went to a shallow coral garden right near the reef edge. There was a wide variety of coral, both in terms of shape and coral. There were also a good amount of fish. It would have been even better but the water was so shallow that we had to spend a fair amount of effort navigating so that we wouldn't scrape against anything.

We were heading back to the pier when we got a special bonus stop. In areas where there is a sandy bottom, the water is a nice turquoise color, and if there is anything besides sand, it sticks out noticeably. If it doesn't move, it's some random coral or a rock - if it does move, it's likely a ray. Damien spotted 18-20 eagle rays, so we put on our gear one more time and swam with them for about 10 minutes before getting back in the boat. They move very gracefully, and it was apparent that there was a "leader" that was in charge of direction; every time that ray turned a little bit, the others turned as well. We ended up getting back to the pier just as the 1:10 tender was leaving, so we walked around the pier area a bit, checking in with the Tahiti Helicopters folks for our afternoon flight.

We’d been emailing with them for some time (months, actually), but still had some hiccups in the days leading up to today. The day before we found out they hadn’t received the requisite number of folks to book a trip, but that we could book a private trip if we wanted. With no real choice, we decided to do that. But this morning, we had run into Donna (a Judy Dench lookalike that we first met in LAX before boarding the plane to Papeete), and she indicated a willingness to go. So we told Sylvie at the Tahiti Helicopters office that we’d have a third person, and asked whether that was fine. She told us that it was our private tour, and that we could do whatever. Once we were checked in, we asked Sylvie what time we needed to be back, and she indicated 3:35 or so. Given that it was already around 1:30, we knew we needed to make a quick turnaround on the ship.

We took the 1:40 tender back to the ship, and went straight to lunch, still covered in saltwater and wearing our bathing suits. But we got there before the buffet closed at 2pm, and got our nourishment in. We ate in a hurry, then got cleaned up. Somewhere along the way, Justin realized his back was scorched. He’d had no issues on any of the other excursions, including snorkeling the day before in Huahine, but he’d gotten a little too bold in thinking he had enough of a tan to snorkel for hours in Polynesia. We did manage to get cleaned up in a hurry, and we made the 3:00pm tender back to the island. Waiting for the tender, we met Donna, and she indicated that in the morning, she’d found another person to join us, so there’d be 4 of us. This meant that we’d be paying the normal rate, what we originally expected, so this was great. Donna introduced us to Linda, who lives in La Mesa and has a husband from Hilo – small world.

Back on the island, we took a short walk to the helicopter office (a 45 second walk from the pier), and paid for our tour. They take credit cards, so that was a bonus, since we were running low on Francs. Sylvie told us that the driver would be by in about 20 minutes, and that we could just mill around in the meantime. So that’s exactly what we did, but being very careful to stay out of the sun and avoid exacerbating sunburns. There were some nice things in the shops, but the prices were significantly higher than in the Marquesas. We probably should’ve bought more stuff there – live and learn. The van ride from the office to the helipad was pretty short, maybe 5-10 minutes to the south. The helicopter wasn’t there yet, so we walked around and enjoyed the scenery for a couple of minutes. The office there was interesting, as it looked like someone lived there occasionally. It was warm in the office, so we stayed outside, where there was a nice breeze. After about 5 minutes, the helicopter flew in and landed gracefully, basically coming in sideways. The passengers got out quickly, and we got in quickly. We met Christoph from Austria, our pilot, and he got us buckled in and got our headphones on.

The flight was a quick 15 minute loop around the island. Even though it was a short flight, it was well worth it. While Mount Otemanu had never cleared up all day, the rest of island was pretty clear for the flight. Once in the air, all of the different colors of blue in the lagoon started to become obvious. There were sharp gradations between the dark blue (coral bottom) and turquoise (sandy bottom), and the gradations had very interesting shapes and lines. Off in the distance we could see Raitea and Tahaa to the east. We flew close to Mount Otemanu in the middle of the flight, but most of the flight was over the lagoon, going around in a big circle. The flight was not bumpy at all, and we didn’t need the Bonine we’d taken earlier. We landed softly and Christoph turned off the helicopter, as we were the last flight of the day. We took a van back to the pier, and from the pier we took a cab to a famous bar/restaurant on the island, Bloody Mary’s.

We got there just before 5, and it was completely empty, to the point we were about to ask if it was open before we saw a single person at the bar. He was a local, who had caught a giant mahi mahi that he brought in slung over his shoulder. Shortly after we sat down, though, lots of people started coming in. We sat and chatted with CB and Tawn (short for Tanya) for quite some time. They were 2.5 years into a sailing trip out of Seattle. They had sailed down the west coast of North America, then headed west through the Galapagos and had gone to French Polynesia after that. Of all the places they had visited, their high points were Fakarava (particularly diving the south pass, which they liked even more than the Garuae pass), Fatu Hiva, and Hot Springs Cove on Vancouver Island. In addition to CB and Tawn, some people from the ship came in, and chatted with them a bit as well. Bloody Mary’s was nice, and the vanilla rum punch was tasty, but we didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. Perhaps that’s just because the style of bar is fairly common in San Diego and Hawaii, and so it wasn’t that unusual or novel to us. Or perhaps we just came on a light night. One thing of note was in the bathrooms, where there were giant phallus handles for flushing the toilets.

We called for a cab around 7:30, but it never came, so we got on a free shuttle with the other cruise ship passengers at 8:15. It was a bit cold and blustery wind at the pier, and we had to wait a while for a tender, as we’d just missed the 8:10 tender. The next tender didn’t come until 8:40, and it was pretty full, not just with the folks from Bloody Mary’s, but others as well. Back on the ship, Justin slathered on the aloe vera in the hopes of saving his back. After feeling how hot to the touch his skin was, he didn’t have much hope. We checked out pictures and videos in the room, as we didn’t feel like getting dressed up to meet the dress code. We wanted a drink, however, so we got cocktail room service – highly recommended.