If bumming around on the beach cabanas, your private deck, or the pool isn’t your only idea of fun or relaxation and you want more to do, you should definitely do some snorkeling (or diving!) around Bora Bora. Obviously, if you go during a rainier season, it can be a little harder to see things, but the water is just not as clear.
I knew I wanted to book a tour to take us to see the sharks and sting rays and other fish, as I heard those were not to be missed! I had planned to go on a group tour (I hear the groups are usually not that big anyway) and they had pretty high ratings on TripAdvisor. The costs of those came out to about ~$70 per person for usually 2.5 hours of an excursion. I was going to do it with Moana Adventure Tours, but I never got a response about my inquiry!
Just as I was about to reach out to the tour company again, I read about Keishi Tours, which is a family owned private tour company. If you read the previous post on my parents joining us in Bora Bora, you’ll remember I said the private island tour was cheaper as two couples vs one. Well, duh. My mom had told me to go research Keishi Tours after reading a Chinese travel blog, so I read some TripAdvisor reviews and contacted them via email. It was hard to find pricing details on TripAdvisor, so I’m going to share what rates we got in hopes that it is helpful for you decide if you’d like to check it out!
Travel Pearl: I was able to easily book all my Tahiti excursions starting about 2 weeks before we went via emailing the companies, but you might want to book slightly earlier if you care which day you want to do certain excursions and to ensure you get a spot. Sometimes directly contacting the company will be cheaper, you can get discounts for paying securely online in advance, and it just makes sure you have reserved a spot. I would also prepare a little more in advance if you are going during peak season. Their English is not always good, (their French is better) but they are all very nice and friendly to work with.
I got a very friendly email reply back to my inquiry about a day later, detailing the island tour with snorkeling with sharks and rays, a private outrigger boat to take us around the island, and a fabulous private motu picnic lunch. They only had one date available during the 5 days we were there (!!), so I recommend booking early if you are considering it. The price was 70,000 CFP (or Pacific Francs) for 1 couple, but adding on a second couple, it was only 30,000 CFP more. Cash only (CFP), no deposit up front. So all in all, this tour would be $450 USD per couple if we did it together. I think if you did this in a bigger group, there would probably be a cut off at about 4-5 couples since the boat can only take so many people, and I’m not sure what the rate would be then.
At first, I was a little hesitant about this, having never paid this much for an excursion before. I mean, if you subtracted the cost of the first company’s snorkeling adventure, in essence, I’d be paying ~$300 more to get a lunch for 2 on the beach shore. But certainly, I guess the fact that the boat is all your own and you get an intimate setting must carry some of the price tag too.
In any case, though this was a little pricey in my mind, my mom really wanted to do it and I caved since doing it as a lone couple would definitely not have been okay for me to splurge on. When I got to Bora Bora and perused our concierge’s list of excursions, there was a very similar private tour (the snorkeling, lobster picnic, champagne, etc.) for about $1000 for 2 people. I almost crapped my pants.
Travel Pearl: To easily convert the money in my head from CFP (xpf) to USD, I always just divided by 100 and knew that the actual cost was a little less than that in USD. If I really wanted to get closer in the conversion, I would multiply by 0.9 again.
So let me tell you about our magical day!
After having breakfast at the resort, we lathered up in sunblock and packed up our equipment in some waterproof bags. We were asked to bring our own snorkel gear and towels. But not to worry, the resort had all of those things and we were able to borrow snorkel gear from the pool boys. I have to say that the resort snorkel gear is not as good in quality, but Bora Bora had better ones than Moorea. If you can, I’d invest in some good snorkel gear of your own that doesn’t fog up or leak, but using the resort’s items means less packing for you and less weight to contribute to the weight limit for Air Tahiti.
Pierrot, the owner of Keishi Tours, came leisurely by his outrigger canoe/boat to pick us up at the Intercontinental boat dock around 10am. A few days before the excursion, one of his associates (family members, as this is a family-run business) called us at the hotel to let us know that Pierrot was having some problems with the boat motor–could we reschedule our tour to Sunday? Most excursions are harder to book on Sunday, I found, as that tends to be people’s days off. However, we were also leaving on Sunday so we could not accommodate this. We explained the situation and then hoped by the date we booked, it would be all fixed!
Sure enough, Pierrot said he fixed everything and the boat was up and running!
“Everyone wants to do the tour, so they say ‘Pierrot pleaseeee!’ So I had to fix the boat!” he told us.
The morning was a little overcast, so I was slightly bummed because I knew the waters would not be as clear for snorkeling. However, I counted my blessings that it wasn’t raining because the forecast kept saying that it would be thundering and slightly raining on this day. Plus a little overcast might not be so bad after all the sunburns we got!
Pierrot was not as talkative as I thought he would be. I actually thought he was going to describe more of the island to us or introduce us to some history. I think his English probably wasn’t as good as his French or Tahitian but he was a very friendly guy at least, and his navigation in the water was skillful. My dad use to be a ship captain and he said he could tell that Pierrot knew what he was doing and how to steer the waters to keep us comfortable too. READ–making sure your customers don’t puke all over your boat. (Yes, I did take a Zofran and Dramamine before boarding.)
Our first stop was in deeper water to see a manta ray! This was pretty cool for me because manta rays are almost considered to be endangered species. They’re listed as vulnerable right now and especially since they have slow reproduction cycles, we need to be careful with them. The largest ones can span up to 23 feet while the smaller ones are still about 18 feet wide!! You can distinguish them from sting rays as well by the horn-shaped cephalic fins. These rays have also evolved to be filter feeders and on have a vestigial barb left so they don’t actually sting. Sorry, biology major here so I kind of get excited with these kinds of facts!
We probably couldn’t tell just how large this ray was because of the depth of the water. They’re not that easy to see, and Pierrot said that the manta ray is not always here. We consider ourselves lucky to have seen such a majestic creature in the ocean! For those of you who are more scared of deep waters, this may be a little scarier, but I stayed close to our boat and was able to easily look down with my snorkels to see the manta ray! My mom on the other hand, freaked out when she got in the water because she doesn’t know how to swim, and even the life jacket wasn’t comforting enough for her.
Sharks and Sting Rays
We didn’t stay by the manta ray for too long because he actually left the spot after awhile. So off we went to see some sharks and sting-rays! As we circled the island, we could see the different blue hues of the water changing. The prior day my husband and I had gone jet-skiing around the island but this was my parents’ first time seeing the rest of the island and they were just as enthralled and entranced as I was to watch the waters dissipate from dark blues to clear blue-greens.
We headed out not to shore but actually further out into the water past the main island to the middle of the lagoon between the main island and the motus on the far outside. To our surprise the water was clear here and you could actually stand in the water! The island of Bora Bora are remnants of a volcanic island that sunk. You can still see the center of the island (the main island where Vaitape is), and the little string of islets circling the main island used to be part of the main island too. Water just filled in on over the deeper valleys and created the lagoon. (Nerd alert!)
Here there were some other tour groups too that had stopped to feed the sting rays and sharks and I could see multiple people on a boat–some people ventured into the water, and others just watched from the boats. But I didn’t feel too crowded, even with the other tour groups there and Pierrot seemed to know the locals leading the other groups well as they would chat. Pierrot got into the water with us and had some dead fish to feed the sting rays. The sting rays acted like they were expecting him and hovered all over him!
Being able to stand in the water has its perks and drawbacks though. For one, everyone was kicking around the sand so much that the water was not very clear. Plus it started to sprinkle just a tad and the lighting wasn’t good as it was without the sunlight. But I was still able to see a bountiful amount of sting rays and fish. Then all of a sudden I turned around and saw black tipped reef sharks swimming past me. Not one or two, but MULTIPLE SHARKS.
I literally froze for a second because I had not been expecting them and wasn’t sure if I should stay still?? But they could care less that I was there even though they were swimming in frenetic circles–probably trying to find the food. They leave the humans alone more than the sting rays, which will actually glide up against you sometimes like an aquatic version of a cat slinking up against your leg! The sharks were swimming so fast that it was actually hard to get a good shot of them! Even seagulls came by to grab some fish!
At one point we were trying to get a picture with a sting ray, and Pierrot handed me a dead decapitated fish (SO STINKY, by the way) to attract the sting ray. This sting ray…oh my gosh, he was all up on me! And before I knew it, he was sucking up my PINKY (and the dead fish)!!! I freaked out for a moment, screaming “OH MY GOD HE’S EATING MY FINGER!”
Pierrot laughed and said “They don’t have teeth!” Well. That’s not true. They do have some but I think most of the time they suck up the food. Lucky for me, I got my pinky back!
Next up, Pierrot took us further around the island to a lovely coral garden with tons of fish. He offered us some cold drinks at this point–Orangina, Sprite, Coke, Beer, Water, you name it! The coral garden was in semi-deep water but it was SO crystal clear darker blue water. My mom was a little hesitant again, but Pierrot really insisted she should go in to see the fish! So he got the hard circular life ring and tied some rope to it while securing the end to the boat and asked her to climb inside and float while grabbing the ring/rope.
My mom was so thankful that he did this for her and it allowed her to see the fish for herself! She said it was very different seeing them in the water even though she could still see them swimming from the boat too! The advantages of a private tour, I guess =P
However, I realized later that feeding the fish bread, which was what we used to attract all the fish, is not a good practice. There’s yeast in bread and then the bread expands in the fish, causing them constipation. Later on, this could slow down the fish and make them more vulnerable to prey. I wish we had known this before, and I would have brought some fish food from the hotel instead.
The fish were absolutely stunning! The water here was a little more rocky, albeit super clear, so I was actually afraid to leave the boat too far and explore some more. Having the outrigger was helpful though because my dad and husband would cling on the sides of it in the water and they could stay in the little cove of the boat without drifting too far snorkeling. The sad thing is we also lost our GoPro in Moorea 🙁 Story for another time… and so I couldn’t capture as many nice photos. Check out my instagram for a video of the fish!
Pierrot had some other friends out here in their boats but there really weren’t other tourists at this location. My husband lost his snorkel gear somehow and it sunk down in the corals. He had just almost decided to try to dive in after the mask because it was hotel property, but Pierrot came to the rescue again! He asked his friend who had flippers to search for it and within a minute, his friend had brought up the snorkel mask to surface! Private tour–quality service, I tell ya! Woohoo!
By this point, we were getting kind of hungry, so Pierrot told us it was time to go have our private motu picnic! A motu is basically the islet surrounding the lagoon, so think of it as a small island or strip of land surrounded by shallow water.
We pulled up to the motu shore. The beach itself had nice white sand but there wasn’t as much beach sand to lay out on before the vegetation started to take over. The water was super shallow for quite a distance, though, and shallow enough to walk in for awhile.
Pierrot told us to go enjoy the beach and the waters while he prepared us lunch. I had read that his family owns a restaurant on the island. While we wandered, he also set up the lawn table/chairs in the water and a giant umbrella to provide us shade from the sun. The tables and chairs were nothing fancy–plastic, in fact–but he decorated nicely with beautiful plumeria and hibiscus!
Lunch started with a pre-prepared salad that Pierrot had wrapped up for us and transported in the cooler. It was simple but quite delicious with his dressing. Also very refreshing because we hadn’t had that many vegetables for our meals here. There was also some poisson cru, which is like the Tahiti version of poke–raw tuna fish soaked in a coconut milk mixture. Quite refreshing if it’s made right, in my opinion. I hadn’t been a big fan of this dish throughout our stay until I had Pierrot’s!
Our one-man chef poured us some champagne and juice and served us some bread and butter with our salads. At this point, I have to say. It was a little odd to be sitting half in water while eating. We noticed Pierrot didn’t offer us any napkins… so…we watched and he would dip his hands in the water to wash them and decided we better do the same too? It honestly probably wasn’t the most sanitary meal I’ve had, but you know what? Suck it up stomach flora. You can handle it! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 😉
The water level also started to rise a little. When we started eating the water was about calve level, but when we finished, my parents said their bums were getting soaked in water. The water never came close to the table level though, so we were fine! But I have to say…we were very full. With a tiny little grill, Pierrot had made fresh lobster, shrimp skewers, steak, chicken, mahi mahi, and potatoes. I was astounded that he grilled all the proteins on that tiny grill! I’m glad he brought the lobster and shrimp skewer out first because those were my favorite!
Although, I have to say his chicken and mahi mahi, and even the roasted potatoes were good! It was really all in the teriyaki-like sauce/marinade which was the same across the meats–but enjoyable, so I didn’t mind. The steak was a little on the drier side, but all in all, we agreed this was probably one of the best meals we had this trip.
After lunch, Pierrot cut up some watermelon and oranges for us and served us fruit for dessert. I was fascinated by the mini bananas he gave us, wondering if they were okay to eat?? I mean, they looked yellow enough, so they didn’t look un-ripe. But they were so small! Were these plantains??
I did a little research and I actually think these might be Gros Michel bananas, which are rare to find nowadays, at least in the U.S. because a Panama fungal disease pretty much wiped them out in North America! (Fun fact!) The U.S. primarily has the longer skinny Cavendish bananas now. They’re like the monopoly (kind of by way of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest) of the bananas. So when I had this banana, it tasted LIKE a Cavendish, but almost richer and creamier and, well, slightly off to me. I hear artificial banana flavor is based off Gros Michel bananas. So if these were Gros Michel, I see why I didn’t like them as much because I dislike artificial banana flavor–not that I felt it necessarily tasted like artificial banana. In any case, it was a new experience and kind of cool. if you see these, try them out!
After lunch, Pierrot was efficient in cleaning up and we hopped back on board to head back to our resort! It was actually quite an enjoyable day, and I’m glad we did it! Would I pay to do it again? Probably not, but it is one of those awesome glad-I-did-it-one-time-deal things!
Next up…JET SKIS! 🙂