Snorkelling with sharks in Bora Bora

On learning the Bora Bora snorkelling trip included stops to swim with sharks, it was a no-brainer; I couldn’t sign-up fast enough. Swimming with sharks is amazing, but swimming with them in their natural habitat, in the Bora Bora lagoon, and then in the open ocean? What could beat that?

As the boat left our hotel dock it was clear there was an air of nervous anticipation among the passengers. For the lucky folk who have the chance, swimming with sharks is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity. A look at the faces on the boat told me most people were doing it for the first, and possibly only, time. Understandably, as the moment they needed to enter shark-infested water approached, the swimmers looked increasingly nervy.

Swimming with wild sharks

Our first stop was a very shallow spot at the southern end of the Bora Bora lagoon. As we came to a stop, some Black Tip Reef Sharks came to greet us. Our tour guide lobbed some fish into the water, and there were suddenly more than 30 (possibly more than 40) sharks leaping excitedly through the water. The guide set up a line between the boat and a coral outcrop for snorkellers to hang onto (minimising the amount of hands and arms flapping around in the water minimises the likeliness of curious nips). As I sat on the edge of the boat, geared up and ready to jump in, I spotted a pair of enormous stingrays glide past too. We were in for a treat.

Snorkelling with sharks, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I was first in. Selfishly, I love being alone in the water with sharks. It’s a privilege I really enjoyed when I dived on daily shark feed dives in the Bahamas, and it was equally wonderful in Bora Bora. The sharks glide through the water seemingly effortlessly, their cool eyes keeping a careful look out for the next free feed, and remoras clinging on beneath them and desperately trying to keep up. The sharks circled in front of us, a few came within arm’s reach, and a few swam around the snorkellers, surprising some and giving the more nervous of the group a bit of a fright. At no point were they interested in us though; it is clear they had no intention of giving us any nips. If you want proof take a look at this video of them ignoring us completely!

Our guide got the stingrays in an excitable mood, presumably by feeding them but in all honesty I didn’t see if he did, and they flapped up his body like excitable puppies. With most of the snorkellers face down in the water, our mischievous guide trailed the slimey, flapping stingrays across our legs, which was a very strange sensation indeed.

The water was only waist-deep, so provided a great place for nervous swimmers, and those that are not so comfortable with snorkelling equipment, to meet the sharks. Conditions were also pretty good for sharkie selfies, although the sharks were not entirely cooperative.

Shark selfie, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Sharks in open water

Our second stop was outside Bora Bora lagoon, where the water was deeper and the waves rolled the boat noticeably. Again, being first in meant I had the sharks to myself for a bit and I managed to get a few nice photos of the sharks in the blue, blue water. Deep water is bluer than shallow water, and makes for great photos.

Sharks in open ocean, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Being unable to see the bottom (or sometimes see that you can’t reach it) is enough to scare some people but the deeper water also meant there was more space and the sharks were less in your face.

Swimming with sharks, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Snorkelling Tahiti’s coral gardens

Back in the lagoon the group recovered from the excitement of the sharks and the heaving open ocean with a dip at the coral gardens, which were teeming with fish. There were hundreds of black and white striped Sergeant Majors, but also butterflyfish, surgeonfish, antheas, Moorish Idols, and we even saw a large Moray Eel. He was hiding in coral and easily avoided though. We were encouraged to take a chunk of stale baguette into the water with us, and doing so guaranteed snorkellers vanished in a cloud of excited fish until every last crumb had been hungrily snatched.

Snorkelling in Bora Bora Lagoon, French Polynesia

Private island paradise

An unexpected but pleasant surprise was a brief stop at an uninhabited island where a beach barbecue lunch was served to those on the full day trip. Having only booked the half-day option, we were given half an hour to explore the island. It only took us about 15 minutes to walk slowly around the island’s shore, wading ankle-deep in the clearest water imaginable and taking in spectacular views, towards the fringing reef in one direction, and back towards Mount Otemanu in the other. So we enjoyed a leisurely swim until the boat left to return us to our hotels.

Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

While sharks swim freely in the Bora Bora lagoon, in which all the hotels over-water huts stand, they are rarely seen in the vicinity of the hotels. We took the snorkelling trip as it took us to the areas of the lagoon where the sharks hang out, and we were so glad we did. Being in the water with these magnificent creatures is such an amazing experience, and the huge number of sharks we swam with, especially at the first stop, was magnificent.

There are lots of reasons that make Bora Bora a dream destination but the ease with which visitors can comfortably swim with sharks, and see them in their natural habitat, makes it a very special place in my mind.

Would you swim with sharks, in Tahiti or anywhere? Why not share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.

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