The famously calm waters of Bora Bora have seen a lot of action lately. Once a far-flung hideaway for honeymooners and reclusive figures like Marlon Brando, this French Polynesian island is now surprisingly accessible, thanks to new airline routes from the United States and a wave of luxury resorts opening this year.
Air Tahiti Nui recently began a nonstop 12-hour flight from Kennedy Airport to the island of Papeete, a 40-minute puddle jump from Bora Bora. And Air New Zealand started a red-eye trip from Los Angeles to Papeete (7.5 hours), making an early-morning transfer to Bora Bora easy. There are now 23 nonstop flights a week from the United States mainland to Tahiti, the main island of French Polynesia.
For people on the West Coast, getting to Bora Bora can be faster than going to the Caribbean, said Al Keahi, a spokesman for Tahiti’s tourism board, which has seen a 13 percent jump in American visitors this year. But just as important, Mr. Keahi added, are the new upscale resorts that are turning Bora Bora into a Pacific version of Turks and Caicos.
The splashiest, so far, is the St. Regis Resort, Bora Bora (689-60-78-88, www.stregis.com/borabora), which opened in June on 44 acres along the edge of a lagoon. It features 100 villas; a spa situated on its own islet; the first sushi restaurant on the island, Sushi Take, which will open in the fall; and another restaurant, Lagoon, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Besides amenities like plasma televisions and fancy toiletries, there are Polynesian-style perks like reef fishing and outrigger canoeing. The smallest of the rooms is 1,550 square feet and starts at $950.
Across the lagoon, the Intercontinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora (689-60-76-31, www.borabora.intercontinental.com) opened in May with 80 over-water bungalows; doubles from about 804 euros, or $1,037 at $1.29 to the euro. A 13,200-square-foot spa opened Sept. 1 and uses deep ocean water””extracted from 3,000 feet below sea level””in its mineral treatments.
There is more on the way. Tetiaroa, the atoll once owned by Marlon Brando, is being developed into a 30-room resort, set to open in 2008. Also expected to open that year is a Four Seasons, across the lagoon from the St. Regis, that will feature water bungalows, beachfront villas and a native-themed spa.
Not everyone is pleased with all the development. “That’s the last one, I hope,” said Damien Rinaldi Dovio, the chef of Villa Mahana (689-67-50-63), one of the many small, locally owned restaurants in Vaitape, Bora Bora’s main town. A five-course menu, which includes ahi tuna marinated in local vanilla oil with lemon-potato salad, is 8,500 French Pacific francs (about $90 at about 95 francs to $1) per person.
“These hotels will bring more luxury guests,” Mr. Dovio added, “but I hope they will also repair the road and clean up the main island for everyone, too.”