Swimming with a humpback whale and her baby in Bora Bora has to be the highlight of what was possibly the best day of my life. Well, so far.
It was my 40th birthday and we were staying in an over-water bungalow for eight nights while in French Polynesia. We split our time between Moorea and Bora Bora mostly, with one night afterwards in Tahiti before we flew back to Los Angeles.
Days in Paradise
Mimi is a big fan of birthdays and she set out to make my 40th a memorable occasion. To call her amazing, at planning incredible experiences, would be the understatement of the year. She knew that snorkeling is one of my absolute favorite activities and, after spending four incredible days in Moorea, I really didn’t think it could get any better. Until we got to Bora Bora.
We’d have breakfast together on the deck of our over-water bungalow and talk about what we wanted to do that day, after we went for another snorkel, of course. When you have an over water bungalow in paradise, most days it’s best not to do much of anything. I could literally snorkel all day and so I did.
We went on a ATV tour of Moorea, but most days involved drinks and swimming in the perfect blue waters.
With reggae music playing, most days would usually involve lots of Tahiti Drink, and we had a good supply of it in the bungalow along with a bottle of rum to give it a little extra and very unnecessary, kick.
There are many places in the world that could be called a paradise.
In fact, just the idea could mean something different to everyone. For me, Bora Bora set the bar. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of incredibly beautiful places, but nowhere has ever been more beautiful to me. I could never describe all the different blues of the waters with any of the poetic accolades that it deserves. It’s a place that’s gorgeous in every picture and yet is still so much more overwhelming in person.
It was here that I woke up on my 40th birthday.
I stuck to my usually schedule of stargazing because in a place with as little light pollution as Bora Bora, the view is stunning! Mix that with the sound of the ocean as it laps against the side of your over-water bungalow and you have the perfect recipe for peaceful tranquility. Mimi joined me, and we watched the sun rise before going on our morning snorkel.She went back to the bungalow a bit early, and I knew that she was up to something. I also knew it would probably be something that I liked, so I just kept snorkeling. I’m no dummy.
When I got back to the deck of the bungalow and started to climb up the ladder, I could see that Mimi had recruited room service for a birthday feast. Everything that I like to eat for breakfast was there and it was more than I could possibly eat. There was even a little cupcake with a candle in it. It was the perfect start to the day and I was ready to go snorkeling again, but Mimi had other plans. She had arranged for a boat to pick us up, to go snorkeling for the day.
When the boat arrived, we were one of two couples being picked up. There was also an older couple already on the boat who were along for the ride but didn’t want to go into the water. The other couple, apparently also staying at our hotel, was an Italian couple that we had some good sign language-like conversations with. Our driver and tour guide rounded out the group and we hit it off right away. He was a Frenchman named Christoph, who owned the boat company leading the excursion, and it was his birthday too!
The first stop was a spot where eagle rays were known to live, and we weren’t to be disappointed.
There were dozens of eagle rays swimming together in large groups, lazily drifting through the crystal clear blue waters around us. I could have stayed there all day but there was more to see, and Mimi was letting it be a surprise. So, while I was reluctant to leave, I was very curious what else she had planned.
I didn’t see it right away, Mimi had to point it out to me. I have no idea how I didn’t see something so large gliding through the water, but it was well camouflaged considering how big it was. I was literally stunned, so I sank. Frozen in the water, I forgot to move my arms to swim before the need to breathe reminded me to swim again. It was more impressive than I ever could have imagined. We floated above it trying to keep pace for a while, but it swam surprisingly fast considering how slowly it moved.
The next appearance was by a group of baby manta rays, which meant that they were still as big as me.
They followed each other as they glided over the reef and swam in loops as they collected food from the water. It was just like I had seen in so many documentaries and it was exactly what I had hoped to see. I swam back to the boat euphoric, and feeling fortunate to have gotten to see them.
We’ve Got Whales!
I was beyond happy, but Christoph wasn’t done. He got on the radio with the other boats in his company to find out what everyone was seeing in the water. The conversation was mostly in French, but I understood the words, “humpback whale” well enough. Christoph put the boat in gear and we sped toward the darker blue water outside the reef as the rules and safety precautions were explained. Arriving at the spot, Christoph started tapping everyone on the shoulder saying,
“Go! Go! Leave your husband! Leave your wife! Get in the water! Go!”
I jumped into the water immediately and started swimming toward the whale.
I’m normally more considerate than this but I left Mimi behind to hang out with the Italian couple. I was so far beyond excited, I lost all focus on anything but that whale. When we were told we were going to see a whale, I thought he meant from the boat. When he started to shout instructions to get into the water so that we could swim with the whale, I didn’t hesitate.
When the whale came into view, I got really excited but confused. I swam as close as a dared, having been warned to keep a respectful distance.
Mimi quickly caught up to me and we stared with an excited awe. The whale was floating there, nose down and tail to the surface of the water. At first, I wondered if it was okay until I realized that it was sleeping. It was then that I noticed the baby swimming around her. It had been tucked underneath the mama and was starting to get curious at all the people in the water.
The mama humpback woke up and angled her massive body gracefully toward the surface for air.
Leveling off she began to keep a wary eye on the swimmers around her, but she didn’t seem alarmed. The baby swam big circles around the mama as if trying to play. It was adorable. I felt as lucky as a National Geographic cameraman. I imagined that this was the kind of experience that only they were lucky enough to get to see, as they filmed it for the rest of us to never fully appreciate on a television screen. We floated there for quite a while marveling at the whales, but it was time to give them some privacy.
I don’t think you can have an experience like that without it changing you.
As we swam back to the boat, I rotated between apologizing for leaving her behind in my excitement and thanking her for the most incredible experience of my life. It was beyond anything I had ever dreamed of doing and I felt like the luckiest person alive at that moment. With my expectations of the day surpassed beyond my wildest dreams, it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Mimi had made reservations at La Villa Mahana a month before we arrived and she was lucky to have gotten it.
It only has seven tables and reservations are booked up for several months but there had been a cancellation and she had happened to call at the perfect time.
What Heaven Taste Like
La Villa Mahana is still the gold standard by which all meals are compared to. Chef Damien is an artist and he created a masterpiece that was the only dinner that could have compared to such a perfect day. The atmosphere was cozy and romantic as we shared stories of exciting moments from our day. Music by Edith Piaf and Ray Charles eased through the restaurant speakers, as the wine was poured and course after delicious course emerged from the tiny kitchen. It was nothing short of spectacular.
When the meal was done, we stood up from the table at the exact moment it began to rain.
It was a warm refreshing rain and we didn’t try to hide from it. It was a perfect romantic moment that Hollywood could only dream of recreating. We strolled hand in hand, through the rain, happy and content after such a memorable day. A short boat ride later, that took us back to our underwater bungalow, the rain stopped and the day ended with us holding each other under the stars, just the way it started.