Meet Lazarus. Oliver Martin, the on-staff marine biologist at Four Seasons Bora Bora — yes, Four Seasons has him on staff — has been showing us around the inner lagoon where he is grafting coral underwater (they look like little pots of herbs) when a couple of locals arrive with two small spotted rays from the outer lagoon. One, it seems, may have been out of the water too long. It sinks to the bottom. Oliver says it’s in shock. He picks up the creature, gently moving it so water flows through its gills. After a few tense minutes, the ray is breathing on its own and slowly swims away. You can see why we dubbed it Lazarus.
“The whole idea is to develop this inner lagoon as a bio center,” Oliver explains—a place where children and parents can snorkel, learn about sea life and the environment.
You might think this beautiful resort with its over-the-water bungalows is built for romance. And it attracts its fair share of honeymooners. But it is also an idyllic place for families: gorgeous, low-key—and fascinating.
We see an octopus! There are three tunnels that wash the little fish in (and plankton for the fish) and nets to keep big predators out. “All of the fish came in alone,” Oliver explains. Coral, he says, grows as much as 10 inches a year. The lagoon is about the size of a tennis court, in front of the area known as Teen Chill Beach, where there are lounge chairs and inside, an air conditioned lounge with pool table, foosball, Nintendo games and a Wii. Maybe even the teens will get interested?
Oliver hopes to graft coral underneath the over-water bungalows so guests can see more sea life snorkeling right from their rooms (everyone has a little private swimming deck). Eventually, he wants to create a natural area on the Pacific side as well: where guests can get up close to sea life near the crashing surf.
“The main idea is to create a nursery for coral and fish, and see which coral will adapt,” Oliver says. He’s attempting to graft some ten different kinds of coral, much of which he cultivates on shallow “noodles” he’s placed in the small lagoon.
“The more you know, the more you see,” Oliver says.
If you simply stay in the lagoon watching, you’ll see things you never realized were there: octopus mating (if you are really, really lucky; Oliver captured that on video), angel fish, clown fish (Nemo!), parrot fish, hermit crabs. “The kids really like the hermit crabs,” he says. Another plus is that kids can learn how to snorkel here and not be afraid. “The fish get used to you and they go about their business, and you just watch.”
Oliver believes this Four Seasons project is the largest in French Polynesia—another effort that sets Four Seasons apart, especially as a family destination. Who says romance and kids can’t go together?
All of the dreamy bungalows are set up as suites, with separate living rooms, pull-out sofas and their own flat screen TVs—perfect for kids and cozy couples. And in true Four Seasons fashion, there is a first-rate, complimentary “Kids For All Seasons” area for supervised activities, complete with a water playground that shoots jets of water when the kids jump on it. On the roster: Tahitian arts and crafts, coconut cracking, Tahitian dance lessons and fish feeding.
Around the pool (infinity, of course, with thatch-covered beach beds that are as terrific for a toddler to nap outside in the shade as for a cuddling couple), honeymooners and families seem to coexist happily. We meet one couple who got married here on the beach with the bride’s five-year-old son taking part in the festivities.
“Most of my friends think we’re crazy to travel so far with the kids,” one mom said. “But,” she added, looking around, “there’s something about this that’s magical.”
Lazarus would have to agree.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated travel columnist and a leading family travel expert. She offers tips and advice at TakingtheKids. A journalist and the author of seven books, Eileen’s TakingtheKids family travel guides have just been reissued for the NOOK and Kindle. Eileen is the mother of three grown children and lives in Connecticut with her husband.
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