Island Treasures: Motu Tapu, Conrad Bora Bora Nui’s private islet

It’s the most photographed islet in the South Pacific—Motu Tapu—just a five-minute boat ride from the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (formerly the Hilton Bora Bora Nui). It was the private beach of Polynesian Queen Pomare IV, who reigned between 1827 and 1877. She held exclusive receptions and parties on the islet, where access was “Tapu”—forbidden, sacred, by invitation only, thus the name Motu Tapu has carried over to this day.

Motu Tapu, private islet, Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort

Approaching Motu Tapu, private islet of the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Conrad guests can arrange to spend the day on this remote piece of paradise (download a brochure on costs and options on the resort’s website). It is an island treasure I was privileged to visit in 2010, along with a small group of journalists staying at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui, where ABC’s The Bachelorette TV show had recently ended its season. (It was the Hilton when I visited.) While my footprints in the sand have long since disappeared, my memories of a special day spent in this place of incredible beauty haven’t faded, thanks in part to the photographs I share here.

Motu Tapu's idyllic beach. Bora Bora

Motu Tapu’s idyllic beach epitomizes serenity and seclusion. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

A motu is defined as a reef islet formed by broken coral and sand, surrounding an atoll (in and around Polynesia). In the Caribbean and West Atlantic, these islets are often called cays or keys.

Walking the beach on Motu Tapu

Tranquil waters, soft sand underfoot, blue skies… this is Motu Tapu. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Motu Tapu Beach and Shells Close up

An up-close look at Motu Tapu’s beach, with remnants of the sea washed ashore—broken coral, shells and a small hermit crab, snug inside its borrowed home. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Trees on the interior of Motu Tapu

Trees on the interior of Motu Tapu provide welcome shade after snorkeling or walking the beach. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Server with tropical drink

Our gracious servers were ready with fruity tropical drinks or wine. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Motu Tapu Server Wine

Server with wine (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Tables at water's edge, Motu Tapu

Tables set at water’s edge are prepared for lunch in the paradise called Motu Tapu. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Lunch on Motu Tapu

A lunch to remember on Motu Tapu. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Lunch on Motu Tapu

Lunch on Motu Tapu (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Lunch by the lagoon

I would love to have this meal all over again, with the backdrop of the lagoon. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Tables near the sea, Motu Tapu

As we gathered to eat and drink at tables placed just as the water’s edge, sea water lapped gently across my feet. A trumpetfish hovered nearby in the shallow water. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Flip flop on Motu Tapu beach

♫ Blew out my flip flop, stepped on a poptop ♫ A lone flip flop on Motu Tapu beach. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Motu Tapu beach alternate

An alternate view of Motu Tapu from the other side of the islet. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

After snorkeling and lunch, we were treated to a coconut husking demonstration, then were invited to drink fresh coconut water from the shell and taste the white coconut meat. A pareo tying demonstration followed. Pareos (or sarongs) are typically rectangular pieces of cloth, 2 yards long x 1 yard wide, and can be tied in many variations.

The photo below shows the view from Motu Tapu looking back to the main island of Bora Bora.

Mount Ote Manu and the main island of Bora Bora

Looking back to Mount Ote Manu and the main island of Bora Bora from Motu Tapu. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

On the short return trip, we were serenaded with Polynesian songs as we passed by our overwater bungalows on the way back to the dock. It was an unforgettable day; one I wanted to share with you as an “Island Treasure.”

Ukelele Player, Motu Tapu

Our day on Motu Tapu ended with Polynesian folk songs being played for us on the ukelele as we made our return to the Hilton (now the Conrad). (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Overwater bungalows

Overwater bungalows (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette

Even the airport is located on an islet or motu. Motu Mute Airport serves the island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia, surrounded by the lagoon. For me, it wins the prize for most beautiful setting for an airport! A boat transfer is necessary to get to the main island of Bora Bora.

Bora Bora airport

The Bora Bora airport is located on the islet of Motu Mute. the islet of Motu Mute. A boat transfer is necessary to get to the main island. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

View from Bora Bora's airport

This is the amazing view from Bora Bora’s airport. (© Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Read more about Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora on the French Polynesia Destination page.

Read about Mopion Islet, located in the Caribbean: Island Treasures: Mopion Islet, Grenadines

Share memories of Island Treasures you’ve visited in the Comments below. I’d love to hear about them!

6 Comments on “Island Treasures: Motu Tapu, Conrad Bora Bora Nui’s private islet

  1. It’s hard to believe places like this actually exist. What beautiful photos!

    • Thanks, Jan! Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe I was really there! It’s a dream destination, for sure, and the Motu Tapu experience was a highlight.

  2. This is one of the places on my “bucket-list”. You just moved it to the top of the list. What tranquil beauty and grace has been bestowed upon this place and you have captured it through your lens. Thank YOU!

    • Pam Venne, thanks for your comment! (There is still a glitch in the commenting system sometimes preventing commenters’ names from appearing.) French Polynesia had been on my list for 20+ years and it was as beautiful as I’d imagined. I’d urge you to go! You won’t regret it.

  3. This is a destination on my wish list. Your pictures and descriptions make me want to go even more!! It’s definately a piece is paradise! No ” bora bora” about it! It’s obviously a place to stimulate all of the senses in a wonderful way.

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