Mount Otemanu is what’s leftover from an ancient volcano. It peaks almost 2400 feet upward above the lagoon. It’s one of the most famous attractions across all of Bora Bora, with its scenic sights and rich history. You can go on all kinds of tours that take you through it, from hiking tours and boat tours, but the most popular is the 4×4 tours. However, adventurers will more than love to hike it. If you visit Bora Bora, you can’t miss it as it’s visible from all parts of the island.
The Mt Otemanu cave clinging to the cliff face offers some of the most amazing views of the island. Here is my own experience climbing this wonderful landscape and additional information by Ato Tinorua, who grew up around the area.
Here is an overview of the climb you can do at Mount Otemanu.
The Tetuanui family have long lived on the land afoot Ana o Pea (the cave of the swallow deemed to be the representation of the goddess of the air), where legend holds that a couple gave birth to a child with the body of a human & the head of a centipede.
In 2006, Azdine, an adventurous guide, approached the elders of the family for permission to climb. The family said there was no track and spoke of the fact that few had ever undertaken the climb as it was widely held that tupapau (ghosts) inhabited the cave and the terrifying screams of a child could be heard at night. Only one living family member was known to have climbed to the cave and he spoke of the fear engendered by the screams.
Permission obtained it would take Azdine 2 days, sleeping one night in a tent halfway up, to cut a path through the jungle. Arriving at the cave too late to undertake the descent, the determined climber pitched his tent for a second night. He speaks of the terrifying screams of a child and of his determination to come to terms with them, of the hours to find the inner peace to be able to rest.
Today the climb with this same guide will take around 2–2.5 hours up & slightly less down, climbing at a steady pace whilst taking time to capture a few photos of the wonderful scenery. So steep is the final assault that those lucky enough to undertake this exceptional adventure pull themselves upwards via a series of strategically placed ropes.
It’s a rewarding ascent through wooded cover with vantage points along the crater’s edge offering outstanding panoramic views across the fabulous turquoise waters surrounding Bora Bora’s major hotels & over to Tahaa & Raiatea:
A little higher, whilst skirting impressive monoliths, views are to be found over the heart-shaped atoll of Tupai and the ever-present, daunting Mt Otemanu, with its cave of legends clearly visible.
The rope-assisted sections – both up & down will set your heart-beat racing:
A heart-stopping moment on the first time seeing the cave, made all the more impressive as the final assault is heads down until the last moment when the marvel suddenly confronts you in all its glory:
Towards the rear of the cave is a level area reportedly used as the final resting place in days gone by for certain elevated tapuna (ancestors). Throughout the cave, a series of post-box-like cavities in which frigate birds nest.
One can sit on the mountain stonework for hours admiring the stunning spectacle that unfolds before one’s eyes.
Take plenty of water as it can be exceptionally hot, especially on a windless day, so it’s a great outing for a windy day. Take a light lunch with you and don’t eat until you get here as it’s the best site for lunch.
The oldest person to have undertaken the climb was 66 years old and the youngest was 8. It’s a demanding hike requiring a good level of fitness.
Contacting the guide direct gives you significant savings on the cost of the tour when compared to what you would pay should you book through an agent. If you need assistance, register on-line & send us an email. Please note that this site operates as a service to visitors to Bora Bora & takes no commission for arranging such introductions. Just don’t forget to wear some good climbing shoes.
Here is some information about queens bath at Mount Otemanu.
At the foot of Otemanu, shaded by mape (walnut trees) and encircled by petroglyphic honu (turtles), the source Te vaipani flowed on the land of Te-pua-Matari’i to a place where royalty once bathed:
Otemanu, where legend holds the spirit of god descended atop a rainbow on Bora Bora, the first land, the land of the gods, the sanctuary of the ancestors, invoked by warriors to give power & courage & by priests to attract rain.
Mape – signifying a sacred site. Honu – the sacred animal, symbol of fertility, messenger of the gods & protector of the site. Te vaipani symbolising the arrival of the Pleiades or Matari’i, the period of abundance, a time of recognition of the link between man, the heavens, and earth, marked by the start of the turtle nesting season and the blooming of the pua, a particularly fragrant yellow-white flower used for leis during fertility rituals at major religious ceremonies.
The baths were in fact used by the ari’i-vahine (royal women) in particular, the adopted daughter of Queen Teriimaevarua. Towards the centre/back of the baths is a large rock on which turtle petroglyphs that can be seen to the left of this rock, looking upstream is a large flat rock on which the Princess would sit whilst using the baths:
There are other interesting, quite unique, rock carvings. Seen from the right angle, a large image of a turtle’s head, held by many to be that of Ofa’i Honu, can be seen amongst the rocks. You will need an informed guide to point it out to you, but it has been a quite dramatic find for Polynesians arriving from other areas of Polynesia.
Apart from being the preferred place for royalty to bathe, the site was used for grand celebrations, particularly at the time of Matari’i. At such times meetings were held to discuss matters surrounding the moral & intellectual formation of the population whilst priests would pray that participants could celebrate their joy with the spirits of their ancestors & move closer to the divine.
Opposite the baths, the large section of relatively flat ground – Te horo – was used by participating warriors for their physical preparation. Above the baths is a stone platform, a pae pae, on which food was laid for those participating in such meetings.
In Polynesian culture, the placentas of royal newborns were buried under the pua (those of lesser persons under a fruit tree). In the case of the land Te-pua-Matari’i, the word Matari’i carried a special meaning, that of Mata – the eyes or the look, & ari’i meaning royalty. The Queen’s Baths, this very special site, was held to be under constant royal watch & surveillance, constantly overlooked from atop the pua.
This area was once the best watered in Bora Bora, with numerous sources & streams filled with prawns & eels. When the Americans were on Bora Bora during WWII, they set up a system of large container vessels over the baths to trap & hold water which was fed by gravity to where it was required. After the Americans departed, French technology saw the installation of water bores & subsequently, the waters ran dry.
However, the baths are on private property.
Acknowledgement: I am indebted to Ato Tinorua from whom I gleaned much of the above information. Ato grew up by the baths where his family planted vanilla. Ato’s father, Natanaela Teaotea, the famous orator & much respected pastor of Vaitape for over 40 years had passed this information down to him.