QUESTION: The World War II codename for this island was Bobcat, and Americans are still very popular here. It was an important U.S. airfield, supply, refueling and ship repair base, as well as an oil depot during the war.
There were only 1,500 residents in 1942, and the American military soon quadrupled the population.
From an economic standpoint, the war was a huge bonanza for Bobcat. American Seabees built the 19 mile road around the island, the airport, schools, water treatment facilities, piers, warehouses, a medical clinic and they installed generators. The U.S. built the first airfield in this island chain, and the wharf which is used by cruise ships today was built by Americans in 1943.
The effort was worthwhile because Bobcat supplied the ships and planes that fought the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was the first action in which aircraft carriers engaged each other.
One of the over 20,000 war time visitors to Bobcat was James Michener, a Navy lieutenant, who in 1947 wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner “Tales of the South Pacific”. It was the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Michener described Bobcat as the most beautiful island in the world.
While the islanders had abundant fruit including huge papayas, avocados and cocoanuts, they lacked most modern conveniences. There were no hotels, piers, or tourists before the war, but today there are 18 resorts. (There were 19, but Club Med was destroyed in a hurricane). Practically all the residents are now employed in the tourist industry.
The tourists started arriving in 1961 when the first hotel opened, and despite all the visitors, no one has ever successfully climbed the island’s volcanic peak.
Do you know the real name of this island?
ANSWER: The real name of Bobcat is Bora Bora in French Polynesia of the southern Pacific Ocean. Tahiti is the most widely recognizable name among these islands, which are a semi-autonomous part of France.
Among the 118 Polynesian islands, Bora Bora was the one selected for a major military base. This was primarily because of its enormous interior lagoon which could only be entered through a single passage way that could be easily controlled.
This was a major advantage in stopping the threat of submarines. Bora Bora housed nearly 7,000 men during the war.
Eight massive naval cannons were set up at strategic points around the island, but they were never used in combat. The American presence was uncontested, and the cannons are today a tourist attraction.
The reason no one has ever managed to climb Mount Otemanu successfully is because the volcanic rock crumbles too easily, and will not bear a climber’s weight.
Practically every visitor to Bora Bora says the same thing, the fresh fruit is better than any they have ever had before.