A military site in paradise? While this may seem surprising to imagine amid the tropical splendour of Bora Bora, the island was an United States supply base from early 1942 to mid-1946 in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941. Up to 6,000 servicemen were stationed on the island leaving a lasting legacy – seven giant cannons.
Eight cannons in total were installed, with seven still remaining, around strategic coastal areas of Bora Bora. Their general locations are the hills above Matira Point to the south of the island, Fitiiu Point to the east and at Farepiti and Tereia Points to the north of the main settlement of Vaitape. Known as Operation Bobcat, the US built a supply base, oil depot, airstrip, seaplane base and defence fortifications as well as the guns to protect the island from enemy attack. As the island was not targeted during the war, the base closed in 1946 while the airstrip served as French Polynesia's only international airport until Faa'a International Airport opened in Tahiti in 1960.
The actual guns are almost eight centimetres long and over six metres on their swivel base. Never used and now rusty, visitors climb over them and take photos of the cannons and their picturesque locations. The easiest way to get around Bora Bora to see all seven WWII gun locations is by 4WD as some of the locations are hard to find. A few operators take visitors around the rugged interior of the island for a bumpy tour of the cannons as well as some important cultural, historic and archaeological areas of the island.
To visit the World War II gun sites on your own, for the Matira Point location, head east from Hotel Matira to the walking path. From Vaitape, the Fitiiu Point guns are 15km away and the trail is accessible from the road. Eight kilometres from Vaitape are the Tereia Point guns, which can be found up the hill from the water tank. The Farepiti Point guns are located 2km from Vaitape and 500m from the Farepiti wharf up a hillside path.