The Islands of Tahiti, birthplace of the overwater bungalow, Celebrate 50th anniversary of the iconic accommodation


Tahiti-French Polynesia

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Reading time: 0 minPublished on 4 January 2023, updated on 16 April 2024

Synonymous with the ultimate in holiday accommodation and borne from The Islands of Tahiti, the iconic overwater bungalow celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Changing the luxury accommodation landscape forever, the first overwater bungalow made a literal splash in 1967 when three Californians known as the ‘Bali Hai Boys’ built the world’s first hotel room above the turquoise lagoons of Raiatea. The three Americans responsible for the ground-breaking style of accommodation had succeeded in their quest to increase their number of hotel rooms with limited land and make their hotel in Raiatea more appealing to visitors.

Hugh Kelley, Muk McCallum and Jay Carlisle had moved to The Islands of Tahiti in the 1960s after falling in love with the country. After opening a hotel on Moorea, the Boys searched for a way to give guests at their Raiatea hotel access to the lagoon where sandy beaches were lacking. Their solution made history – building the first three authentic, traditional pandanus leaf-thatched roof villas over the water to give their guests direct water access.

It’s unlikely they knew the impact their idea would have on tourism globally, literally revolutionizing The Islands of Tahiti’s sector and influencing accommodation design in other locations around the world.

Fifty years on, the traditional overwater bungalow concept has evolved to include palatial suites and villas that offer the amenities of a first-class hotel room. Signature glass floors and insets provide glimpses of the lagoon and its sealife below – affectionately known as ‘Tahiti TV’ – and often private terraces, infinity pools, spas baths and hammocks up the luxury factor.

Today, there are 884 overwater bungalows spread across 22 hotels throughout seven of The Islands of Tahiti, offering guests not only the ultimate in luxury island getaways – but also the original and most authentic.


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