For most of us a week or more in a stylish Tahitian over water bungalow is the ultimate extravagance. Just you, your significant other and the gently lapping, calm, crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Pacific surrounding your little piece of paradise.
2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the distinctive overwater bungalow and some of the magnificent 5-star properties of Tahiti are celebrating with panache.
Tahiti Over Water Bungalows
In Eisenhower’s conservative America, James A. Michener’s short story collections such as Tales of the South Pacific inspired some Americans to consider abandoning their day jobs and escaping to a tropical idyll. It was then that three Californians – a stockbroker, a lawyer and a salesman traded the daily grind for the treasures of Tahiti.
Jay Carlisle, Hugh Kelley and Don ‘Muk’ McCallum took the plunge. Hugh had crewed a yacht across the Pacific and found a vanilla plantation on Moorea. After the price of vanilla crashed, the trio met a local politician with a run-down hotel. They made a deal and secured coveted 5-year visas and 4 bungalows that had seen better days.
By day they repaired their hotel and by night they partied. Hard.
Tahiti wasn’t really on the map and pre-jet travel meant they struggled to find guests despite being located just 12 miles from Papeete. They named their hotel for Michener’s fictitious island ‘Bali Hai’. And, the legend of the ‘Bali Hai Boys’ soon spread.
Famed photojournalist Carly Mydans detoured after his Life Magazine assignment to stay a night with the boys. He stayed three weeks.
In December 1962, pictures of the three living the good life in Life made them overnight celebrities and reservations took off.
Soon, the resort expanded to 65 units, they bought more properties and in 1967 they built their first overwater bungalow in the lagoon of Raiatea. They adapted the traditional Polynesian pandanus-leaf thatched roof hut and built three on the water’s edge to give their guests direct lagoon access. The accommodation landscape (or should that be horizon) was never the same again.
Fast forward to the 21st century and there are more than 900 overwater bungalows scattered across Tahiti’s 118 islands. Most are lavishly appointed with some featuring ‘Tahiti TV’ – glass floors and insets to watch the sea life below. There is also the last of the ‘Bali Hai Boys’ resorts – Club Bali Hai Moorea Hotel.
InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
The InterContinental Bora Bora is celebrating the anniversary with the unveiling of new pool villas and Brando Suites to join the 80 spacious, contemporary overwater villas.
With breathtaking views of Mt Otemanu the Brando Suites feature large terraces and private outdoor pools. King-size beds and bathtubs are positioned to take in the breathtaking views of the lagoon and the island.
The Brando Suites and new pool villas are scheduled to open in December: http://thalasso.intercontinental.com/
Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort
Nothing says romance quite like a heart shaped island. Moorea is endless cornflower skies, hypnotic blue lagoons, warm breezes … you get the picture.
The French do know a thing or two about the art of living. Wine and food experiences are part of the Sofitel DNA. Former private chef to Francois Mitterand and Bill Clinton, Guillaume Burlion has also worked alongside the legendary Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. The Ia Ora Beach cellar is considered one of the finest in the South Pacific.
The over water bungalows do come complete with the aforementioned Tahiti TV and every amenity against a backdrop of white sand and rugged green mountains. http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-0566-sofitel-moorea-ia-ora-beach-resort
Club Bali Hai Moorea Hotel
Although not the property where it all began the Club Bali Hai is still owned and operated by two of the surviving Bali Hai Boys. The trio took over the hotel in 1982.
Part time-share, part hotel the property sits on the eastern side of Cook’s Bay surrounded by picture perfect Gauguin views. What’s missing in luxury touches is more than made up with charm. Muk McCallum still holds court most nights telling stories and sharing his love for Moorea.
Club Bai Hai Moorea Hotel features all of the natural splendour that the big resorts share without the price tag. http://www.clubbalihai.com/