Tahiti marks an over-water anniversary

Tahiti is celebrating 50 years since the introduction of the first over-water bungalow, a design trend that has changed the face of tropical resorts around the world.

Now an icon of island luxury from the Maldives to Malaysia, today’s lavish over-water bungalows are the modern incarnation of a concept that had humble beginnings among the Society Islands.

Three Americans known as the “Bali Hai Boys” – Don “Muk” McCullum, Jay Carlisle and Hugh Kelley — are credited with building the first over-water bungalows in 1967 on the islands of Raiatea and Moorea, west of Tahiti.

Five decades on, there are now close to 900 over-water bungalows spread across eight of Tahiti’s 118 islands, with chains of neatly arranged accommodation becoming a sight as famous as the destination’s dazzling lagoons, mountain peaks and azure waters.

What were once traditional stilted homes with thatched roofs and native Polynesian artworks are now decadent suites or villas boasting private terraces, infinity pools, hammocks, spa baths and in-room glass floors for viewing the marine life below (otherwise known as Tahiti TV).

The bungalows are perfect for honeymooners, couples wanting a romantic getaway and canoodling celebrities.

Tahiti Tourisme’s director for Australia and New Zealand Robert Thompson said Tahiti’s popularity as a high-end destination could be traced back to the introduction of over-water bungalows.

“Nothing compliments Tahiti’s striking natural beauty more than her over-water bungalows,” Thompson said. “Over-water villas are a huge part of what makes Tahiti so remarkable and why it has been the world’s pre-eminent island destination for five decades.”