Celebrating 50 Years of the Overwater Villa

By Lauren Jade Hill

Overwater villas are what many people consider to be the ultimate in luxury travel, combining opulence with some of the world’s most sublime tropical settings. It was in the islands of Tahiti that the overwater villa was first offered as a resort’s luxury accommodation, helping establish Tahiti’s place as a leading travel destination. Now, 50 years on, these palatial ocean suites are celebrated worldwide.

Taking inspiration from the islands’ traditional pandanus leaf thatched bungalows, it was the three Californians Hugh Kelley, Muk McCallum and Jay Carlisle who first constructed villas on stilts over the islands’ blue lagoons having opened hotels on Moorea and Raiatea. Endeavoring to tempt more guests in, they knew these villas would afford those who stayed there easier access to the lagoon. And to enable guests to see down into the lagoon they were standing over, they also incorporated a glass floor.

Three overwater bungalows were built at the Bali Hai Hotel in Raiatea first, followed by more at Hotel Bali Hai Moorea. Other resorts were soon inspired to follow suit by building their own overwater villas, and as the years went by this phenomenon continued to grow; now there are more than 880 overwater bungalows at 22 resorts across seven of Tahiti’s islands with more luxurious options than ever before.

CEO of Tahiti Tourisme Paul Sloan says: “For many travelers looking for the perfect South Pacific escape, staying in an overwater bungalow is a can’t-miss experience. They complement Tahiti’s striking natural beauty and have become an icon around the world. These villas are a huge part of what makes the destination so remarkable and why Tahiti has been one of the world’s pre-eminent island destinations for five decades.”

At Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora one and two-bedroom overwater villas afford views of Mount Otemanu, across the turquoise lagoon and of the white-sand shores fringing the coast. The St Regis Bora Bora Resort then stands out for its Tahitian-inspired villas incorporating private infinity-edge pools, while Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa provides a luxury overwater experience with catamaran nets for relaxing on the terrace.

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