Tahiti's Famous Overwater Bungalows Turn 50
Three Californians known as the "Bali Hai Boys" invented the bucket list-topping retreats
French Polynesia‘s stunning overwater bungalows are celebrating a milestone birthday this year — turning the big 5-0!
They’re now some of the island’s most sought-after vacation accommodations, but Tahiti‘s overwater bungalows were first dreamt up by three friends from Newport Beach, California. Working respectively as a stockbroker, attorney and a salesman, the longtime friends left behind their corporate jobs in the 1960’s and jetted off for paradise.
Once there, Hugh Kelley, Don “Muk” McCallum and Jay Carlisle fell in love with French Polynesia and became known as the “Bali Hai Boys.” Their first hotel on the island of Moorea flourished, but the second, on Raiatea, proved to be a challenge, since there was no sandy beach access.
That’s when Kelley suggested building the bungalows over the water to give guests direct access to the lagoon, launching the now iconic accommodations and forever changing tourism in Tahiti.
After initial resistance by Tahitian authorities, in 1967 they allowed the first three overwater bungalows to be built at the Bali Hai Hotel on Raiatea. These were followed by the overwater bungalows at Hotel Bali Hai Moorea, and later, Hotel Bora Bora started building overwater bungalows based on the Bali Hai Boys’ design.
Today, many resorts throughout the islands of Tahiti feature the luxurious bungalows, allowing for the truly unique experience of sleeping just feet above the ocean.