Best known for their picturesque turquoise lagoons and sparkling white sand beaches, The Islands of Tahiti—a collection of 118 landmasses scattered throughout the South Pacific Ocean—are back in vogue since their 1960s heyday, thanks in part to America’s revived tiki obsession. And it’s the classic postcard shot depicting a string of overwater cottages tethered via a wooden walkway that lazily leans into French Polynesia’s calm, crystal clear aquamarine sea that makes this exotic, remote region a worldwide bucket list destination.
Colonized by the French during the 19th century, today, less than half of Polynesia’s islands are inhabited, with even fewer counting lodging fit for foreigners. Over the past decade or so, Bora Bora has emerged as the collective’s main tourist hub, with the greatest concentration of spendy luxury resorts situated on what many believe to be Polynesia’s most Instagram-worthy aquamarine sea.
While cultures throughout the South Pacific have lived in “floating homes” for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1960s—when America’s obsession with tiki took off—that the first hotel, Club Bali Hai Moorea on the island of Moorea, introduced the concept of overwater bungalows. Today, throughout the Islands of Tahiti, most high-end hotels offer overwater suites and single rooms equipped with varying amenities, from glass floors to infinity pools.
Scroll on for The Islands’ most beautiful five-star overwater residences.
Worldwide hotel brand the Conrad debuted its inaugural 16-acre South Pacific property this past April on a tiny islet just off Bora Bora’s main coast, claiming the island’s largest stretch of beach, at over a half mile. Comprised predominantly of overwater villas—86 as compared to 28 garden villas—the resort replaces what was formerly the Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa. It has now been renewed with a contemporary, clean, and beachy aesthetic, conceived by Bangkok-based firms Blink Design Group and P49 Deesign.
The team updated the overwater rooms with Polynesian embellishments—from textiles to art—while soft, earthy hues and ubiquitous honey wood frames perfectly complement the South Pacific’s blue green sea. Wall-to-wall sliding glass doors open out to sizable decks with inlaid catamaran nets for lounging, and about a quarter of the overwater residences are dually equipped with infinity pools.
Fun fact: The Conrad offers a customizable pillow menu.
Dispersed throughout 54 acres, the Four Seasons—now almost a decade-old—melds contemporary luxury with Polynesian art and architecture. Aside from its seven beachfront villa estates, the property’s 100 suites all take shape as overwater bungalows, covered with thatched roofs assembled from the leaves of the indigenous pandanus tree. Within the suites, sun-drenched rooms boast a pale palette of earthy browns inspired by driftwood, while native wood carvings and coconut palm fans represent the resort’s South Pacific environment. Jump into bed—or the bathroom’s oversized tub—for a panoramic lagoon view, and relax in a chaise beside your private infinity pool.
Built in 2006 (but newly renovated last year), Le Méridien—with its 98 bungalows, suites, and villas—encompasses 22 acres, and channels a more cosmopolitan look with subtle Polynesian flourishes. Overwater bungalows—designed with both a bedroom and living room—incorporate warm tones representative of The Islands’ rich flora, with decorative materials like coral and shell contributing to the island spirit. Glass floors offer a glimpse of the tropical fish swimming below, while large patios provide a private place for sunbathing.
Especially spacious villas with included butler service are two of the perks that accompany a stay at The St. Regis’ 44-acre Bora Bora resort. Nine years since its debut, the property still feels as fresh as ever, counting 72 out of 89 villas perched on stilts over the water. Many of them are equipped with glass floors that show off the turquoise ocean below, along with a whirlpool and infinity pool.
In fact, St. Regis offers the largest standard-sized overwater rooms in all of the South Pacific at 1,550 square feet—divided among a bedroom, a lounge, an expansive Italian marble bathroom, and a sizable patio and gazebo. Aesthetics call for a mix of dark and light wood, wicker furniture, and cream tones, plus local art for a hit of character.
Taking cues from traditional Polynesian architecture, this 17-acre Relais & Châteaux resort on a small islet just off Taha’a—also known as the Vanilla Island—blends a naturalistic setting with local flair and contemporary convenience. Guests reside in overwater bungalows or beach villas—of which there are 57 in total—built of local bamboo, stone, and coral, with woven bamboo accents called tifaifai.
Overwater bungalows are equipped with a glass floor that peers into the clear water below, in addition to a large wraparound deck with a covered dining area. Should one desire, meals can be delivered by boat. Although developed 15 years ago, Le Taha’a is still the island’s only five-star hotel. In addition, it’s the one that offers a more organic feel, having been built in symbiosis with the environment.
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