Tahitian islands-on Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea, and Huahine

The ingenuity of island architecture isn't confined to the Bourbons and the Romans. In the South Pacific I have been intrigued to observe how what at first sight seemed to be a simple, almost silly architectural idea has come entirely to dominate the large and glitzy hotel industry of the islands of Tahiti.

The overwater bungalow was invented just thirty years ago by Hugh Kelley, a dropout -California -lawyer - turned - hotel-builder. His problem was that the Tahitian islands, counter to their image, have an embarrassing shortage of good natural white sand beaches (Tahiti itself has hardly any), so where could he buy land to develop into beach resorts?

Kelley's leap of imagination was to realize that if he planted his hotel accommodations on stilts out in the shallow lagoon, the shortcomings of the beach would perhaps not even be noticed. By day, each overwater bungalow would act as a swimming platform, more convenient and luxurious than any stretch of sand, and there would be other benefits too: Lagoon breezes would keep overwater bungalows ventilated and cool, and as an extra refinement, Kelley had the idea of giving each a glass floor and downwardpointing spotlights so that fish-watching could continue through the night-a popular soporific for jet-lagged clients unable to sleep. Island landowners also found the concept appealing. Overwater bungalows had the effect of greatly increasing their usable building space.

Kelley used the overwater idea to expand his own (Bali Hai) group of hotels, and soan the bigger hotel operators, realizing that they could charge anything from $100 to $150 a night more for overwater bungalows than for identical amenities on land, hastily climbed on the bandwagon.

During the 1980s dozens of overwater bungalows were built throughout the Tahitian islands-on Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea, and Huahine.

Bora Bora is the island with the most spectacular lagoon and, therefore, the one that has taken to overwater bungalows in the biggest way. The fashionable Moana Beach Parkroyal recently added anather ten to its collection, bringing its total to forty. The big new Bora Bora Lagoon Resart has pushed the idea even further -fifty of its eighty bungalows are overwater. And construction has now started on the biggest of them all, the Meridien-Bora Bora, with eighty-two out of a hundred units being above water.

Overwater bungalows aren't my main reason for liking Bora Bora. An excess of overwater installation scan, to be honest, make a lagoon look more like an offshore oil field than a place of recreation. But what Bora Bora has more of than anywhere I can think of is, for want of a better word, glamour. This is partly because of its physical beauty-no sea anywhere is quite so luminous, quite so intense, or quite so inviting as Bora Bora's lagoon-and partly because of the knowledge that if you stand still long enough, sooner or later every famous person in the world will walk by. A rall call is kept on painted boards outside Bloody Mary's restaurant, rather like a French war memorial. All the biggies are there: Nelson Rockefeller, Prince Rainier, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Harrison Ford, David Lean, Darothy Lamaur, Raquel Welch, and a hundred others. At the time of my visit, they were just getting ready to paint up the latest batch of names-Rowan Atkinson, George Michael, Dolph Lundgren, Denzel Washington, Pierce Brosnan, Stephane Grappelli, Pamela Anderson, Vanessa Williams. If these names are perhaps not quite so resonant as those that went before, that's no fault of Bloody Mary's; it's just that celebrities are no longer as celebrated as they used to be.

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