Honeymooning or not, the South Pacific is a marvelous place for romantic escapes. After all, romance and the islands have gone hand-in-hand since the bare-breasted young women of Tahiti gave rousing welcomes to the 18th-century European explorers.
I've never stayed anywhere as romantic as a thatch-roof bungalow, especially one built on stilts over a lagoon, with a glass panel in its floor for viewing fish that swim below you, and steps leading into the warm waters. You'll find lots of these in French Polynesia -- especially on Bora Bora, the South Pacific's most famous honeymoon destination -- and a handful more in Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Samoa.
One caveat is in order: Many overwater bungalows are relatively close together, meaning that your honeymooning next-door neighbors will be within earshot if not eyeshot. Therefore, if you're seeking a high degree of privacy and seclusion, they won't be your best choice. Look instead to a growing number of super-private honeymoon "villas" -- many with their own swimming pools and hot tubs.
Also, many of the South Pacific's small, relatively remote offshore resorts fall into another category: Best Places to Get Away from It All. They are so romantic that a friend of mine says her ideal wedding would be to rent an entire small resort in Fiji, take her wedding party with her, get married in Fijian costume beside the beach, and make her honeymoon a diving vacation. Most resorts in this book are aware of such desires, and they offer wedding packages complete with traditional ceremony and costumes.
Getting Hitched in the Islands -- These romantic islands are marvelous places to get married, although getting legally hitched is relatively easy only in Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Samoa. It's impractical in French Polynesia and American Samoa, which require 30-day residencies prior to getting a marriage license, and more difficult in Tonga, which requires 6 months. Legal or not (just ask Eddie Murphy!), many couples still opt for island wedding ceremonies during their honeymoons. Many resorts will take care of the formalities and organize traditional ceremonies, on the beach as you prefer. Their wedding coordinators will tell you what documents you will need to bring (or send in advance) and what local formalities you will need to execute. Do not even think of making the arrangements yourself.
Here's my choice of the best honeymoon resorts. With few exceptions, they all have full-service spas.
Fiji has one of the world's finest collections of small offshore resorts. These have two advantages over their French Polynesian competitors. First, many have fewer than 20 bungalows each instead of the 40 or more found at the French Polynesian resorts, which means they are usually more widely spaced than their Tahitian cousins. Second, they are on islands all by themselves. Together, these two advantages multiply the privacy factor.
Several hotels in the Mamanuca Islands off Nadi appeal to honeymooners. Tops is the exquisitely designed Likuliku Lagoon Resort, the first in Fiji with overwater bungalows. Tokoriki Island Resort has five bungalows with their own plunge pools. It's less luxurious, but Matamanoa Island Resort caters exclusively to couples and is a good choice for cost-conscious honeymooners.
Yasawa Island Resort & Spa sits on one of the prettiest beaches and has a low-key, friendly ambience. It has large bungalows, the choice being the secluded honeymoon unit sitting by its own beach; it even has its own pool.
Also in the Yasawa Islands is the less expensive Navutu Stars Resort, which has a spa and yoga sessions in addition to fine food.
In central Fiji off Suva, The Wakaya Club is generally considered Fiji's top resort. It has the country's largest bungalows, plus a palatial mansion with its own pool, perched high atop a ridge. You might see a movie star or two relaxing at Wakaya.
At Savusavu in northern Fiji, Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort is the South Pacific's best family hotel, but a beautiful villa with its own swimming pool is hidden away from the kids. Motivational speaker Anthony Robbin's luxurious Namale Resort also has private, pool-equipped villas plus a bowling alley, golf simulator, and a ton of other toys.
At the other extreme, Taveuni's low-key, three-unit Coconut Grove Beachfront Cottages is one of Fiji's best bargains. Most bungalows at Maravu Plantation Beach Resort & Spa come equipped with hot tubs, and a honeymoon unit is built up in a tree.
So is one of the widely spaced bungalows at Matangi Island Resort, off Taveuni, where two more are carved into the side of a cliff. They all have outdoor bathrooms. Among my favorite places are the charming, old South Seas-style bungalows and the stunning central building at Qamea Resort and Spa. Lanterns romantically light the 52-foot-high thatched roof of Qamea's main building.
The resorts in French Polynesia have the region's widest selection of overwater bungalows.
On Tahiti, which most visitors now consider a way station to the other islands, the InterContinental Tahiti Beachcomber Resort has overwater bungalows that face the outline of Moorea across the Sea of the Moon. Some of those at Le Meridien Tahiti also have this view.
On Moorea, the overwater units at the Club Bali Hai are the among the oldest -- and the least expensive -- in the islands. They lack most modern amenities, but they enjoy an unparalleled view of the jagged mountains surrounding Cook's Bay. Some overwater units at the Sofitel Moorea Beach Resort face Tahiti across the Sea of the Moon, and they're built over Moorea's most colorful lagoon. The Moorea Pearl Resort has a few perched on the edge of the clifflike reef, making for superb snorkeling right off your front deck.
Bora Bora has several hundred overwater bungalows. The newest and largest are at the super-luxurious St. Regis Resort Bora Bora, where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban spent their honeymoon in the enormous Royal Estate. Also huge are the units at InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa, where you can watch fish swim beneath your overwater treatment room while getting a massage in the South Pacific's top spa.
Units at the Bora Bora Nui Resort also are large and luxurious, although they don't look out to pillarlike Mount Otemanu rising across the famous lagoon. For that signature vista, you can stay at the Sofitel Motu or at the venerable Hotel Bora Bora. The Hotel Bora Bora also has luxurious bungalows boasting their own courtyards with swimming pools. Equally private, though less luxe, are the garden units at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort; you can cavort in their wall-enclosed patios, which have sun decks and splash pools. The smaller, but well-appointed, overwater units at the friendly Le Maitai Polynesia are the least expensive on Bora Bora.
On Huahine, units at the Te Tiare Beach Resort have some of the largest decks of any overwater bungalows (one side is shaded by a thatched roof).
The most charming of French Polynesia's overwater units are at the Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa, a luxurious resort on a small islet off Tahaa. Some of these espy Bora Bora on the horizon.
Out at the huge atoll known as Rangiroa, in the Tuamotu archipelago, Hotel Kia Ora has bungalows over the world's second-largest lagoon. On the adjacent atoll, overwater bungalows at the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort sit over the rip tides in a pass that lets the sea into the lagoon. On Manihi atoll, units at the Manihi Pearl Beach Resort are cooled by the almost constantly blowing trade winds. Isolated on their own islets, the Pearl Beach resorts on Tikihau and Manihi more closely approximate the privacy of Fiji's remote offshore resorts than any others in French Polynesia.
The Cook Islands
Generally you will spend less on your honeymoon in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands than in nearby French Polynesia.
Up in Aitutaki, you can stay in an overwater bungalow at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, which has one of the most cleverly designed "villas" in the islands (you roll off your daybed into your own pool and swim to your own hot tub!). The stunning Pacific Resort Aitutaki has bungalows down by the beach and hidden away among old-growth forest on a headland. Etu Moana Beach Villas lacks a restaurant, but its bungalows are within walking distance of one.
The most luxurious digs on Rarotonga are at Rumours of Romance Luxury Villas & Spa, where one unit has its own movie theater. They are not, however, individual bungalows. Nor are those at Sea Change Villas, but the beachside units have their own pools. My favorite bungalows are the spacious and charming units at Rarotonga Beach Bungalows, sitting beside the island's best beach and lagoon. Nearby, the Little Polynesian now has 10 spacious beachside bungalows and a pool, as does Royale Takitumu Villas. The best family resort in the Cooks, the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, also has a luxurious honeymoon villa with pool hidden from the throngs. Even more private villas are across the road. Crown Beach Resort, the top small full-service hotel on Rarotonga, has hot tubs in the porches on its beachside units and has added 16 private villas with pools.
Often overshadowed by its South Pacific neighbors, independent Samoa has much to offer honeymooners, especially those without unlimited funds.
On Upolu's south coast, Coconuts Beach Club & Spa has Samoa's only overwater bungalows, and three villas with rock-wall bathrooms. Nearby, Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa has a spa, a 9-hole golf course, and individual bungalows. The honeymoon units sit beside their own beach.
Although it does not have bungalows, Aggie Grey's Lagoon, Beach Resort & Spa does sport a full-service spa, and it's surrounded by the sea and an 18-hole golf course.
On Savai'i, Le Lagoto Beach Resort has a dozen Samoan-style fales with intricately lashed ceilings. An infinity pool augments the fine beach.