Possibly the world’s most seductive honeymoon destination, French Polynesia has been open to United States travelers since July 15. All travelers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test carried out within three days of their international air departure. They must also take a self-test four days after arrival.
Nature has always put me in my place, reminded me of how small I am. At the same time, while immersed in the outdoors, I feel the most alive. I suppose that’s why something Marlon Brando said on a talk show more than a decade ago resonated with me at the time, to the point that I wrote his words down in a special book, where I record such things. Though I didn’t hear Brando say them, I read them later as quoted in his 2004 New York Times obituary.
“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.”
Just as much as they did then, Brando’s words move me. I like knowing that he felt small sometimes, that nature had an effect on him. I like that connection between him and me, one all humans share. I suppose that’s why I always wanted to go to Tetiaroa, Brando’s own island in French Polynesia, now a highly touted eco-resort. When I finally get there, I arrive to the scent of gardenia and the din of the wind shuffling coconut fronds. Right away, I rush to the beach, stand near the water, perhaps in the same place where he once pondered — and reconsider his words. “Here’s where he felt that,” I think, feeling the grit of the sand between my toes, awed by the still, azure waters of the lagoon. I imagine him drinking the scene up like a curative elixir. I follow suit. The very terrain has healing powers.
Disenchanted with Hollywood, on a quest for meaningfulness, Brando caught sight of Tetiaroa when filming “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1960. It took some scheming, but he managed to buy the island (actually a group of 12 side-by-side motus), which he refused to develop. Instead, he erected some rustic huts, married, had children, and lived a simple life, following the example of many generations of Tahitians before him. Through the years, silver screen friends visited Tetiaroa, hosted by Brando, and entranced by his world. I imagine them wonderstruck by a place where paradise’s rules trumped Hollywood’s — where bare feet, sarongs and hammocks replaced stiletto heels, fur coats and four poster beds. Brando must have enjoyed the gift he gave his guests, the morsel of authenticity he proffered for them take home. He sent them back better prepared to navigate the urban chaos and buzzy lives they lived in Los Angeles. Perhaps this realization triggered Brando’s eventual idea for a self-sustained hotel, one which would celebrate the island’s biodiversity, one where he could share Tetiaroa’s tranquil largesse with the world.
In 1999, in collaboration with Tahitian hotelier Richard Bailey, Brando seriously began work on his concept. The project underwent many iterations before it opened at last in 2014 (sadly, after Brando’s death), as one of the earth’s most ecologically forward resorts. Today, an intimate bastion, which has housed Leonardo di Caprio numerous times, Barack Obama for a month while he wrote his memoirs, and myriad luminaries from Pippa Middleton to Beyonce. The Brando has a LEED Platinum Certification, is committed to paying homage to Tahitian culture and has a low key, understated endowment of Brando-style chill.
Within an hour of being at The Brando, I’m almost bored. That’s the beauty of the place. To get here, I’ve taken a 20-minute flight on Air Tetiaroa’s private plane from Papeete, which is an eight-hour flight from California. I land on an air strip, a gravelly rivulet amid an orchid sea. Right away, greeted with flowers and songs, I take up residence in one of 35 thatched villas— each opulently, but simply, appointed, each glamorous — all far enough away from the other to make me feel I am the only human occupying the island. Outside my door, I spy a personal pool and private beach. The package comes complete with a butler. Mine shows me around, pointing out my bike, which I can’t wait to use to explore the island. He gives me my snorkeling gear, and points to the coral garden beyond my back door. I hate to admit that I ask about Wifi — it’s there, strong and waiting for me when I need it. There’s a TV, too, but I don’t care about that. “The less news the better,” I say to myself (though I know that’s selfish in these rollicking times). The fridge, pre-stocked with my preferences, calls — and I open some French rosé. (Well, this is French Polynesia after all.) After a few sips, I pedal away, only a danger to myself and the occasional lizard who passes in front of me.
The Brando, all inclusive, mind bogglingly exclusive and desperately expensive might sound hedonistic and ostentatious. Rather, it’s the opposite. Sure, you can eat and drink whatever, whenever, you like at restaurants as tony as Les Mutinés, a fine dining establishment, known for its wine cellar, managed by two-Michelin star awarded chef, Guy Martin. (Simpler fare can be had at The Beachcomber Cafe or while crowning a stool in the sand at Bob’s Bar, a Tiki shack.) Certainly, a range of activities, such as complimentary spa treatments, cultural seminars and non-motorized water play (kayaks and stand up paddleboards) beckon. But the vibe on the island is far from flash and glam. Low key, The Brando induces a kind of slow-motion pace. Within minutes of arriving, my cares and tensions melt away. I reach a state of pleasant oblivion.
But, that’s not The Brando’s only virtue. A paragon of green tourism, the self-sustaining hotel grows large amounts of the food it serves, uses solar electricity and coconut oil generators for its energy, and pumps cold water from the depths of the sea for its innovative air conditioning system. All construction comprises local, renewable and recycled products, and all on- island transport is electric. Add in that it holds a cultural and biological research center, chock full of scientists (they’ve done such things as eradicated the mosquitos on the island naturally), and offers a range of cultural courses for guests, and Tetiaroa clearly fulfills Brando’s dream.
The Tahitians believed that mana, earth’s sacred energy, helped adjust the universe. Loosely translated, the word means soulfulness. Brando knew his island had mana. You’ll feel it, too.
If You Go:
For More Information: thebrando.com
Flying There: You’ll fly to Fa’a’s International Airport in Papeete and board The Brando’s own airline Air Tetiaroa
What’ll It Cost? $2,900 US dollars a night for a one bedroom during low season. All inclusive of food, drink (including wine, beer and spirits), most activities, plus one spa treatment per bedroom a day.