Where does Barack Obama go to unwind? To beautiful Tahiti where he’ll have a one month stay at Marlon Brando’s Private Tahitian Hideaway. The same place Leonardo DiCaprio celebrated his birthday.
My love affair with Tahiti began the first time I saw Mutiny on The Bounty with Marlon Brando (who will always be my favorite actor). Tahiti was not only a setting for the movie, she had a leading role in the film. This blissful South Seas oasis with a subtropical climate, fragrant flowers and sensual Polynesians stood in stark contrast to the frosty, uptight regimented world personified by Captain Bligh. After a taste of Tahiti, first mate Fletcher Christian, played by the young, dashing Brando, led the mutiny and returned to the idyllic isle.
Life followed art when Brando, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, fell under the spell of the enchanting island and its friendly, exotic inhabitants just as Fletcher Christian had. He was so entranced he married his beautiful costar, Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipaia, and bought the entire atoll of Tetiaroa with its 12 motus (islets) for his own personal paradise. This secluded former retreat of Tahitian royalty, with powdery white beaches, pristine nature and turquoise water teaming with marine life just 30 miles north of the capital, Papeete, is a perfect South Seas castaway fantasy.
Brando went native: barefoot, wrapped in a sarong, his hair in a ponytail, he would wander his sanctuary. “My mind is always soothed when I imagine myself sitting on my South Sea island at night. If I have my way, Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of what they are and what they were centuries ago,” he mused.
The Brando, the namesake premier 5-star resort, finally opened in July 2014, exactly 10 years after the iconic movie star’s death. The lush eco hotel is designed to embrace Polynesian culture and respect the environment. Everything, including the ultra chic bungalows, blends into the island’s topography. You won’t find overwater bungalows here; Marlon believed they encroached on nature’s grandeur.
Brando Villa Living Room
From the moment I arrived, the tropical foliage and orchids bathed me in an intoxicating mélange of aromas, sights and colors. A vivid aquamarine lagoon with resplendent rainbow parrotfish, spotted eagle rays, sea turtles and coral gardens, red-footed boobies with long blue beaks, wide-winged frigates and coconut trees galore are some of the many splendors of this Shangri-La.
Whether I was walking on the silky sand, lolling in a lounger on my deck or gazing at the vast expanse of the cerulean Pacific, I was in a constant state of joy, in harmony with the elements and relaxed. The Brando felt like a sacred place. It seemed nature was smiling, returning the love Marlon felt for the place.
During his many island escapes Brando became passionate about conservation. After devouring every book he found about atoll ecology, he conceived of a luxury resort that was 100 percent self-sufficient, using renewable energy and not harming the environment. This was unheard of in the late 90’s and thought to be not possible.
It turns out his genius wasn’t confined to the acting arena; he was a visionary. True to his credo, The Brando uses nature for power: ocean seawater for air conditioning, sunshine for solar panels and Tahitian coconut oil fuels a bio thermal station. Guests enjoy this Polynesian wonderland without leaving a carbon footprint. The must-do Green Tour reveals the magic behind the resort. I marveled at the nonprofit Tetiaroa Society eco station that conducts research on atoll conservation as well as preserving turtles and marine life, visited by scientists from around the world.
One dreamy afternoon I sat outdoors at the back of the reception area with Tumi Brando, a resort guide who works with the Tetiaroa Society, and granddaughter of Marlon and Tarita. A pretty young lady in her late twenties with deep, dark eyes, long, brown hair and a big, winning smile, her resemblance to Tarita is striking. It was not lost on me that I was with a direct descendant of Hollywood royalty, my idol and arguably the greatest actor of all time. I gushed about the Academy Award-winning star: how he changed the acting landscape in cinematic masterpieces The Wild One, A Streetcar Named Desire and his heart wrenching Oscar yielding role in On The Waterfront, how many times I saw the famed film where her grandparents met here in Tahiti.
Tumi laughed, a contagious laugh. In her sweet, easy going Polynesian way she chuckled, saying “I only knew him as grandpa. ” Then Tumi started rocking in her chair. “I like rocking, ” she said as she smiled, regaling me with stories about growing up here, fishing with her grandmother and making Tahitian specialty Poisson Cru. Tumi went on to describe how her grandfather loved to joke and make the kids laugh, by making faces while putting something in his mouth to cover his teeth. I thought about the famous Godfather scene in the tomato garden where Brando as Vito Corleone plays with his little grandson and puts an orange peel over his teeth. Sitting in our rocking chairs we watched the sun’s rays cast a neon green glow on the lagoon. “I love the island and just want to share it with others,” she remarked, sounding just as passionate about conservation as her grandfather.
Thirty-five posh beachfront bungalows, villas ranging in size from one to three bedrooms, have all the luxury trappings including satellite TVs, generous outdoor living spaces with large decks, plunge pools, lagoon views and each has, for all practical purposes, its own private beach. All are camouflaged by the rich foliage. Brando wanted his island to appear from the water just as it had in its primitive state; all buildings are set back in the trees.
Swimming Pool and Deck at Brando Villa
I Loved My Outdoor Bath
Villas are understated, elegant, all light wood and soothing hues of cream and beige with Polynesian artifacts. I will never forget waking to the Tahitian sun rising over the lagoon, then leaving my comfy bed for an outdoor bath accompanied by birdsong and the gentle swish of coconut palms in the trade winds. This was followed by a lazy breakfast al fresco, of freshest fruits and croissants with the sweetest honey from the island’s beehives.
A Delicious Breakfast at My Villa
Foodies will delight in the classic French/Polynesian inspired cuisine of Parisian chef Guy Martin, of the Michelin two-star Le Grand Vefour, the consultant for the two restaurants. Seasonal ingredients are sourced locally, fish from Polynesian waters, fruits and vegetables from the island’s organic gardens. Caviar and truffles are flown in.
Dishes such as mahi mahi with truffle oil and artichokes along with roast scallops, melted leek, lemongrass with kaffir lime paired with fine wine in the more formal Les Mutinés, designed to resemble the hull of a boat, delight the palate. At the more casual Beachcomber Café I found the romantic photos of Brando and Tarita adorning the walls as enticing as the sublime sashimi, grilled tuna with coconut vierge dressing and shrimp with king crab.
Beachcomber Cafe With Fabulous Photos
A walk through the palm canopy takes you up to Te Manu Bar, located at tree top level for spectacular sunsets along with a Marlon Mojito. Or perhaps linger at Bob’s Bar, named for Brando’s acting buddy, and enjoy panoramic views of just about the entire South Pacific.
Varua Spa Shaped Like A Bird’s Nest
Pampering is an essential part of the Tahiti experience, so I dutifully luxuriated in the Varua Spa with a Tamanu oil scrub followed by a coconut oil Polynesian massage. This haven of serenity overlooking a lily pond resembles a bird’s nest.
Indulging With A Polynesian Massage
Activities abound. You can snorkel right off the beach, explore the lagoon by Polynesian outrigger canoe, kayak or paddleboard, tour the motus by boat with a naturalist and swim in Leonardo DiCaprio’s favorite spot in the sea – the Billionaire’s Pool. One motu, Tahuna Iti, offers a bird sanctuary. On land, you’re sure to discover Tetiaroa’s treasures, whether biking, tennis, strolling sugary sand beaches or learning about Polynesian culture through storytelling, hula, toere drum or ukulele lessons.
If you don’t find pearls while diving, the Hinerava Pearl Shop offers a stunning collection. Exotic pareos in the Resort Boutique are hard to resist.
You may however find that you prefer taking in nature’s splendor from the privacy of your personal sanctum in your own South Seas hideaway. Once you have visited Tetiaroa and experienced this ‘Paradise’ as Marlon Brando did, you will be forever changed. Like him I cannot wait to return. Be forewarned: it could happen to you.
How To Go: Air Tahiti Nui offers daily service from Los Angeles to Tahiti. Guests enjoy comfy seats, Tahitian meals created by Polynesian and French chefs, a wide array of entertainment and excellent service.
Guests board the Brando’s private plane at Papeete for a 20 minute flight to Tetiaroa.