The Brando


The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Hotel -

The 30-minute flight north to par­adise starts at a pri­vate air ter­mi­nal on the fringes of Papeete but the story of my in­tended des­ti­na­tion be­gins much ear­lier. It’s hard not to feel a lit­tle bit Hol­ly­wood when headed to an atoll that was owned by Mar­lon Brando and is now run as a re­sort in con­junc­tion with his es­tate and US-born hote­lier turned Tahiti lo­cal, Richard H. Bai­ley of Pa­cific Beach­comber.

The ac­tor fell in love with Te­tiaroa (and lo­cal beauty Tarita, who he mar­ried) while film­ing Mutiny on the Bounty in French Poly­ne­sia in the early 1960s and pur­chased it as the ul­ti­mate retreat from Tin­sel Town. At what was then a sim­ple beach­comber’s pad, Brando wore a sarong and kept his hair in a pony­tail; ap­par­ently he used to say his mind was “al­ways soothed when I imag­ine my­self sit­ting on my South Seas is­land at night”.

The reimag­ined re­sort is a con­tem­po­rary take on the orig­i­nal that blends clever de­sign with ca­sual, sand-be­tween-the-toes chic. Brando’s vi­sion was based on sus­tain­able re­sources and an em­brace of Poly­ne­sian cul­ture; his wishes have been ful­filled with or­ganic plant­ings and al­ter­na­tive sources of en­ergy, such as sun, co­conut oil and sea­wa­ter. The non-profit Te­tiaroa So­ci­ety runs an on-site marine re­search sta­tion of­ten staffed by vis­it­ing con­ser­va­tion­ists and sci­en­tists.

Brando be­lieved the over­wa­ter vil­las so popular at French Poly­ne­sian re­sorts to be an en­croach­ment on na­ture. At The Brando are 35 vil­las of one, two or three bed­rooms, with high thatched roofs and iron­wood pil­lars. Th­ese chiefly-look­ing abodes, with smart, spa­cious in­te­ri­ors, are strung at gen­er­ous in­ter­vals along the shore of Mer­maid Bay, all with pri­vate pool, and the beach a few idle steps away. There are all the tech bells and whis­tles, smart Euro­pean-de­sign fur­ni­ture with witty is­land twists, and dress­ing rooms so com­modi­ous you could park your steamer trunks and stay for­ever.

The ar­chi­tec­ture, at times al­most cam­ou­flaged amid palms and flow­er­ing trees, is low-key, or­ganic, muted and nicely earthed de­spite the re­sort’s new­ness (it opened on July 1, the 10th an­niver­sary of Brando’s death). There’s a pal­ette of coastal colours, scut­tling straw­berry crabs with dot­ted rosy shells and pass­ing hump­back whales; pan­danus throw striped shad­ows on the sand.

It is in­stantly head-cleans­ing; I re­mem­ber how to breathe deeply. The is­land has not been cleared or made to look post­card-pris­tine. Co­conut groves are sweet­ened by clumps of white tiare ( Gar­de­nia tait­en­sis); there are red-footed boo­bies with long blue beaks and wide-winged frigates wheel­ing over­head. Sea crea­tures have names as be­guil­ing as lemon peel an­gelfish and hon­ey­comb grouper; be­hold the ra­di­ata li­on­fish with its mardi gras head­dress. Na­ture is al­ways at el­bow, even in the open-air bath­tub sur­rounded by a wooden screen, the tou­sled top­knots of palms peek­ing above, para­keets squawk­ing as they whoosh past in flashes of lime green.

The is­land was the site of an an­cient mare, or burial site, a retreat for Tahi­tian roy­alty and para­mount chiefs to idly feast and fat­ten their volup­tuous women, and still an ar­chae­ol­o­gist’s trea­sure with more than 30 sig­nif­i­cant sites. It feels au­then­tic and im­bued with a kind of mys­ti­cism that, in the end, has noth­ing to do with Hol­ly­wood. Su­san Kuro­sawa is The Aus­tralian’s travel edi­tor.


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