Here’s an offer you can’t refuse: a stay in a Polynesian paradise with a Hollywood backstory, A-list sparkle and a heart that’s anything but dark. The Brando (named for Marlon Brando, our leading man here) brings Tetiaroa Island’s story full circle, from a sacred pleasure garden for Tahitian royalty, to an unruly yet spellbinding retreat for the Don of cinema, to a superstar resort for modern leaders and luminaries. Yes, it’s exclusive – and extremely discreet – but under Brando’s stewardship, the island’s become a powerful eco-warrior and innovator where research scientists rub elbows with the celebs. Rightly so, because the real star turns are the creatures great and small, the surreally blue and green landscape, the ancient Mā'ohi maraes (temples)… In summary, it’s a stay that screams ‘stellar’.
Get this when you book through us:
For One-Bedroom Villas, one €100 credit a stay; for Two- and Three-Bedroom Villas, one €300 credit a stay (credit cannot be used at the boutiques or in the spa)
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm; both are flexible for a charge.
Double rooms from £2781.84 (€3,215), including tax at 18.18 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.26 per person per night prior to arrival.
Rates include all meals (excluding premium items); most drinks; one activity a person, each day; one spa treatment a villa, each day; and watersports equipment. A minimum two-night stay is required (five nights over the festive season).
Parts of the island will be tricky to navigate with a wheelchair, but there are some accessible villas, walkways throughout and very helpful staff.
At the hotel
Private beaches; spa with fitness room, hammam and herbal-tea salon; tennis court; organic gardens and orchards; environmental research station; cultural centre; library; boutiques; free bike hire; concierge; WiFi. In rooms: secluded patch of beach; terrace with sunloungers, alfresco dining space and a private plunge pool; tropical gardens, media room with a range of movies; sunscreen that’s safe for coral; free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
The three-bedroom villa dubbed ‘Obamaville’, after he holed up in there for a month while writing his memoir, is definitely a contender, but the only bums here are the ones parked on soft white sand – all the villas are luxuriously appointed, offering space, total privacy and their own pool, plus simple Polynesian-inspired decor. Building them inland rather than overwater was the more ecologically sound choice, but it also adds to the sense of seclusion.
Make like the baby lemon sharks in the island’s nursery and shimmy about in your own private pool – each villa has one completely set away from prying eyes. There’s a large main infinity pool with shaded deckchairs and loungers, and fawning attendants who’ll whisk over cocktails in coconuts, snacks and towels; or you can take a dip in the ‘billionaire’s bath tub’ – the island’s cobalt-blue iris of a lagoon.
Polynesian princesses have come to be pampered on Tetiaroa for centuries. In preparation for impending marriages, they’d scrub their skin with black sand and slough it off in the neon-bright waters, or indulge in traditional taurumi massages: spiritual pummelling with hands, forearms, elbows and even feet. And you can get the royal treatment too in a tropical copse encircling a lake strewn with lotus flowers and lilypads. The Varua Te Ore spa covers 2,000sq m of pandanus forest and harnesses the mana (a sort of spiritual superpower) of Mā'ohi healing in rituals involving massages with seashells, coconut wraps, scrubs and the like, with sound baths or soothing shanti ceremonies. To follow, swelter in the hammam, refresh under a waterfall and sip herbal tea in the salon. And, high-fliers can roost cosily in the ‘fare manu’ cabin – a nest for two made of mikimiki wood set high in the treetops. The gym is open 24 hours a day and a range of dance and aqua-fitness classes can be arranged, and beautifying extends to waxing and mani-pedis.
Chuck out the mosquito spray and the sunscreen. The hotel has been successful in eradicating bite-y pests and they’ll provide you with sun protection that’s gentle on coral.
If you’d like to keep a little of the island’s sparkle with you, onsite boutique Hinerava sells pearl necklaces in modern shapes, and a second boutique sells honey from the hotel’s hives and locally made handicrafts.
Tetiaroa is a living storybook with adventures that will utterly enchant little ones. There’s a dedicated teens menu in the spa, larger villas can easily fit a family, and the staff are tirelessly accommodating.
Juniors, tweens and teens will appreciate the island’s attractions and teachings the most.
The Two- or Three-Bedroom villas are ideal family retreats.
The Lagoon School is a kids’ club of sorts organised by the Tetiaroa Society to introduce six to 12 year-olds to Polynesian culture through workshops, treasure hunts and talks. Touring the motus will have a formative effect on young minds, and they can let off steam with the bikes and watersports equipment included in your room rate. And, the spa has a range of special gentle treatments for eight to 12 year-olds, including tropically scented massages, gentle facials, papaya scrubs and manicures.
We’re sure the plunge pool that’s yours – all yours – will prove very popular. Just keep an eye on wayward tots.
No need to pack
This is an excellent opportunity to – metaphorically – throw fledgling scuba divers in at the deep end by booking them in for lessons, so a wet suit and flippers will come in handy.
Brando adored Tetiaroa and he had a clear vision for its future as an environmentally-sound haven and university of the sea. With an LEED Platinum certification in the bag and a negligible carbon footprint, Brando’s munificent legacy is sound. The hotel has its own environmental research centre and uses SWAC (Sea Water Air-Conditioning), where freezing deep-sea water is drawn up and circulated through the buildings to keep them cool, reducing energy consumption by 90 per cent. Rainwater feeds the resort’s pool and laundry, bathrooms use desalinated sea water, and a wastewater recycling system irrigates the kitchen gardens. The hotel recycles or composts any waste too. A bank of 4,000 solar panels supply 90 per cent of the resort’s energy and solar water-heaters are in place. Only electric buggies or bikes are used on the island; organic tropical gardens and orchards keep the restaurant in fruit and vegetables; and the hotel’s apiary has 70 hives of stingless bees spread over three motus, which yield honey from coconut flowers. An ocean-acidification study aims to protect coral gardens, nesting green turtles are carefully monitored, and fish and crustacea have been re-introduced to the lagoon (fishing is prohibited). Ecological restoration programmes aim to eradicate harmful rats and nurture endemic species, and the mosquito population is controlled by releasing sterilised males into the environment. Polynesian culture is deeply respected here too – the non-profit Tetiaroa Society have been dubbed the ‘moral authority’ of the island, and they help restore archaeological sites and historic villages.
On the waterfront, by the Beachcomber, of course, with talc-soft sand underfoot and the celestial sparkle of the Southern Cross overhead – in season, you might even see whales cresting from the water as you breakfast.
Brando basics (a fitted white crewneck tee, loose slacks) for Beachcomber and full Corleone wedding finery for Les Mutinés.
The land is very giving here – the gardens and orchards bear the fruits (and vegetables) of Brando and his team’s labours, and they yield an impressive bounty with thriving crops from papaya to lettuce to breadfruit to edible flowers and more. Plus the surrounding ocean supplies seafood and fish, and the hotel’s hives provide a steady – if sticky – stream of honey. It’s Edenic in its symbiosis, the castaway fantasy of giving to the land and it giving back, and the menu of the Beachcomber Café is replete with Polynesian-style dishes. However, if your tastes aren’t quite so simple, you’ll be thrilled to hear that French eatery Les Mutinés – which resembles an upturned canoe with its vaulted white-wood walls – has a steady supply of truffles, foie gras and caviar, and dishes such as crab in pineapple and passion aspic with coconut emulsion, and a vegan menu that showcases the island produce elegantly. Crusoe may not have had sushi either, but that’s what the Brando’s third eatery Nami offers in style, alongside delicacies fired up on a teppanyaki grill and a selection of fine sakes.
Te Manu is the more sophisticated, suspended over the beach so you can revel in the lagoon’s luminosity. There’s a billiards table and sleek modern interiors, plus private treetop rooms that you can slink off to via walkways suspended through the palm canopy. The second was formerly called Dirty Old Bob’s, in the dubious honour of Brando’s man-Friday with whom he’d drink away the hours here. It’s since cleaned up its act a bit, being rebranded as ‘Bob’s Bar’, but the signature ‘dirty old Bob’ cocktail – laced with honey – is a cheeky wink to the past. With its palm-fringed roof, drinks served in coconuts with all the garnishes, cheery ukulele strumming and sandy floor, it’s easygoing and fun – much like Bob, we imagine.
Breakfast at the Beachcomber Café from 7am to 10am; lunch is from 12 noon to 2pm, dinner from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Dine at Les Mutinés from 6.30pm to 8.30pm; Bob’s Bar serves from 9.30am to 6pm; and Te Manu from 5.30pm to 10.30pm.
With privacy being the watchword here, round-the-clock room service is a key part of your stay – it’s what your ocean-facing dining deck was made for. There’s a tray charge of US$98 between 10pm and 6am. Larger villas also have a private kitchen too.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
The Brando sits on one of a dozen islets (motus) in the Tetiaroa atoll, which surround a spectacular three-mile-wide lagoon. Motu Onetari is the one the Brando rests on. Part of the Windward Islands, it’s around 30 miles north of Tahiti.
First, you’ll need to fly into Tahiti’s Fa'a'ā International Airport; direct flights arrive here from some cities on the west coast of the USA and Canada, Auckland and Tokyo. Otherwise your journey will involve at least one stopover. Part of what appealed to Brando about Tetiaroa was its sense of peace and seclusion – however, this comes at the price of a slightly roundabout and expensive journey. To understand the level of luxury you’ll land in, know that the resort runs its own airline, and there is the option to fly shared transfers or you can privately charter two six-seater Britten-Norman planes or two 14-seater Twin Otters for the 20-minute flight to the Brando, departing from the Air Tetiaroa terminal. Shared flight transfers are €555 an adult (over-12), €278 a child (2–11) and €127 an infant (under-2s and sat on their parents lap) for both ways. Private transfers begin at €3,200, for one way.
You’ll be welcomed on the airstrip by hotel staff in native costume, who’ll festoon you with a tiare-flower lei before whisking you off in an electric buggy. Once you’re at the resort you only need one of the smartly liveried bikes to get around. Industrious staff do the rounds after dark to make sure these are displayed as handsomely as possible by your villa for use the next day.
If a private flight isn’t quite enough of an Apocalypse Now homage, you can hop in an Ecureuil bi-turbine helicopter instead.
Worth getting out of bed for
Getting out of bed here doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do something, after all, Brando himself said of Tetiaroa, ‘After a few weeks the island’s slower rhythms sink in’, and he would pass hours listening to his ham radio, watching the endless dance of the waves, or lay on the sand and gaze up in awe at the glitter-bomb of stars. He understood the quiet majesty of the place and Tetiaroa asks no more of you; but, much like Moreau’s Island, paradise will have you in thrall with its fantastical creatures. In the psychedelic soup of the lagoon and the sapphire waters surrounding the outer reef, huge sea turtles and polka-dotted rays glide with grace; shoals of iridescent parrotfish and damselfish rave through alien gardens of coral; sharks slink by and dozens of other aquatic creatures appear on the verge of acting out an IRL ‘Under the Sea’ in full Technicolor. Most of the other motus in the atoll are protected, so you can’t go walkabout, but you can explore the waters in a traditional va’a (outrigger canoe), kayak or by paddleboard with a naturalist guide. Each reveals a new thing of beauty, say putea plants that climb to triffid-level heights of 65 feet, casts of meandering coconut crabs, baby lemon sharks (doo doo do do do do), a naturally seahorse-shaped watering hole, thousands of roosting noddies and frigates on Bird Island, ancient marae (temples), and European settlements from the days of the mutiny on the Bounty. Charter a boat for deep-sea fishing expeditions or simply to observe – playful dolphins, breaching whales and robust specimens of tuna and mahi-mahi put on quite the show. If you want to scuba, you can learn in the lagoon before heading out into open water. Book lessons with the concierge as early as possible (it’s understandably a popular pastime around here); they’re unavailable from mid-July to mid-October to give passing whales some breathing space. You may be on holiday, but this is an excellent opportunity to get schooled in ecology, biodiversity and indigenous Polynesian culture. The library’s shelves carry enlightening books, but we prefer mucking in at the research centre’s wet and dry labs with a shifting roster of bright young scientists who’ll happily talk you through what they’re working on. Or partake in Polynesian dance and music lessons (on a ukulele, or pahu and toere drums), weaving and tie-dying, and cooking demos. Day trips to Tahiti and Moorea can also be arranged with advance notice. Mermaid Bay is the prime swimming spot, but there are many opportunities to plunge into the looking-glass clear water. Play tennis, cash in your free daily spa treatment or browse the island’s boutiques. Or, be still on the beach and do absolutely nothing.
You can only fly in and out of the island, so you’ve a long swim ahead if you really want to mix things up at mealtimes.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this beyond-your-wildest-dreams retreat on Tetiaroa Island and unpacked their jar of honey from the apiary and necklace of Tahitian pearls, a full account of their in-Brando’s-footsteps break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Brando in French Polynesia…
Of the many things you could say about Marlon Brando, one thing is certain: the man had range. And, no, we’re not talking about his macho posturing or mumbling sense of menace, rather, his role – maybe even his greatest – as custodian of Tetiaroa, an atoll of 12 motus in French Polynesia. Brando fell in love twice while filming The Mutiny on the Bounty in Tahiti, first with his 19-year-old co-star Tarita Teriipaia and then with this tiny slick of many colours in one of the remotest parts of the ocean – the latter would prove to be the longer-lasting love of his life, so much so his ashes were scattered there. The story goes, Brando climbed a mountain and saw Tetiaroa winking seductively at him. Its owner Marjorie Doran – a descendent of a dentist who was gifted the island by a Tahitian king at the turn of the century – was half-blind, had 40 dogs and cats and was a sure-shot with a .22 rifle; she may not have taken a pot-shot at the actor, but she refused to sell. Later, in 1966 when she was infirm and using a system of pulleys strung between trees to move around, they reached a deal: the island for US$270,000 and an apple pie. Brando himself posed the question, ‘Why would a man born in Nebraska and raised in the middle west decide to while away years of his life here?’, but it’s a simple answer really – why did M?'ohi royalty use it as their tabu pleasure gardens since 900AD? Why did Barack Obama spend a month here writing his memoir post-presidency? Why does Leonardo DiCaprio keep bringing model girlfriends to wallow in the ‘billionaire’s bath tub’, as the lagoon’s been dubbed? When you strip it all back – the vast villas tucked into the jungle rather than spread-eagled over the water, the French restaurant with its truffles and caviar, the staff who’ll do everything from identify local flora to donning crampons and taking dangerous loose coconuts from atop palms – there’s peace. True solitude, with a pocketful of sand and stars, the wildness going on as it has since the dawn of time, and everything else a world away. Brando saw it as a place where he didn’t need to be a contender, dish out revenge ice cold or contemplate the horrors, simply the ‘tincture of the South Seas’; and while he believed it was beyond his capacity to describe its beauty, his efforts to safeguard its future (aside from his idea to harness electricity using a tank full of eels) spoke volumes. Yet another credit to add to his name.