I knew my honeymoon would be a loved-up adventure to a pure, pristine farawayness in the wild, secluded Pacific, but what I didn’t expect was to come home feeling more eco-conscious than I’d ever imagined.
Before you ask, I know, I know. I was INCREDIBLY lucky enough to honeymoon at The Brando, Marlon Brando’s private atoll called Tetiaroa, which lies 30 miles north of Tahiti. It’s made up of 12 little spits of jungly green islets surrounded by a lagoon the colour of Blue Sapphire, so blue, in fact, it literally glows from space.
You get a taste of an astronaut’s view after 15 exhilarating minutes to reach it (as well as an added 23.45 hours worth of international flights from London), and you can’t help but stare in awe as you hover over this wilderness in a tiny little plane, eventually landing on Motu Onetahi, the island that’s home to the resort. All its sister islets, which form the archipelago, have been left completely untouched – bits of tropical terra firma most distant from the world’s landmasses that happen to be the very last to be settled by humans. Astonishing and miraculous.
Annabelle Spranklen and husband Matthew Moore upon arrival
The thing about this place is that you think you know what’s in store for you, you click endlessly through the website, read every TripAdvisor review ever written (and, by the way, they’re all gushing) but then you arrive and it’s hard not to be completely and utterly knocked off your socks. This is so much more than a honeymooner’s desert island hideaway.
It’s easy to see why Marlon fell in head-over-heels in love with it in the Sixties while filming Mutiny on the Bounty, describing it as “beautiful beyond my capacity to describe. It is really beyond the capacity of cinematography to translate. One could say that Tetiaroa is the tincture of the South Seas.”
In 1966, he decided to snap it up, paying its former owners, the heirs of a Canadian dentist, $270,000 for the entire atoll and the 30km barrier reef around it. He built a few simple dwellings on the land that’s now the resort, including a bar (we’ll get on to that later), using this as his ultimate escape from the prying eyes of Hollywood, often staying for weeks at a time.
It was then that he thought of its future and decided he wanted to do all he could to protect and preserve his Edenic paradise and went about making it happen. His dream was for it to become a “university of the sea”, a place for people from all around the world to visit, enjoy and, according to David Seeley, who was Brando’s lawyer in his later years, “learn important scientific lessons – to enhance our relationship with the environment.”
The project was by no means an easy one. It fell to Pacific Beachcomber’s chairman and chief executive, Richard Bailey, to make it happen, after first discussing how it could be achieved with Brando in 1999. When the actor passed away, Bailey worked with the trustees of his estate to begin to bring Brando’s vision alive, deciding on a resort named after the actor that would become a world standard model of sustainability that would eventually open its doors to guests in July 2014, 10 years after Brando’s death.
One of the first introductions to the island was the “EcoStation” which has, quite literally, become the on-site university, just as Brando wished. It’s open to marine biologists and scientists all around the world who can stay and study the vast corals and sea and land agriculture. The Brando’s General Manager Silvio Bion told us, “When we set out to build the resort, we knew we would fail if we did not first build a community of people with shared values. I feel we have achieved this, but it has taken time.”
One of the many endearing features about The Brando is that these researchers and scientists are readily available for meeting guests, they’re not locked away on a concrete-built part of the island, and interactions are actively encouraged. There are guided tours every day, for example, where you can go out with senior naturalist Thierry Sommers to Bird Island, wading through the water watching hundreds of tropical beauties wolf-whistling above you (no humans are to step foot on the land because they build their nests on the sand, there are no predators here for them).
In 2016, The Brando was awarded an LEED Platinum certification for its carbon neutrality – a major environmental accolade. This award comes down to the fact the Brando are doing things so many other luxury resorts are not. Bion revealed that they were “the world pioneers of Seawater Air Conditioning”, a brilliant piece of engineering that turns the cold water from the depths of the ocean into energy to cool all the buildings. It cost a mighty $12m to build and was the second hotel in the world to have one.
And then there’s the 3,800 solar panels that provide all the resort’s hot water and half of its electricity, the rest coming from generators powered by coconut oil bio-fuel. We got to see all of this in action during the ‘Green Tour’, when we temporarily abandoned lolling on a hammock for a twisty-twirly bicycle ride behind the scenes. Our peek around even included a visit to the recycling centre and we witnessed the previous night’s food waste being turned into soil which, in turn, grows papayas, aubergines and bananas for guests and staff. Their ultimate aim is to eventually grow 80% of their own produce. If anything, it felt wrong to be staying in this outrageously beautiful place and not take an interest in what they’re doing to preserve it. Sion later told me at dinner that most guests are keen to see the work, while others aren’t, “We care about making it available to those who do.”
The Tetiaroa Society has been established on the island too, a non-profit moral advisory board made up of scientists who work ensure Brando’s eco vision remains at the forefront, to conserve, restore and protect the atoll. Johnny Depp and Leonardo Di Caprio are both long-time supporters (so you might spot them here, sadly, we didn’t).
Another thing about The Brando is that its green initiatives haven’t got in the way of making this a jaw-droppingly high-end hotel. This is, after all, where Obama came after his presidency and where Margot Robbie and Pippa Middleton honeymooned with their other halves.
According to Bion, “We aren’t trying to change the world, but if we can demonstrate to one visitor at a time that it is possible to do things differently, that more luxury does not mean less environment, and that more environment does not mean less luxury, then we have begun to fulfil our mission.” The 35 wood and palm frond villas are still ludicrously sexy, all beach-facing with their own plunge pools and outdoor baths, enveloped by palm trees for privacy. “We want everyone to feel like Marlon did when he was first here,” Bion added.
We spent endless hours curled up in the beach lounger taking in this dreamy setting. Deserted, untouched, cotton-white and all ours. From this spot we rarely saw another soul, despite the hotel apparently almost full. Sometimes we’d see hermit crabs scampering across the sand, coming to an abrupt halt like a game of musical statues when either one of us made a sudden jolt of movement.
Inside our villa, plastic bottles were replaced with glass ones so we could fill up with the aluminium Brando-branded flasks they’d left for us to keep. In fact, we noticed that there was rarely any plastic anywhere in the hotel and they were working really hard to minimise single-use as far as possible. There was even coral-friendly sunscreen in our rooms, with a note requesting us to use it. These might seem like small details but there were astoundingly effective; they’d made us stop and question what we’d done up until this point. I’ve never realised that my suncream might be affecting marine life, why had no one told me this before? I have also become more aware of plastic bottle use in hotels since, recently complaining to a GM at a newly-opened hotel in the Caribbean that they needed to stop dishing out five new bottles a day. It seemed, the Brando had changed me.
Coming here was the pinnacle of catch-your-breath stunning. When we weren’t kayaking or paddle-boarding in water as clear as gin, snorkelling nose-to-fin with brightly-coloured peacock damselfish and lemonpeel angelfish, we were sipping on a Marlon Mojitos in Bob’s Bar, the beach bar inspired by the one set up by Brando on the island in the very early days. From here you could gaze beyond the reef and see the waves crashing into the barrier. Sometimes humpback whales soared through the waves in a glimpse-and-you-miss-it sensation. Then there were afternoon cultural classes to sign up to, lessons where you’d learn how to weave a palm-tree basket or learn to play the ukulele with the locals, giving you a taste for traditions that have lived on for generations.
It turns out the Brando isn’t just a far-flung desert island fantasy but a way of life. It’s an education – a luxurious, adventurous one at that. It’s a force for all good, without sacrificing an iota of indulgence.
The hotel’s next big dream? “We hope that more and more precious places in the world become protected by their own tourism models in the same way, and that ultimately “sustainable” is no longer a distinguishing label but just something that defines the way everything is done.”
And who’s to argue with that? Visit thebrando.com
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