Legendary Footprint

Setting a new world standard, French Polynesia’s premier private island resort is an all-inclusive retreat with major star quality.

  • Category
    Travel
  • Written by
    Corry Cook
  • Photography courtesy of
    The Brando

More than any other time in our history, 2019 was the year young generations let the world know exactly what they think about existing efforts to preserve and protect our planet. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and temperatures are climbing. By the mid-2020s the world population is projected to surpass 8 billion people.

From 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg to Los Angeles native and pop phenom Billie Eilish, new voices for change emerged this year, and millions of young people from Manhattan to Marrakesh put the world’s leaders on notice: do more to ensure the future of our planet – and do it faster.

Like many an avid traveler, my dependence on planes, trains, and automobiles automatically puts me on St. Nick’s naughty list. Should I awake to find myself in some environmental version of The Christmas Carol, my cheeks would certainly flush with shame as a green ghost transported me back through a frightening history of eco-unfriendly acts – flights not offset to minimize greenhouse gases, towels not hung to conserve water, bottles not made to be reusable, and god only knows how much mis-filed recycling.

In a month fraught with assessing life in the New Year and beyond, fresh promises and questions arise: “What will our children’s children remember of our time? Will they think we did our best in 2020 and beyond?” As we embark on Millennium 3, Century 21, Decade Two on planet Earth, one thing is for certain: the call to action was loud and clear. The heat is on.

There’s an old Buddhist Proverb that says, “When the student is ready, the master appears.” Cue The Brando.

Just 30 miles north of Tahiti, French Polynesia’s breathtakingly beautiful atoll of Tetiaroa has always been a stunning place of tranquility and rejuvenation – first for Tahitian royalty and later for Marlon Brando, who chose to acquire it for his personal sanctuary. In the 1970s, the actor dreamed of a luxurious hideaway as key to funding a “university of the sea” on the atoll that would educate others about the many facets of this jewel.

The result? The Brando – an eco-exquisite paradise on Tetiaroa, a private atoll of the Society Islands and featuring secluded villas across a dozen idyllic islets surrounding a sparkling lagoon. This is about indulgence inextricably linked to conservation, sustainability, zero-waste, and other forward-thinking initiatives that have set a new world standard. By day, this special place can inspire learning, growing, and prioritizing progress for all mankind. Also, under the light of a breathtaking moon at The Brando, cutting-edge cocktails, immaculate white sand, and secret skinny-dipping for the good of just two, is, well, good too.

That said, here’s where I make a proposal, an “offer you can’t refuse” if you will: let’s hold luxury to a higher standard in 2020. Before we embark on another well-deserved fly-and-flop, let’s start asking tough questions like these…

Was it built to blend in?

In the latter part of his life, it has been said that Marlon Brando spent hours trying to perfect his architectural rendering of the bungalows that he dreamed of building on Tetiaroa. The idea of using bamboo, coconut wood, and all local sources of building materials was essential; he wanted to make the most esthetically pleasing structures, while causing the least amount of impact on the environment. His most trusted friends remember Marlon’s intent as to honor and respect the land, the Tahitians that came before him, and the ones to come after him.

Today, The Brando Trust and the Beachcomber have ensured The Brando’s built environment is all that and more, blending seamlessly into the surrounding natural world on land alone. Pick your pleasure as each villa comes complete with personal attention and plenty of plush, with state-of-the-art technology and ample room to roam inside and out to a private plunge pool, unoccupied sand, and jade-colored lagoon.

When it’s time to rejoin the world, the all-inclusive resort also boasts restaurants showcasing Polynesian and French cuisine, a lagoon-view bar, beach bar, pool, library, boutique, water sports, and an environmental research station with guest programs. The Concierge service and Explorer’s Club are on-call 24-7 to support your every desire to discover more about the activities available in and around Tetiaroa.

Beyond memorable, the Varua Polynesian Spa perpetuates the tradition established by the Polynesian Royal family who retreated to this health and wellness heaven in the past to relax and indulge in beauty rituals. Do not miss a private treatment in a bungalow perched like a bird’s nest high up in the trees.

Are you striving for green and neutral?

A destination’s carbon footprint can be defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly to support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). The Brando resort strives to keep its environmental footprint to an absolute minimum. Brando’s own imagination was ignited by the possibilities that existed using sustainable resources, planting organic gardens, and employing alternative sources of energy.

Today, one of the property’s most popular activities is its Green Tours, where you can explore The Brando’s eco-friendly facilities in motion. Its forward-thinking tech includes Sea Water Air Conditioning (SWAC), where seawater is pumped from the depths of the oceans to cool the air conditioning. All food waste becomes compost in an impressive 24 hours. Cans are turned into raw aluminum material. Thousands of solar panels light lights and heat water. The water supply is from either desalination or rainwater recovery. The Organic Garden and Orchard are a source of inspiration for The Brando’s award-winning chef. The island’s honey is gathered regularly by a resident beekeeper, to be used in cocktails, restaurant dishes and, above all, the creations of the resort’s gifted pastry chef.

The list goes on and on. Nothing short of achieving carbon neutral and self-sustainable will do.

Does the environment rule?

As eco-destinations go, French Polynesia is a solid choice. It has laws protecting lagoons, reefs, and sea life. You cannot break off a piece of coral to take home. And in addition to its pristine nature and rare biodiversity, Tetiaroa is a natural sanctuary for birds and marine life.

An eco-elegant “mecca,” Tetiaroa is also well known as an environment to be respected and protected by anyone and everyone lucky enough to sink their toes in its sacred sand. That means academics, scientists, and conservation leaders from around the world, alongside the world’s most elite travelers, including retired POTUS, movie stars, and titans of industry, all respecting the rules in equal measure.

The Ecostation—named “Te Fare rauihi” (The House of Multiple Sciences)—is a hub where scientists from around the world can lead research into sustainable interdependence and implement these lessons on Tetiaroa. Inquisitive minds of every generation staying at the resort can learn about these programs, help fund their efforts, and even volunteer to assist with research during a current or future holiday.

All who stay at The Brando automatically support Tetiaroa Society, a nonprofit driven to preserve and protect the area with projects such as lagoon replenishment, seabird ecology, and education for over 200 children who have visited Tetiaroa to learn about the island’s traditional culture, native plants and animals, and the sustainable practices at The Brando in recent years.

Does wildlife stay wild?

Wildlife touched, disturbed, chased down, taken home, and/or available for selfies is neither an option nor an issue in such an enlightened environment. There are many different ways to discover the atoll’s natural treasures – its flora and fauna, old native forest, lemon shark nursery, and marine life. The lagoon and beyond can be explored by Polynesian outrigger canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and other low-impact offerings.

Other pleasures include taking a boat tour of the motus (very small islands formed from broken coral and sand) with a naturalist as your guide, swimming in the crystalline waters of Mermaid Bay, riding bikes on land or water, or just hoping for a Red-footed Booby sighting at the beach or pool. Tetiaroa Society offers a variety of amazing nature tours for guests of The Brando resort, where one can see hands-on work in progress to protect sea turtles, study shark ecology, and tackle ocean acidification. If you are visiting during July to November, when Humpback whales are migrating through French Polynesia, the Whale Watching Tour is a must. Witnessing these majestic creatures or swimming alongside them in a responsible way with expert guides is like nothing else on earth.

What can I do to help?

With such intense commitment to people and planet palpable in every direction, it’s no wonder many guests leave inspired and ready and willing to do their part. Carbon offsetting flights at the global level, donating to solid organizations on the ground in Tahiti, buying locally sourced goods and products, and doing one’s best to engage in sustainable practices during your holiday are all great ways to get started. For me, a necklace pairing a single pearl with The Brando’s signature seahorse serves as a lasting reminder of my time on the island, and even better, the proceeds went to support the Tetiaroa Society. I hope Brando would be proud.

The Brando has gained a legion of fans who not only return, they become part of a community, staying in their favorite luxury villa or even buying one of a limited number of residences. Coveted time spent in this special place is a gift, not only from the natural world, but also from its incredibly welcoming and kind people.

Perhaps Brando himself, who many French Polynesians consider an environmental legend rather than a Hollywood one, said it best: “Probably the greatest things… in my life have been with the Polynesians. I’ve learned, I had nothing to give to them, they had everything to give to me and I’m indebted for what they’ve given me.”

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