REMARKABLE DOESN’T EVEN BEGIN TO DESCRIBE “THE BRANDO” ON THE ISLAND OF TETIAROA, THE HISTORIC FORMER RETREAT OF TAHITIAN ROYALS…
A LOOK BACK AT TETIAROA’S HISTORY…
I discovered from my research that the atoll of Tetiaroa holds a special place in the hearts of the people of French Polynesia. It has become an almost a “sacred spot” for the people. In historic times, Tetiaroa belonged to the Pomare family, rulers of Tahiti. The royal family placed Tetiaroa in the care of faithful retainers who managed it and lived on the island.
Members of the royal family spent time on Tetiaroa when they needed quiet time and relaxation. The female members of the family are said to have gone there to eat (gain weight) and stay out of the sun (have their skin lighten up) “for the purposes of beautifying their person.” According to legend, in times of trouble the King placed his treasures there for safekeeping. In 1789, William Bligh is said to have been the first European to visit the atoll while looking for the Bounty mutineers.
In 1904, the royal family gave Tetiaroa to Dr. Johnston Walter Williams, the only dentist in Tahiti. Mr Williams later became Consul of England from 1916 to 1935. Dr. Williams managed Tetiaroa as a residence and a copra plantation.
HOW BRANDO AND TETIAROA CAME TO BE…
In 1960, Marlon Brando “discovered” Tetiaroa while scouting filming locations for Mutiny on the Bounty, which was shot on Tahiti and neighboring island of Moorea. After filming was completed, Brando hired a local fisherman to ferry him to Tetiaroa. It was “more gorgeous than anything I had anticipated,” he marveled in his 1994 autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me.
Brando eventually purchased Tetiaroa’s islets (motus) from one of Dr. Williams’ direct descendants, Mrs. Duran. The reef and lagoon belong to French Polynesia. Brando purchased most of the atoll in 1966 for $200,000 and the other part in 1967 for $70,000. He had to overcome political interference and local resistance to purchase the atoll. Many, many important archaeological sites have been located, identified, and studied on Tetiaroa.
Wanting to live on the atoll, Brando built a small village on Motu Onetahi in 1970. It consisted of an airstrip to get there without breaching the reef, 12 simple bungalows, a kitchen hut, dining hall and bar, all built from local materials – coconut wood, thatch roofs and even large sea shells for sinks. The village became a hospice for friends, family and scientists studying the atoll’s ecology and archeology.
A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP IS FORGED BETWEEN TWO AMERICANS…
What happens when two Americans who share a passion and reverence for Tahiti and her islands come together? Enter, Mr. Richard Bailey, a youthful, forward-thinking, fearless visionary, who would soon team up with the Hollywood legend to find a revolutionary solution to Tahiti’s ever-increasing demand (and very expensive) energy needs.
After falling deeply in love with the South Pacific and its people, Brando’s life was affected in a profound way. Brando who had earned a “bad boy” reputation for his public outbursts and antics or as noted by the Los Angeles magazine–“Brando was rock and roll before anybody knew what rock and roll was”–found a new way to escape the Hollywood limelight at the 12-island atoll which he intended to make partly an environmental laboratory and partly a resort. He vowed to preserve it. “If I have my way,” he said, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” It was during his time on Tetiaroa that Brando began researching other forms of sustainable energy utilizing what was most available and abundant throughout Tahiti: SEAWATER! And, in 1999, it would be this common quest that would introduce Brando, a transformed, passionately “green-focused” Hollywood star, to a young hospitality industry entrepreneur with a proven record of achieving luxury in a remote, authentic and well-preserved environment in the South Pacific, while weaving in the genuine Polynesian way of life. For the next 5 years, a lasting friendship was forged, as their revolutionary ideas for sustainable energy were brought to full fruition, and it should be no surprise that after Marlon Brando’s passing, the Brando family comprised of his eight surviving children would turn to Mr. Bailey to lead the way to make their father’s dream for Tetiaroa come true!
AN INVITATION I COULDN’T REFUSE…
How does one script an incredible ending to my 2013, amazing French Polynesian Odyssey? Well, if you’re the ESCAPESEEKER you would receive one incredibly rare invitation to get a first hand look at THE BRANDO–the most revolutionary, most eco-friendly, sustainable luxury resort, currently under construction on the atoll of TETIAROA. Yes, on February 15, 2013, at approximately 11:00 a.m., I found myself in the co-pilot’s seat of a TBM850 private aircraft, piloted by none other than the courageously daring CEO of Pacific Beachcomber, RICHARD BAILEY, the man entrusted by Brando and his family to meticulously carry out Brando’s requests for his beloved TETIAROA: to preserve its cultural richness, its natural beauty, and the incredible biodiversity of this beautiful atoll.
After our 20-minute, smooth flight from Papeete, we begin to make our approach towards the runway. Viewing the island from above, it finally hits me just how complex this huge undertaking is from the start–the difficulty of building on a remote atoll with no infrastructure – no power, gas, water, anything. For starters, they’ve reconstructed an airstrip, to make it meet strict regulations. After Mr. Bailey’s flawless landing, I turned to him and remarked, “What you have set before you feels so much like your own quest to land on the moon!” He smiled, and replied, “Mel, in my business, how often does an opportunity like this come along in one’s lifetime? I am so very lucky…very, very lucky to be given this amazing challenge!”At that moment, as we exited his beautiful aircraft, I, too felt extremely lucky to be given this very special first-hand look at THE BRANDO, guided by the youthful and energetic visionary himself, equipped with an unwavering positive attitude who believes nothing is IMPOSSIBLE!
IN 2014, THE CALIBER OF TRUE, SUSTAINABLE, ECO-FRIENDLY LUXURY ESCAPES WILL BE TRANSFORMED WITH THE UNVEILING OF “THE BRANDO” ON THE TETIAROA ATOLL…
Sea Water Air Conditioning (SWAC), which will distribute air conditioning to all of the project’s buildings and infrastructures. Having pioneered this system in the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa in 2006, Pacific Beachcomber is the leader in the development of this technology. The SWAC is estimated to produce 45% of the energy requirement on Tetiaroa.
Solar energy, produced from photovoltaic solar panels, will be installed along the airstrip on the north side of the islet of Onetahi. Solar energy is estimated to produce 35% of the energy requirement on Tetiaroa.
A biofuel thermal power station that uses coconut oil will be used to offset any decrease in energy outputs from the solar installations. Coconut oil is estimated to produce 20% of the energy requirement on Tetiaroa.
Additionally, hot water for the resort will be produced using solar energy instead of traditional water heaters that burn fossil fuels, and an innovative wastewater management system will filter liquid wastewater into water that will be used for irrigation.
I have to admit, as THE ESCAPESEEKER, I’ve been granted some very unique opportunities, but my private tour or TETIAROA has to be amongst the coolest of them all! Wait, let me rephrase that…in light of the perfect, noon day sun that shone brightly through the natural vegetation, it is better described as ONE BRILLIANT DAY…one I can’t wait to replicate and capture on film when THE BRANDO officially opens its doors in 2014.
Thank you Richard for a most inspiring day…and thank you Mireille Bailey for kindly suggesting I see THE BRANDO up close. I would not have missed this rare experience for the world. While standing on the beach and looking out at an endless horizon of turquoise blue and every shade thereof, I had an overwhelming sense… the special feeling the natives call, “mana”…that this atoll is more than just another luxurious island escape. Mr. Brando would be very, very proud!
ESCAPESEEKER fans…yes, please feel free to ask me the question: “If Heaven has a heaven, is it found in Tahiti and her islands?” Watch this clip of Tetiaroa, and you’ll begin to understand why ESCAPESEEKER has become such a strong proponent of Mr. Bailey and his Pacific Beachcomber organization!