French Polynesia

French Polynesia 2018: Brando Island—Day 3

Day three turned out to be busy but fun. We booked the guided bird tour to see the nesting sites of the seabirds in the region. You are prohibited from beaching on Bird Island, but you can tour the waters around the island to see the birds. We were the only ones in the area, and as we glided quietly through the water, we watched and listened, in silence, to the seabirds going about their daily routines. 

We left Bird Island and motored on to Motu Onetahi to explore the forest. Manu, our guide, explained the valuable work the Tetiaroa Society is doing to restore the neighboring islands as sanctuaries for endangered native species. To do so, an assertive program has been put in place to eradicate the birds’ biggest threat—invasive rats. The rodents  have had a devastating effect on the seabirds’ nesting habitat. 

That afternoon, we had reserved seats for the whale-watching tour. Although we were fortunate enough to see them, we could not swim with them as many guests have done. But we felt privileged to even catch a glimpse of them. At first we had our doubts, but after much patience, we saw a female and her calf surface and swim on, pursued by a male whale whose intent was to kill the calf and mate with the female. We did follow her and her calf for over a half hour, keeping our distance as to not further stress her. As she rode past the reef and out into open waters, the male gave up his pursuit.

What we hadn’t anticipated on the tour, as it was too early in the season, was seeing green sea turtles, but as soon as we left the lagoon and crossed the reef into open waters, we spotted two turtles that appeared to be mating. From October to March, you can take a nighttime tour when the females come ashore to lay their eggs. If you time it right, you can watch hatchlings emerge from the nests.

We arrived back at our villa in time to shower and change for dinner. While we sipped a drink at Bob’s Bar, Heana was on the beach at our villa preparing our romantic dinner. It was her first since she had been hired, and she was excited but a bit nervous, she told us. No need—she did great. 

Side note: Pacific Ironwood is called “Toa” by the Polynesians. It means “warrior” and this wood is as tough as nails, living up to its name ironwood.

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French Polynesia 2018: Brando Island—Day 2


Day two started and ended on a leisurely note, exactly as we had planned. After breakfast at the Beachcomber Café, we took a stroll along the beach. When overhanging coconut trees or other vegetation blocked our path, we waded into the shallow waters of the turquoise lagoon and swam around them, mindful of the rough reef formations that protruded from the white sands—to protect us and the reef. 

After our beach walk, we returned to our villa, collected water bottles, and stowed our cameras in the baskets on our bikes before we went for a ride around the island. Every villa has it own bicycles, and they are numbered so you can identify yours. 

In the afternoon, we shopped at the boutique for a few souvenirs, one of which was a prized jar of Brando honey, and then spent two hours sunbathing before we headed to the spa for a massage. 

Over dinner at Les Mutinés, we mapped out day three of our visit.


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French Polynesia 2018: Brando Island—Day 1

Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

When my husband, who has a case of wanderlust, mentioned a second trip to New Zealand, I’m pretty sure my eyes glazed over. Of course I loved the idea of revisiting the islands, but the thought of making that long flight—again—didn’t appeal to me one bit. Teasingly, I said, “Sure, if we break up the plane ride by spending some time in Bora Bora.” I should have known he would take me literally. In retrospect, I wonder if one long flight, rather than a series of flights, would’ve been a better idea.

The first time we flew Down Under, in 2014, we took a nonstop flight from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) into Brisbane, Australia, and returned to DFW via Sydney, Australia. But on this trip, we had no plans to visit Australia.

Intercontiental Hotel, Papeete, Tahiti

In July 2014, Marlon Brando’s atoll, Tetiaroa, opened to the public. Curious about all the hype surrounding the luxury resort, we put the Brando on our list of must-see places, along with Bora Bora. And since we had to route through Tahiti to reach both islands, we added a day to see Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, before continuing on to New Zealand. 

To reach Tahiti, we flew from DFW to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)— approximately a three-hour flight—and on to Faa’a International Airport (PPT) in Papeete, an eight-hour flight. When we boarded the Air Tahiti Nui plane, I was pleasantly surprised by the colorful interior—turquoise and white with lime-green pillows—but also surprised to see the airline was still flying Airbus A340s. Although the interior had definitely seen its share of wear, I told myself to relax. With four engines, two pilots, and two copilots, what could possibly go wrong? 

In November 2018, two months after our flight, Air Tahiti Nui began “refreshing” their aging fleet with the delivery of their first Boeing 787-9, and by 2019 their entire fleet will be 787s.

When we arrived in Papeete, we were met by Fifi, a representative from the Brando, who drove us to the Intercontinental Hotel to freshen up after our flight. We showered and changed clothes in a private bathroom, courtesy of the hotel, and went downstairs for a lavish buffet breakfast while we waited for our charter flight to Tetiaroa.

All flights in and out of the Brando atoll are made by private aircraft operated by Air Tetiaroa. After a thirty-minute wait in Air Tetiaroa’s terminal, we were joined by two other couples, and we all boarded a six-passenger Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander aircraft, the same model of plane we had flown several times in Tasmania and New Zealand, as well as the Caribbean. 

Due to crosswinds, our pilot, Victorien, warned that the ride would get choppy as we neared the island, but otherwise we should expect a smooth flight. I’ve never had a “smooth” ride in a small plane, so I was prepared for turbulence, but who could focus on “chop” once the island came into view? As the Brando’s website stated, our approach really was an “unforgettable introduction to Tetiaroa.” The atoll is stunningly beautiful—white-sand beaches and lush green islands surrounded by crystal clear turquoise and cobalt-blue waters.

The resort has thirty-five villas along the coast of Motu Onetahi, and each is set back from the beach for added privacy. Our one-thousand-plus-square-foot villa overlooked Mermaid Bay. The entrance opened onto a living room with a small bar. To the left was a TV room. To the right, a master bedroom and master bath with a shower, and outdoors, a tub on an upstairs deck with a wooden surround for privacy. At the back of the villa was an elevated, open-air deck, a plunge pool, and a covered dining area. As for resort amenities, the Brando has three restaurants, two bars, a spa, and an organic orchard and vegetable garden.

Our plane was met by a small welcome party, and after a few photos, we climbed aboard a golf cart to take a tour of the island’s facilities before being shown to our villa. There was a lot of advice on how to deal with jet lag, but we had our own cure. We changed into beachwear, ordered room service, and cracked open the complimentary bottle of champagne in our room. When our food arrived, we carried our lunch, along with the complimentary fruit and cookie platter that accompanied the champagne, to the beach to eat. Afterward, we curled up on the two-seater patio lounge and napped until dinnertime. 


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