Why Barack Obama Chose Marlon Brando’s Island Hideaway

Tetiaroa, a private island in the South Pacific once owned by Marlon Brando, is set to become Barack Obama’s luxury hideaway as he writes his memoir.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

With his multimillion-dollar book deal in hand, Barack Obama has found his ultimate hideaway to pen his White House memoir: Tetiaroa, a private island in the South Pacific once owned by Marlon Brando.

While Tahiti, Bora Bora, and the other islands in the archipelago—collectively known as the Society Islands—are imposing volcanic towers cloaked in a heavy armor of lush tropical canopy, Tetiaroa is low-slung and sandy, a small necklace of coral islets strung together around a quiet lagoon.

A short 20-minute flight on a puddle-jumper links Papeete’s international airport (on Tahiti) to Tetiaroa’s private runway, where miles of navy blue waves suddenly give way to the island’s palm-studded halo and minty green shallows.

Something funny happens as you begin your descent—you giggle, marveling at nature’s ability to create the most idyllic island enclave from an unimaginably vibrant swatch book of colors.

Marlon Brando surely giggled when he first laid eyes on the place while scouting locations to shoot Mutiny on the Bounty. Seven years later he purchased the island for around $200,000, which had long been considered a sacred site for locals—in fact, the ruling family in Tahiti often used Tetiaroa for holiday retreats.

Barack Obama first visited in March of this year and presumably giggled too. It’s easy to understand why such an intense spell is cast on all who visit, especially since the island swapped its Crusoe vibe for an ultra-luxe retreat (the eponymously named The Brando in 2014).

The Brando’s three-dozen standalone villas are generously spaced out directly along two swooshing strands of sand.

There’s a French hospitality credo at the resort—the staff is never in your face, but discreetly paying attention to your needs when they arise. The food, too, is French-inspired: dinnertime has Michelin aspirations, mixing local catches with the international desires of the guests. (The food toes the line between offering local catches, but also catering to the demanding millionaire by serving up chateaubriand.)

Obama will undoubtedly take advantage of the resort’s spa to massage away the eight years of White House stress. The facility is itself an architectural marvel, fashioned like spherical, human-sized bird nests hidden between jungle fronds around the island’s interior pond.

The best part of the resort, of course, is the natural surrounds: a pristine lagoon setting, with ocean water so clear you can spot sea turtles and sting rays swimming by from your beach chairs.

Days are whiled away snorkeling and paddling your private outrigger, and—without a single obstruction along the horizon—the island’s sunsets are so infinite and fiery, they deserve to be toasted with a glass of champagne every single night that you’re on island.

The best activity is the complimentary speedboat ride through the lagoon to other islets in the Tetiaroa belt that are completely pristine and filled with island birds. The water is clear and piercing, almost like neon milk. It is mesmerizing.

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Of all the possible destinations to shack up for a month-long stint of memoir writing—from an Italian palazzo to an Argentinian estancia—it’s not surprising that Obama has selected Tetiaroa.

He seems to have a thing for private islands, especially after being spotted on Richard Branson’s private escape, Necker Island, earlier this year. And, true to form, Obama’s getaway style is very much on trend in the realm of luxury jetsetter-dom.

As infrastructure continues to develop and grow in the most remote corners of the globe, so do the opportunities to access exclusive experiences.

Private islands are no longer solely reserved for movie stars and ex-presidents, and they’re no longer isolated to classic getaway destinations like the Caribbean and the Maldives.

Mozambique, for example, has had a boomlet of luxury private island stays buoyed by famed African operator and beyond. Even Madagascar’s very first private island getaway, Time and Tide’s Miavana is set to reorient the luxury compass come June, when it officially opens its doors.

While The Brando’s price tag (or any of the aforementioned properties) isn’t accessible for the average Joe, Obama’s temporary island digs are competitively priced when stacked against its nearby competitors in the luxury market: the famously honeymoon-prone resorts of Bora Bora.

At 3000 euros a night, The Brando includes all meals, some alcohol, one massage per day, all non-motorized sports, and one guided activity per day (like a worthwhile visit to the nearby bird sanctuary). During the quieter months (or for longer staying guests like Obama) the property also absorbs the cost of the inter-island flight from Papeete.

And although those Bora Bora bungalows glued to every bride’s Pinterest board have a rack rate at around half the price, none of them operate under an all-inclusive scheme like The Brando, so those $80 Cobb salads really start to add up fast.

There’s good news for Obama should he decide to turn his private island hopping into a lifestyle instead of a vacation. Pacific Beachcomber, the same developers of The Brando, are starting to sell off pieces of Tetiaroa as private residences.

The first villa, a three-bedroom Polynesia palace, is reportedly worth 6 million euros. Luckily for the Obamas, they could buy one for Sasha, Malia, and each member of the Biden clan with the earnings of their recent $60-million book deal.