Heavenly isles

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TAHITI

You think “Tahiti” and you think two things, well, three really – the HMS Bounty, Paul Gauguin and Marlon Brando.

Indeed, this most populous island in French Polynesia – part of the archipelago of the Society Islands stretching out in the central South Pacific – has been something of a fatal attraction for Western men like Fletcher Christian, master’s mate and acting lieutenant aboard the Bounty when it made its fateful voyage there in search of breadfruit plants in the late 1780s. Was it Christian’s love for the Tahitian woman Maimiti, whom he married, that fired him to lead a revolt against Capt. William Bligh? Or was it Bligh’s harsh, intractable treatment of the crew? A bit of both? Though Bligh has traditionally been portrayed as a nautical Simon Legree, over the years – and the course of four films – that portrait has evolved into that of a tough but by no means monstrous taskmaster whose right-hand man turned out to be a reckless romantic.

Certainly, Brando’s depiction of Christian in the 1962 “Mutiny on the Bounty” – that of a foppish young man transformed by love – foreshadowed that revisionism. Ironically, Brando himself would succumb to the island’s beauty – and one island beauty in particular, his co-star Tarita Teriipaia. They would have two children together – a son, Teihotu, and a daughter, the mentally fragile Cheyenne, who would never recover from half-brother Christian’s fatal shooting of her boyfriend, Dag Drollet, and later committed suicide.

Despite the tragedy in the Brando family and popular reports to the contrary, the actor remained committed to the island and the 99-year-lease he held on Tetiaroa, once the private residence of Tahiti’s rulers, the place he called “the tincture of the South Seas.” The fruit of that commitment to Tetiaroa is The Brando, a new luxury resort of 35 villas that marry white-sand beaches visited by sea turtles, manta rays and exotic birds with a décor steeped in Polynesian culture, thebrando.com.

Back on Tahiti itself, you’ll find any number of hotels, from simpler stays in Papeete, the capital, to more elaborate neighboring resorts dotted with overwater bungalows, a Tahitian signature. Activities are plentiful and varied, including shopping (this is a French collectivity, after all), golf, diving, hiking, horseback-riding and sightseeing at a number of museums and gardens. One you won’t want to miss is The Gauguin Museum, named for the Post-Impressionist who had already given up his wife, family and bourgeois lifestyle for la vie bohème of an artist when he set sail for Tahiti in 1891. Nestled in the Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens, the museum offers sketches, block prints and reproductions of many of his best-known works.

Or you can sail the neighboring islands aboard the luxurious m/s Paul Gauguin – a must for anyone who has come this far – and think: If only Capt. Bligh were here now. He might’ve forgotten all about that breadfruit. tahiti-tourisme.com/discover/introduction.asp.

FIJI

Both Tahiti and Fiji are known for stunning beaches, scuba diving, a love of song and dance and the preservation of ceremony and ritual. But there are striking differences. If you’re looking for a more inclusive hotel packages, Fiji – an archipelago of 333 islands in the South Pacific – might be a better choice. It’s also a good fit for those who like plane travel, as it’s 11 hours from Los Angeles (as opposed to the eight-hour flight from LAX to Tahiti) and once you’re there it’s more accessible by prop planes.

Also if golf’s your thing, there’s no contest. While Tahiti has a couple of golf courses, Fiji has a dozen, including three championship ones on the main island of Viti Levu. fiji.travel.com

THE SEYCHELLES

Will and Kate couldn’t be wrong, could they? The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge honeymooned in the Seychelles, a 155-island archipelago off the southeast coast of Africa, to which it belongs. In this Creole, matriarchal culture, eco-tourism, fishing and water sports are key. From Nov. 21 through 23, there’s Subios, an underwater film and image festival with snorkeling by day, movies by night. Then on Nov. 29, it’s the Seychelles Great Marlin Race, a trolling-only tournament. seychelles.travel/en/home/index.php.

THE MALDIVES

What’s particularly fascinating about this island republic – 26 atolls along a main trading route in the Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea – is its cultural mélange, blending African, Arabian and South and Southeast Asian influences. In other ways, the Maldives have it all, too – luxe hotels, private resorts, spas – everything you need for a destination wedding, honeymoon or just some old-fashioned R & R. visitmaldives.com/en.

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