Those looking for a captivating summer read should pick up travel writer Brandon Presser’s new nonfiction novel, The Far Land. A lauded expert on all things travel, Presser’s seasoned career has brought him to visit more than 130 countries; host his own Bravo show, Tour Group; and publish over 50 books about the topic.
His latest novel takes readers to the South Pacific, where he recounts the story of a British ship, the HMS Bounty. While sailing back from Tahiti to England, the crew jumped ship and decamped to the Pitcairn Islands with their Tahitian companions. Twenty years later, when an American merchant vessel happens upon the island, solving the mystery of what happened to this group of fugitives who seized the Bounty, they uncover the debauched hellscape that unfolded among the island’s residents following twenty years of isolation — a real-life Lord of the Flies. Fast forward seven generations later, and the island’s 48 residents still bear the perils of their mutineer ancestors’ past. Presser, who spent six weeks living with the denizens of the Pitcairn Islands, oscillates between historical and personal narratives, then and now, thoughtfully connecting the island’s harsh past with its tainted present.
You know a novel is excellent when it receives a glowing review from both the New York Times Book Review and Tom Hanks. With all these noteworthy accolades accumulated and his South Pacific punditry, we chatted with Presser and asked him about some of his favorite places across the region.
“Bora Bora has long been the dream destination for a romantic holiday in French Polynesia with a handful of resorts (and their much-Instagrammed overwater bungalows) orbiting a granite spire at the center of the island. The tint of turquoise in the lagoon is undeniably beautiful, but if I had to pick from all of the luxury resorts in the Society Islands I would choose The Brando on Tetiaroa, just a few-minutes puddle-jumper flights from the international runway on Tahiti. I’ve visited over 130 countries and I’ve really and truly never been to a more beautiful setting. The island chain was purchased by Marlon Brando after he spent an extended amount of time in Tahiti in the 1960s shooting Mutiny on the Bounty – he even married his co-star who played his Tahitian love interest. During filming he spent a lot of time with the family of James Norman Hall who novelized the real-life voyage of the Bounty (on which the movie is also based) who frequently invited him to their private island, and he decided he wanted an island of his own as well. After his death, the island was developed into a private enclave with lovely villas (they also do some compelling marine, bird and mosquito research but that’s for a whole other Instagram post) – over the last six years dozens have VIPs have made it their temporary home from the Obamas to Ellen Degeneres.”
Tahiti & Moorea
“They are rightly two separate islands, but they’re so close together it’s a matter of just taking the quick public ferry between the two. I personally prefer Moorea because it’s less developed, but generally – if you’re going to stay on either island – I would choose a private villa from Tahiti Homes instead of one of the big chain hotels. You get concierge service (they’ll sort out a chef if you never want to leave the premises) and all the amenities of a beachside abode at a resort but for the fraction of the price and oftentimes you’ll be on a quieter part of the island away from busy beaches full of other tourists. Moorea’s small enough that you can rent bikes and cycle all the way around the island, stopping at different hidden beaches — they’re all public. A great alternative to Hawaii, Tahiti’s Fa’a’a International Airport is only an 8.5hr flight from LAX – go to sleep on board and wake up in paradise.”
“At the far western edge of Polynesia is one of the most overlooked destinations in the South Pacific — a stunning island of towering pines that was completely uninhabited when Captain Cook recorded it in his logs in the 18th century. Soon after it became a penal colony when the British shipped off its criminals to Australia – Norfolk was reserved for some of the most hardened crooks until they were later consolidated on Tasmania. Afterwards, Queen Victoria gifted the island to the Pitcairns – the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty who had outgrown their island (Norfolk is about seven times larger than Pitcairn) Today around 2000 call Norfolk home – the history of the Bounty is still prevalent, but the island itself is like a mini Galapagos with its own trees, birds and insects through several microclimates. The beautiful cottages at The Tin Sheds come with a complimentary car – perfect for zipping around the island to pick hihi shells on secluded beaches.”
“The northern tip of Polynesia is Hawaii, and I honestly don’t even know where to begin with recommendations. There’s been such a push over the last few years in particular for the island chain to reassert its identity and I readily support any and all locally owned and operated businesses that are helping to further this, and correct for colonialization. I really enjoyed my time at Hana-Maui Resort (formerly Travaasa Hana) on the rainy side of Maui – many people visit Hana for the day (along the famously windy Road to Hana) but I highly recommend staying the night or even longer after everyone leaves. I learned how to steer a va’a canoe (outrigger) during my stay. The bungalows are all timber frame and do not have air-con (you don’t need it – it’s lovely and breezy); a much more down-to-earth version of Hawaii.”
Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
“Known to most as Easter Island, the eastern edge of Polynesia is home to the world-famous Moai, the large stone heads that have captured the imagination of millions. But there’s so much more — incredible landscapes to uncover on long hikes and great surfable waves. Explora has built a wonderful reputation for luxury digs with a keen sense of place throughout South America – hang your hat here.”
“On the fringes of French Polynesia, the archipelago of islands has preserved the ancient ways of the Polynesian seafarers better than anywhere else in the world, and the land- and seascapes are among the most captivating on the planet. Mark my words – in five years’ time the Marquesas will be a name in everyone’s lexicon as more images are starting to show up on influencers’ Instagrams – the mix of untouched nature and culture is like nowhere else, and, currently, the best way to experience the destination is aboard the Aranui, a souped-up freighter that doubles as a small expedition cruise, shuttling passengers to best spots in the region while loading and unloading goods. Though not as swank as some of the options above, it’s well worth forfeiting a few comforts (but don’t get me wrong, it’s still very comfy) for the chance to visit.”
Raiatea & Tahaa
“Raiatea is, for Polynesians, their Holy Land, where a giant marae — stone sanctuary — marks the cradle of civilization. With the right guide, there’s no better place to understand the history and culture of the Blue Continent than Raiatea, and to appreciate just how different this realm was before colonization. Very close by is Le Taha’a and one of the area’s classic resorts – a Relais & Chateau property, eponymously named — worth checking out in its own right.”
Want to grab a copy of Presser’s novel, The Far Land? Click here to purchase it on Amazon.