There is more than one way to explore the islands of French Polynesia. The traditional route is to pick one of the many gorgeous islands, book a resort, and enjoy the idylls of beach life and the underwater worlds of the lagoons for a week or so. However, if you’re seeking a bit of adventure or wanting to see multiple islands during your South Pacific vacation, you can do no better than book a cruise with Aranui.
Steve Spurlock, Goway’s Business Development Manager for the Western United States, recently joined a cruise aboard the Aranui 5 that took him throughout the Marquesas Islands and other highlights of the Islands of Tahiti. Steve kept a journal of his incredible adventure through the Marquesas and was kind enough to share it with us to use as a guide for anyone wanting to head on a cruise aboard the Aranui 5.
Based on his experiences, we’ve put together the following overview of what it’s like to explore the Marquesas on an Aranui cruise. From its unique design to its personable and dedicated crew to the majesty of the destinations, the Aranui 5 Cruise is a remarkable journey. As Steve puts it, “Get off the beaten path and see things that you normally wouldn’t see. If you are truly a Globetrotter, this is the cruise for you.”
A Unique Way to Cruise
Throughout his journal, Steve reiterates that the Aranui Cruise is not an ordinary cruise experience. Instead of serving as a mega cruise ship with a multitude of facilities, Aranui is a hybrid passenger/cargo freighter. This means that it simultaneously hauls cargo to remote island chains like the Marquesas at the same time it shepherds travellers around these islands.
The ship is purpose-built to transport passengers in comfort and style, so it’s not like travellers are sacrificing creature comforts in travelling aboard Aranui. However, it’s not the same as being aboard a massive cruise line that travels through the Caribbean either, for instance. As Steve reminds us, it’s quite an experience to head on deck and see the crew unloading cargo onto the islands. Beyond that, the ship offers gorgeous rooms, attentive crew, and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. If you’re an adventurous spirit and would like to see a more authentic side of the islands of French Polynesia, the Aranui Cruise is for you.
Set Sail for the Marquesas Islands
The homeport of Aranui 5 is Papeete, the capital of The Islands of Tahiti. Be sure to get there early and take advantage of your time waiting to embark to explore the city and acclimate to French Polynesian rhythms. Head to the local market in downtown Papeete to peruse arts and crafts or head to Les Roulettes to enjoy some delicious food. Steve reminisces about the steak he got from one of the food trucks and mentions that it was a “Fantastic deal. It would have cost at least 4,000cfp [about $50 CAD] per person at the hotel restaurant for the same quality of food.” Be sure to take advantage of the food trucks when in Papeete.
Once you board the Aranui and get settled in, you’ll begin your journey across the South Pacific. First port of call will be Fakarava, a small oval atoll in the Tuamoto archipelago. You’ll explore the local village and have the freedom to enjoy the white-sand beaches or swim and snorkel in the lagoon. In the waters you’ll come across so many parrot fish, angel fish, and all manner of colourful coral that you’ll want to be sure to bring an underwater camera to capture the experience; Steve saw so many fish, he couldn’t even name every species.
From Fakarava, you’ll head for the Marquesas, spending a day at sea on the journey. On this day aboard the Aranui, on your South Pacific vacation, you can spend time in the pool or take in some of the many lectures that are offered on board, which teach you about everything from Polynesian culture to the sea creatures that live beneath the waves. Be sure to head on deck at sundown, as the first stars come to life over the ocean. It’s a magical experience, one that made Steve think of “the early Polynesians that sailed across the ocean in their outriggers” and how, “the ocean is so vast, but yet so beautiful.” This opportunity to be alone with the sea and experience its majesty is a part of what makes a journey aboard Aranui so wonderful.
First Major Moorings
Your first mooring in the Marquesas will be Nuku Hiva, which boasts the volcanic amphitheatre, roaring waterfalls, and sloping cliffs of Taiohae Bay. This is where Herman Melville jumped ship when he was working on a whaling vessel as a young man. During your time on the island, you’ll visit Hatiheu village to learn about the local rituals. Steve recalls in detail the fascinating comments about the rituals of tattooing people at significant stages in their lives, such as “the first signs of manhood and womanhood.” You will also tour the archaeological sites around Kamuihei, and might get the chance to see a Pig Dance, which will really get “your foot stomping and your body swaying.” When you pass on to Taipaivai Valley, you’ll find even more ritual sites and stone tikis from ages past.
From Nuku Hiva, you’ll head to Ua Pou, where you will explore the quaint village of Hakahau. There’s you’ll see the remarkable church with its hand-carved wooden dais as well as meet the local artists and woodcarvers who continue the tradition of woodcarving to this day. Make sure to take the 40-minute climb to the top of the hill with the cross to enjoy spectacular views of the valley. Later in the day you’ll enjoy a performance of the local Bird Dance and have the opportunity to unwind on the beach.
Ancient Sites and Artefacts
Continuing your South Pacific vacation, aboard the Aranui, you’ll journey southeast and reach Hiva Oa, home to some of the best archaeological sites in all of French Polynesia. Aside from Easter Island, Hiva Oa has the largest number of stone tikis in the South Pacific. You’ll visit Meae Iipona, one of the South Pacific’s great ancient sites, which is still in the process of excavation from beneath trees and rocks. Cross the island to Atuona, the second-largest village in all of the Marquesas. The island was home to painter, Paul Gauguin, and he did many of his best works while there. You’ll find a museum dedicated to Gauguin’s life and work, a replica of his “House of Pleasure,” and his tombstone from 1903.
From Hiva Oa, the Aranui will cruise a short distance to the south to reach the leaf-shaped island, Tahuata. Tahuata is gorgeous and renowned for its abundant flowers, which cloak the island in sweet-smelling scents, but it’s also home to some dark history. It was the site of an infamous massacre by the Spanish in 1595, and also the first site of colonization by the French in the Marquesas. The colonial remnants did at least produce the gorgeous Vatican church, which remains open to the public.
Remote Final Posts in the Marquesas
During the final three days in the Marquesas, the Aranui 5 takes passengers to the most remote island in the entire island chain: Fatu Hiva. Only accessibly by sea, Fatu Hiva is renowned for its traditional arts and crafts, along with the beauty of its unspoiled landscapes. You’ll head to the village of Omoa to see the local women striping mulberry, banyan, and breadfruit bark from tree branches, and painting that bark to transform it into crafts. You’ll also see hand-painted sarongs as well as other local Marquesan crafts that’ll make great souvenirs to bring back home from your South Pacific vacation.
To experience the island’s natural beauty, you’ll head to Hanavave Bay, also known as the Bay of Virgins. If you’re an outdoor-type, you can hike a 16km circuit alongside cliffs and waterfalls that showcases the best of the island’s landscape.
From Fatu Hiva, head to the dry lands of Ua Huka. A largely dry island, Ua Huka is nevertheless known for its gardens. The mayor’s gardens at the city hall are particularly enchanting, as he is creating “an area of fruit trees of all sorts for the locals to come to and get fruits of all varieties. He wants future generations to be able to have access to all that the island has to offer. He is even growing vanilla,” The arboretum and botanical gardens are also worth exploring.
You’ll then head to the village of Hane and see the Chilean wild horses that outnumber the human inhabitants of the island. To close out your time in the Marquesas, the Aranui Cruise heads back to Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou to give you one more chance to explore the Bay of Taiohae and hike to the cross above Hakahau. After leaving the islands, Steve reflects, “The Marquesas have been an experience that have left me amazed. The only way to truly capture the experience would be to look at pictures of the place – there’s no real way to put it into words.” Even better, go see the islands for yourself on an Islands of Tahiti vacation. There’s no better way to see the truth of Steve’s words and experience the beauty of these islands.
Famous Last Stops
You’ll say goodbye to the Marquesas, but your adventure won’t be over yet. Aranui will still swing by two of the most spectacular and famous islands in all of French Polynesia to close out your cruise with a bang.
First stop is Rangiroa, the second largest coral atoll in the world and the largest in French Polynesia. You’ll be able to spot dolphins in the waters at Tiputa Pass. This is the prime spot to go scuba diving and learn about the Tahitian practice of pearl farming. Dive into the waters of the Tuamotu atoll to explore an underwater world full of tropical fish, then visit a pearl farm to see how one of the biggest industries in French Polynesia operates. Steve explains that at the farm, “They showed us how they cultivate pearls. They also showed how they insert the nucleus inside the shell and let it grow for two years.” You’ll also have time to relax on some famous white-sand beaches and hear real life stories about the famous Mutiny on the Bounty; there are still descendants of the sailors on Rangiroa to this day.
Your final stop aboard Aranui is Bora Bora. This most famous of honeymoon destinations has one of the world’s best lagoons and a verdant inland full of mountainous rainforest to explore. Climb Mt. Otemanu and enjoy a picnic on a private motu in the middle of the lagoon. Then head into the lagoon to feed sharks and stingrays – Steve describes swimming with the sharks and stingrays as an undeniable highlight – before closing out your day with a 4WD tour of the U.S. military outposts left over from World War II. It’s then back to the island of Tahiti to disembark and end your remarkable journey with Aranui.
The uniqueness and exceptional itinerary of the Aranui 5 Cruise makes it an appealing option for anyone heading to the Islands of Tahiti. The Marquesas are some of the loveliest islands you’ll find on a South Pacific vacation, but they’re not easily accessible. Aranui takes you to the remotest of these islands and lets you experience life there as the French Polynesians live it. And to boot, it lets you experience the adventure of these islands, from the underwater worlds beneath their waves to the vibrant jungle worlds on land.
As Steve appropriately summarizes, “It was a trip we will never forget. What an adventure!”