I was first "introduced" to the Marquesas Islands back in 2002 during one of the first seasons of Survivor. I use introduced lightly as it was on TV, and on a reality show to boot. It is highly unlikely that I will ever experience these islands the same way, but the beautiful scenes left a lasting impression on me.
I have, though, been to the Society Islands - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora. The stunning scenery, on land and water, the amazing people, sites and activities all have me wanting a repeat visit. And when I do go, I would like the Marquesas to be part of my itinerary.
Why? Although the Marquesas are part of the islands of Tahiti, the landscapes, the people and the culture are quite different from the other archipelagos. Located over 900 miles from Papeete (almost 4 hours flying time), the Marquesas are relatively untouched. They have been described as Hawaii 100 years ago. This isolation has created a unique language and unique culture among the people who reside there. The islands may be part of Tahiti, but the people are not Tahitians - they are Marquesans.
Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London all spent time here. Paul Gauguin (the man) is buried on Hiva Oa. The modern word "tattoo" originated in the Marquesas. Men and women proudly display their tattoos. And thus the intrigue begins.
My own exploration of Tahiti took place on the Paul Gauguin - a cruise I would take again any day. Windstar Cruises also has a ship in Tahiti year round. Both sail primarily around the Society Islands, but have extended sailings several times a year to Fiji or the Marquesas. Either cruise line is an excellent choice (but note - they are quite different from each other).
I had been aware of another cruise option, the Aranui 5, but until recently knew very little about the ship. An opportunity came up recently to learn more about Aranui, and I am now more intrigued then ever! Not a voyage for everyone, but if you enjoy adventure and cruising as much as I do and want a truly unique experience, this is it.
You see, Aranui 5 is part cruise ship, part freighter. The description "Business in the front, party in the back" fits perfectly.
Every 2 weeks the ship sails round trip between Tahiti (Papeete) and the Marquesas with up to 254 guests and 100 crew. It makes stops in the Tuamotu Islands both to/from the Marquesas,the major islands of the Marquesas (Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva) as well as Bora Bora on the return.
The ship brings all types of needed supplies to the islands (including cars, food and materials), and returns to Papeete with bounties from the islands to be sold locally or worldwide. Their main export is copra - dried coconut meat, from which oil is extracted. The cake type material that is left once the oil is extracted becomes animal feed.
Being part freighter I had my doubts about the cabins, the on board experience and daily excursions. A new ship that went into service December 2015, the Aranui 5 has well appointed cabins and public spaces. It even has a pool, spa and small gym.
Photos courtesy of Aranui 5
Excursions are included when time allows, featuring natural wonders, cultural experiences and time to digitally detox, given no cell service and spotty internet.
Passengers are skewed towards retirees, and not all English speaking. There are guest lecturers and historical briefings prior to disembarkation. Aside from that, don't expect a lot of entertainment.
And the #1 thing the passengers love about this cruise?
Being able to mingle with and enjoy a brew with one of the Marquesan crew on board! Quite the authentic experience. The Aranui 5 is truly a unique small ship experience that leaves the ordinary and crowds behind.