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 as on the show, but the beautiful scenes left a lasting impression on me.
The Marquesas are part of French Polynesia. The landscapes, people and culture however 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, the Marquesas and other archipelagos. Both lines are excellent choices - work with your travel agent to get matched to the best option for you.
The focus today is on another option - a truly unique experience and adventure - the Aranui 5.
You see, Aranui 5 is part cruise ship, part freighter. The description "Business in the front, party in the back" fits perfectly.
Approximately 20 departures annually sail round trip between Tahiti (Papeete) and the Marquesas with freight. 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. They now also offer discovery itineraries to Austral, Society, Pitcairn and Gambier Islands without freight.
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. No worries - the Aranui 5 has beautiful, well appointed cabins, a casual main restaurant, a lounge, conference rooms, a library, 3 bars, a pool, small gym, spa and even a tattoo studio - the first at sea.
All photos courtesy of Aranui 5
In addition to the accommodations and 3 meals per day, Aranui includes lunches at local restaurants, planned guided shore excursions to remote villages and archeological sites, cultural dance shows and guest lecturers. For a bit more adventure (ie 4 x 4 drives or private tours) you can book optional excursions for an additional cost onboard. Aside from the shows and lecturers don't expect a lot of entertainment.
The overall experience offers time to digitally detox, given no cell service and spotty internet.
The #1 thing the guests 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.
For details on a South Pacific cruise, call (602.540.7338) or email me.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder