Packing for Tahiti was always a breeze; bathing suits, sundresses and lots of tanning lotion. But this trip to Tahiti was going to be different. This time I was packing for a 13-day cruise on the new Aranui 5, traveling throughout the Marquesas Islands. The concept of this unique cruise is a combination of cabins for cruise guests and cargo ship for the delivery of goods from Tahiti to the remote islands of the Marquesas.
I was very excited for this new experience, but unsure if I would like this new concept of a cruise mixed with a cargo ship. I packed according to the itinerary, which included some hiking and walking on the islands we would be visiting and delivering goods to. Along with my normal packing gear I included hiking shoes and clothes.
After much anticipation we arrived in Papeete and had 24 hours to enjoy the island before boarding the Aranui 5, docked nearby and being loaded with goods. The next morning, boarding the 103-cabin ship was a breeze, as it has far fewer guests than typical cruise ships. Upon boarding, we were greeted to exciting entertainment of local drums being played and chants from the Marquesas islands.
After our fire drill we settled into our cabin and watched as the Aranui 5 departed from the marina in Tahiti. Being mid-day, we headed to the main dining room where all guests gather for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (except on days where you're on shore dining in a village restaurant). Here we met our fellow travelers from all over the world, with whom we would spend the next 13 days with. Most were from Australia or Europe, with several from the US. The passengers were mostly well traveled and retired, looking to broaden their travel experiences.
Our first day at sea included Marquesian dance lessons & a lecture on the Marquesas islands. Throughout our trip the education experience continued where every evening a crew member lectured on the Island we were visiting the following day. This was very helpful as it made me understand not only where we're going geographically but also about the people living on that island, their customs, their history and why the Aranui 5 visits that island.
The cargo that was carried from Tahiti was delivered to each island and goods were picked up for trade which included "Copra" coconut meat (taken to Tahiti to be made into coconut oil), grapefruit, lemons and other goods the islanders grow and sell to the Aranui 5 for their income. At every stop the local villagers would line up to greet the ship in order to sell their goods to the Aranui and continued the cycle every two weeks later when the Aranui returned.
This is a very interesting trade to watch onboard. These remote islands don't have a fancy pier or landing docks; therefore the ship uses barges to take guests back and forth to shore. The Aranui 5 visited nine islands, each one unique, but with similar traditions and history.
The islands we visted were Takapoto, known for its white sand beaches and colorful tropical fishes; Nuku Hiva island, known for its high cliffs and water falls; Ua Pou, known for breathtaking views of the mountains and lush valleys and its talented woodcrafters; Hiva O, a most incredible archaeological site for “tikis”; Fatu Hiva, the most remote island of the Marquesas (where women are seen using tree bark from various trees to create ancient Marquesan Art Designs); Tahuata, known for its exquisite bone carvings and fragrant Tiare flower scents; and Ua Huka, known to have wild horses that were brought from Chile in 1856. The cruise ends its route visiting Rangiroa and the beautiful island of Bora Bora.
My experience was life changing for many reason,s but mostly for the opportunity to get to know the local villagers of these remote islands and the friendly and sincere way of welcoming guests to their island.
Another great experience was meeting some amazing people from around the world on this cruise. It was lovely to meet these retired travelers and get to know about them and their past, as we all exchanged stories and truly made lifetime friendships. I truly believe travel connects the dots of humanity and our existence around the planet, and this cruise made us realize that as big as the world is, it is still small enough for us to connect at any age and in any place we meet.
To learn more about Aranui cruises, contact our travel expert Maral Nazarian.