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Aranui 3 -Cruise the Cargo Way - the Marquesas and Tuamotu islands, French Polynesia.

Updated on June 15, 2014
all aboard the Aranui 3
all aboard the Aranui 3 | Source

Aranui 3

whaleboat back to Aranui 3
whaleboat back to Aranui 3 | Source
Jacques Brel 1978
Jacques Brel 1978 | Source
Paul Gauguin 1903
Paul Gauguin 1903 | Source

Aranui Cruise

Cruise the Cargo Way

Mention a cargo boat and the mind conjures up various scenarios - adventure, romanticism, rum, hardship. Well - forget the hardship; apply the remainder and prepare for an unforgettable nautical experience.

There are few freighters left mixing passengers and cargo. Cheers then, for the Aranui 3, a 3800 tonne cargo/passenger ship departing Papeete, Tahiti around 16 times a year, delivering cargo to the remote French Polynesian - Marquesas and Tuamotu islands.

The freighter is a purpose built ship, built a few years ago in Romania, then sailed down the Danube and through the Black Sea before reaching home base in Tahiti.

This is no cruise liner jammed with people. Here you’re in the company of around 200 other passengers and a crew of 50. And then there’s the cargo - anything and everything the islanders are waiting for. All the necessities for an isolated existence.

It is virtually the last in the line of South Seas trading ships that enthralled the likes authors of authors Jack London, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson.

All the above knew these seas well, as did French artist Paul Gauguin and tragic Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, who share what has to be the world’s best located cemetery on Hiva Oa.

It’s obvious and understandable how the mesmerizing French Polynesian islands held creative inspiration for these writers and artists.

Land Ahoy

Our first glimpse of island life is Fakarava, in the Tuamotu islands. The Aranui anchors at sea.

The friendly, traditionally tattooed, Marquesan crew has the operation down to a fine art and passengers are transferred with ease to a whaleboat and a true sense of adventure kicks in.

The locals are waiting to welcome, serenading with ukuleles, non-stop welcoming smiles and no hassles.

You can swim or snorkel if the mood takes you, or buy Tahitian black pearls, or stroll through the village and visit the church. It’s a lazy sunny Sunday morning, dogs snooze on the roads and the worshippers are parading in their finery.

A Life on the Ocean Wave

Once back on board, relax. Experience a day and a half at sea before the first Marquesas island looms on the horizon. Boring? Not on your life - time to relax, attend a lecture and learn more about the six inhabited and six uninhabited islands in the group.

Alternatively, there’s a lounge/library, a deck/bar, pool, gym, boutique and if you’re in the mood - Polynesian dancing lessons. Cabins are air-conditioned and range from suites, to deluxe, standard or C class.

And sample the food. Breakfast is a buffet of fruits, croissants, pastries, cheeses; - order your cooked meal, served by the crew. A three course lunch complemented by French wines is exceeded only by dinner and more wine. Later, many lunches are held onshore on the islands.

This is the moment

We reach the first island early in the morning. From the deck we spot the soaring, misty, mysterious, mountains of Ua Pou.

Immediately the boat docks there’s an air of industry on board, the crew are hard at it, cranes unload machinery, huge crates, cement, cars, sugar, frozen goods, beer, letters and parcels.

Locals congregate on the dock to watch the action and wait patiently for their goods, for their mail,

We wander, examining gardens sparkling with colour, flushed with fruit, mangoes, lime, grapefruit, breadfruit, coconuts. On the “village green” young men and women dance the traditional paepae dance, full of colour and enthusiasm.

Lunch is an island affair – today at Tata Rosalie’s restaurant it’s buffet style – goat, pork, rice, shrimps, octopus, raw fish, breadfruit, cooked red banana and then slices of mango – the most delicious mango I have ever tasted and I consider myself an expert.

Following the famous.

Nuka Hiva where young writer Herman Melville jumped ship in 1842.We follow his escape route the easy way, by four wheel drive vehicle

Nuka Hiva boasts the Cathedral of Taiohae - magnificent wooden hand carvings. It’s eerie here in the forest and a massive banyan tree marks the spot where human sacrifice was once the norm. Nearby are huge rock boulders where pictographs have been engraved.

Here our traditional lunch is hangi style - cooked in an earth oven. So infectious is the music from the island band, crew and passengers join in - weaving a huge conga line around the restaurant.

Gauguin and Brel

Hiva Oa island is where Paul Gauguin did his most impressive work. His paintings maybe not to everyone’s taste but his choice of a final resting place is exquisite. Beneath a huge frangipani tree is his tombstone and a simple memoriam – Paul Gauguin 1903.

Gauguin lies to the right of a statue of Jesus while Belgium born singer-composer Jacques Brel (1978) is on the left. Tongue in cheek, Brel planned it that way, making them the bad guys.

This aptly named Calvary cemetery zings with the fragrant scent of tiare tahiti blossom and slopes down rugged cliffs to the harbor and the sparkling aqua coloured sea. Nearby is a replica of Gauguin’s House of Pleasure plus a museum displaying mementoes and tributes to his work. There’s also a tribute to Brel.

On the other side of Hiva Oa, at Puamau, we visit an archaeological site, where stone tikis stand proudly; primeval carvings in the jungle.

Sunrise - Sunset

The rugged landscape of the Marquesas is impressive:towering volcanic peaks, valleys, lagoons, dramatic coastlines, lush tropical vegetation. Deep crimson early morning sunrise is only surpassed by the sunset.

It’s a must to be up and on deck early at Invisible Bay on Ua Huka. The captain manouvres the Aranui with precision, the most exacting of turns between towering cliffs with only a few metres to spare on each side. And the nimblest of crew members leap from a dinghy onto sheer rock to make fast the hawser. It’s a definite standing ovation feat.

Ua Huka has more wild horses than people and herds of goats roam the place. Wood carvings and an archaeological museum detail the past. Shortly after the Aranui departs she passes Bird Island, a magnificent sight as thousands of birds congregate, almost as if farewelling the visitors.

Back in the Tuamotu islands and the last island of Rangiroa. Shimmering white sand, coral, swimming, snorkeling, take a glass bottom boat to glimpse the reef - or visit a pearl farm. A beach picnic makes the perfect finale.

The Aranui has dispersed of cargo and picked up cargo – copra, bananas, limes, noni fruit and juice for the health food trade.

Let’s give the last word to Melville when he left the islands - "I experience a pang of regret that a scene so enchanting should be hidden from the world in these remote seas, and seldom meet the eyes of devoted lovers of nature." He’s not wrong.


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    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from australia

      Annie - how lovely to hear from you. Good luck with the sale but you're going to miss Spain. I know Darwen but not real well. Still, it's Lancashire - good place to be. Do take care and keep in touch - I've missed you. Cheers Maj

    • bac2basics profile image


      3 years ago from Spain

      Hi Maj.

      I just dropped in to read a comment by someone else and saw your name on my notification list, so here I am saying hello :-)

      I found a buyer for my villa, but am still waiting for the sale to happen and it´s dragging on and on and on. I do hope it doesn´t fall flat.

      I´m looking online at house´s for sale in Darwen, undoubtedly you will know where it is.

      Hope you are keeping well love. xx

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from australia

      Taranwanderer - The Aranui is a great way to travel - glad you liked the pic...

    • Taranwanderer profile image


      3 years ago

      Lovely pictures of the cruise ship in port. Breathtaking, actually.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      tobusiness, - thank you, for commenting, most appreciated. Aranui is an awesome cruise, I'd love to revisit myself. Sigh - one day perhaps!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      4 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Maj, wow...thank you for sharing this, the images are awesome. Please hand me down my walking shoes, I feel the need to travel. :)

    • bac2basics profile image


      4 years ago from Spain

      Hiya love.

      So sorry to hear you have had health problems, oh dear, hope you are fighting fit now.

      I'm still in Spain still waiting to find a buyer but with so many villas like mine out there it's not easy.

      Lovely to hear from you Maj. I will be in touch more when I get a new PC or my old one sorted, this borrowed in is grand to have , but I don't feel I can do more than just basics on it and to be honest I'm not familiar enough with it yet to do a long hub.

      Keep well love. Bye for now x

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from australia

      Annie - I truly did wonder about you. I am back with hub pages after a break some medical problems! I guess you are in UK now. Do you have an email address?

      This cargo cruise is the best, a terrific way to see the Marquesas islands. For me, the only way. Thank you for dropping in and commenting. Much appreciated Anne.

    • bac2basics profile image


      4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Maj.

      I have been thinking of you a lot lately even though I'm not active on hubpages these days but am on Bubblews. For a long time I haven't been able to leave comments on here, something to do with my PC and the box just wouldn't load properly. I still read the notices every day and also some hubs, but have just been unable to comment even though I could vote. Now I am on a borrowed one and I can so just wanted to let you know I'm still alive an kicking and all my great HP contacts have not been forgotten, hence my thinking of you. Actually there might be a few people wondering where I went so maybe I will do a quick hub to tell them.

      I often wondered what a cruise on a cargo ship would be like, I never expected it would be this good and always thought you would be scrubbing decks and the like and roughing it a bit , so this has been a real eye opener for me.

      Nice one Maj, keep well dear and know you have not been forgotten xx

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from australia

      Kathryn, I hope you experience a cargo ship one day - the Aranui is a fascinating journey - every day a new experience. Thanks for stopping by.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from australia

      Michelle - you are right - from my personal point of view this is one of the best ways to cruise. Relaxing, stress free and totally absorbing islands.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      5 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I have been on a cruise ship, but never a cargo freight ship. It sounds like a decent way to travel, and this trip sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Wonderful and beautiful.....a relaxing, stress free getaway! Thanks for sharing, Travmaj!

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from australia

      sandrabusby - Glad you enjoyed this - and sharing my memories.

      Glimmer Twin Fan - Thank you also - and ohhh - what a voyage your father took. Now, that is some experience.

      GoodLady - Again thank you - yes, it is a different experience travelling cargo style. Much a matter of preference also.

      Icematikx - Yes, I'd love to be there too...

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      It was a thrilling read and such an incredible voyage. Thanks for a great travel piece. Often did wonder if it was still possible to travel on cargo boats - something to look forward to.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Travmaj - This is a awesome and beautiful hub! Voted up! My father did this when he retired. 3 months around the world on a cargo ship. He absolutely loved it and we got postcards from all of his exotic ports of call. He would love to read this!

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 

      6 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks, travmaj, for this wonderful account of your voyage on a cargo ship. What an adventure.

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from australia

      Thanks so much for your positive comments - it was a great trip so not difficult to write about - best wishes....

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Wonderful hub - your trip sounds amazing and there is so much detail in your writing, it was very interesting. And the photos - wow! Altogether, a great article. Voted up etc, shared and pinned :o)

    • travmaj profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from australia

      Thank you all for your comments - I'm pleased you enjoyed the cargo way -

      phdast7 Yes, so much happening and a very pleasurable voyage - so much to write about - the cargo fascinated me!

      Pavlo - yes, it was an exciting trip - thanks -

      point2make - thanks for the welcome - think this is my option when cruising - but everyone has their own favourite modes of travel. sometimes it's nice to dream...

    • point2make profile image


      6 years ago

      What a great hub. I enjoyed your travelogue and the photos were great. I have researched travelling by freighter and it does seem like an interesting and relaxing option. Thank-you for sharing your experience. Maybe it's time for me to do more than just dream. Well done ....voted this hub up...welcome to hubpages.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Just amazing and different from reviews of that kind! A trip in such a way is an exciting thing.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      travmaj - First, WELCOME TO HUBPAGES! This is a delightful hub: history, geography, food, music, and artistic and literary giants interwoven with the usual particulars used when one is describing traveling. Many "travel" hubs read like an advertisement, yours read like an interesting story a friend might tell. And the pictures were wonderful. I really liked this. Sharing. :)


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