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