Cruising on the Aranui cargo ship is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s not just a chance to visit the remote Marquesas Islands; it’s about being part of the vital delivery of goods to this archipelago and understanding the lives of the islanders.
Have you ever dreamt of venturing off the beaten path and taking the road less travelled? Explore the wild beauty of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia aboard a unique Aranui cruise. Starting from Tahiti, you’ll sail north to the outer archipelagos of the Pacific on the Aranui cargo ship, with lovely cabins and fantastic food.
On this trip you’ll discover what Tahiti was like 50 years ago, visiting the six inhabited Marquesas Islands. This castaway group of islands is rich in history, culture and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. Wherever you go in the Marquesas, the proud and friendly people will welcome you to their homes. You’ll end the holiday with a few days relaxing in an overwater bungalow in Moorea. If you’re looking for the perfect mix of culture, relaxation and exploration, this journey is definitely for you!
Depart the UK from your chosen airport.
On arrival in Tahiti, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel, where you’ll check in for one night. Here, you can relax and get some sleep, so that you’re well-rested and ready to set off your exciting Marquesas Islands cruise tomorrow.
Early this morning, you’ll be met in the lobby and driven to the dock for your Aranui cruise.
Please note that the exact itinerary of the cruise is different depending on whether you leave on a Sunday or Thursday. Whenever you depart, you will still visit the same islands, just in a different order.
This morning, you’ll arrive in Fakarava. Designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the second largest atoll in French Polynesia, you’ll have time to discover the small village of Rotoava. You’ll visit the church, built entirely of coral, and learn about the local handicrafts.
Afterwards, you can take a refreshing swim and go snorkelling in the translucent lagoon amongst the tropical fish. There are optional excursions available at an additional cost, such as snorkelling, diving in the various passes or bird-watching on a tiny islet. You’ll return to the Aranui by midday and continue with your cruise.
Today, you can unwind on one of the sundecks or enjoy the comfort of the air-conditioned lounge. Sit back, relax and soak up the views of the endless South Pacific Ocean as you make your way towards the captivating Marquesas Islands.
Onboard, you can listen to lectures on Marquesan culture and history that will give you full insight into this ancient civilisation. During the cruise, you’ll also get the opportunity to learn how to move your hips like a true Tahitian!
You can spend your evenings socialising at the bar with your fellow adventurers from all around the world. The spirited Polynesian crew will proudly introduce you to their way of life and entertain you with Polynesian songs and rhythms on their ukuleles, guitars and drums.
Before you go to bed tonight, be sure to set your watch 30 minutes ahead for Marquesan time.
This morning, the Aranui will anchor in Taipivai Bay. After breakfast, you’ll disembark the ship, where a fleet of 4X4s will be waiting to take you on an exciting excursion. You'll have a wet landing at the beach, so please bear this in mind!
First, you’ll visit the archaeological site of Mea’e Kamuihei, with its giant banyans and petroglyphs. Next, you’ll hike to the nearby Paeke site, which features paepae and large stone platforms where the Taipi built their houses. You’ll also watch a performance of the traditional Marquesan Pig Dance.
At lunchtime, you’ll get your first introduction to traditional Marquesan cuisine. Here, the local specialities are cooked in an “Umu” - an underground oven where food simmers away for hours. There will be local musicians playing throughout the meal, provide a great ambience.
After lunch, you’ll visit a museum in the small village of Hatiheu that displays copies of petroglyphs from unexplored valleys. Your excursion will continue south to Taiohae, with its spectacular bay, a giant volcanic amphitheatre dominated by towering cliffs streaked with waterfalls.
As the Aranui unloads its cargo, you can explore Taiohae, the tiny administrative capital of the Marquesas. Taiohae Bay is where Herman Melville, then a 23-year-old sailor, jumped a whaling ship in 1842. You can visit the cathedral or go the market to shop for handicrafts. You’ll also find banks, boutiques and an internet café here, so there’s plenty to keep you busy.
You can choose to return to the ship from the village on foot or by car – it’s entirely up to you.
From the decks of the Aranui this morning, you’ll see the soaring mountain spires of Ua Pou. While the crew unloads supplies ranging from cement to sugar and sacks of copra (dried coconut meat), you can explore the quaint village of Hakahau.
While on Uo Pou, you’ll meet the island’s talented woodcarvers and artists and hike uphill to the Cross for breath-taking views over the mountains, lush valleys and main village. After a busy morning, you’ll stop for delicious Marquesan lunch of breadfruit with curried goat (one of the local specialities), Poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk), taro, and sweet red bananas. The excursion ends with an excellent dance performance that includes the Bird Dance, traditional to Ua Pou.
The Aranui will arrive in Hiva Oa this morning, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore Atuona, the second largest village in Marquesas. The impressionist Paul Gauguin lived here and created some of his best work. You can visit the colonial store where he shopped, see a replica of his infamous “House of Pleasure” and explore the adjoining museum.
As you walk uphill, you’ll have sweeping views of the harbour. In the cemetery at the top of the hill, beneath a large frangipani tree, you’ll find a tombstone with these simple words: Paul Gauguin 1903. Nearby, you’ll also see the grave of Belgian singer-composer Jacques Brel, another famous European who also was seduced by Hiva Oa and died in 1978.
In the afternoon, the Aranui will anchor off Tahuata, a small leaf-shaped island, where the air is thick with the fragrant scent of frangipani and rich with history. In 1595, Spanish explorers landed on Tahuata and opened fire on a crowd of curious islanders in the village of Vaitahu, killing about 200 people. Tahuata is also the site of the first French settlement in the Marquesas in 1842. The large church built by the Vatican is decorated with beautiful Marquesan carvings and a stunning stained glass window.
Today, you’ll travel by 4WD to see the most incredible archaeological site for “tikis” (ancient, human-like religious stone sculptures) outside of Easter Island. Once you reach Mea’e Iipona, your expert guide will tell you the stories of these haunting statues.
Surrounded by beautifully lush grounds, the site is packed with atmosphere, so you’ll feel a lot of what Polynesians call “mana” (spiritual power). Only a small part of the site has been restored - most of it is still buried.
After lunch on board, the Aranui will set sail for Tahuata, where you can enjoy a lazy afternoon relaxing at the beach or taking a refreshing dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Today, you’ll reach Fatu Hiva, the lushest and most remote island in the Marquesas. You can only access Fatu Hiva by sea, as there is no airport, and this means that little tourism reaches the island. It is also the island of “tapa”, and you’ll learn all about this traditional cloth during your visit. You’ll also meet local woodcarvers in the village craft centre.
In the tranquil village of Omoa, you’ll see women pounding mulberry, banyan or breadfruit tree bark on logs. The bark is then dried and used as a canvas for locals to paint ancient Marquesan designs. Fatu Hiva is also known for its hand-painted pareos (sarongs) and monoi, coconut oil infused with “Tiare Tahiti” blossoms, vanilla or sandalwood. It’s another excellent opportunity to purchase Marquesan art and souvenirs.
Before lunch, the Aranui will sail to jaw-dropping Hanavave Bay on the other side of the island, also known as the Bay of Virgins. If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk across to Hanavave Bay, instead of sailing aboard the ship. It’s an unforgettable ten-mile hike from one side of the island to other, with breathtaking views of towering cliffs and majestic waterfalls. If you decide to hike, you’ll be treated to a delicious lunch will be served at the top of a mountain (scale of difficulty 8/10).
Sunset in Hanavave Bay is a moment of pure bliss, so grab your favourite tipple and enjoy the gorgeous view.
In the early morning, the Aranui will arrive in Ua Huka, and this is one arrival that you can't miss! The act of manoeuvring into the small bay is awe-inspiring. On the dry landscape of Ua Huka, you’ll visit the small museum of Vaiapee, located in the island’s city hall gardens. Here, you’ll see exquisite replicas of Marquesan art and the guides will tell you stories to bring this ancient civilisation alive.
Back in your 4WD, you’ll explore the island, stopping for stunning views of the Pacific on the way. You’ll spend time in the arboretum and botanical gardens, a passion project of the island’s former mayor.
Before long, you’ll reach the beautiful village of Hane, where lunch will be served at a local family restaurant. On Ua Huka, the wild horses brought from Chile in 1856 outnumber the inhabitants, so horseback riding is available (sign-up is required, and an additional cost applies). If you choose to go horseback riding, you’ll meet the rest of the group at the restaurant.
After lunch, you’ll continue discovering the island. You can visit the fishing village of Hokatu or hike up to one of Hane’s viewpoints, escorted by the ship’s guides. Alternatively, you can relax on the beach.
Be sure to get out on deck as the Aranui departs. As you sail along the coast of Ua Huka, you’ll see more and more gorgeous views unfold. You’ll end the brilliant day with a sumptuous buffet dinner served on deck, enjoying a Polynesian evening under the stars.
After an enchanting, enriching journey into the heart of Polynesian civilisation, you can spend today relaxing or enjoying the various activities and lectures available on board.
From the decks of the Aranui, you can watch your arrival into French Polynesia’s largest atoll and the second largest in the world. You might even spot playful dolphins swimming alongside the ship as you enter Tiputa Pass, one of Rangiroa’s two channels. Snorkelling and scuba diving excursions are available here (sign-up is required, and an additional cost applies). Rangiroa is rated as one of the best places in the world for scuba diving, so you're in for a treat.
With their pristine natural environment and pure waters, the Tuamotu Atolls offer the ideal conditions for pearl farming. Today, you’ll have the opportunity to visit a working pearl farm and learn all about how Tahiti’s famed ‘Jewel of the Sea’ is produced. If your dream is to bring home a Tahitian pearl, this is your chance.
If you would prefer not to book a tour here, you can enjoy Rangiroa’s white sand beach and translucent lagoon. The local “mamas” will have an excellent display of necklaces, key chains and other small souvenirs for sale on the beach.
In the afternoon, the Aranui will depart and sail to the iconic island of Bora Bora.
Today, you’ll arrive in Bora Bora’s world-famous lagoon. Here, you’ll be greeted by iridescent blue and green waters, as well as sweeping views of majestic Mount Otemanu, the island’s highest peak. In this picture-perfect island paradise, you can enjoy an unbeatable day at the beach. At lunchtime, you’ll have a delicious picnic on a private “motu” islet surrounded by crystalline waters.
You can also choose from a variety of excursions at an additional cost. Set off on an island tour by boat or bus, try a helicopter flight or book a 4WD off-road trip. If you’re feeling brave, you can even try shark and ray feeding!
In the evening, you’ll get back on board, and the Aranui will set sail for Papeete.
This morning, you’ll arrive in Papeete and disembark the Aranui at 9 am. After your adventure to the wild Marquesas Islands, you’ll now head for the quiet beauty of Moorea. From Papeete, you’ll take the ferry across to Moorea, your base for the next four nights.
With four nights to enjoy lush Moorea, you’ve got plenty of time to kick off your shoes and relax on tropical white beaches that will blow you away. When you’re feeling up for it, Moorea a green wonderland is a just waiting to be explored. Take long hikes along jagged cliffs and swim in the clear blue waters of the lagoon where colourful fish and rays dart around.
During your stint on the island, you’ll stay in an overwater bungalow with direct access into the lagoon. It’s the perfect way to finish your French Polynesia holiday in style.
After breakfast, you’ll take the ferry back to Tahiti, where you’ll be driven to the airport for your flight home. On the way home, you’ll cross the International Date Line, so you’ll land in the UK two days later.
The best time to visit French Polynesia is during the dry winter period between May and October when the weather is fresher, and there is much less rainfall. From November to April temperatures rise and the summer rainy season begins, bringing humid, cloudy weather and lots of rain. Over this period, it’s not uncommon to experience brief violent storms or rains lasting a few days at a time. Peak season is July and August, as well as Christmas and the Easter school holidays so expect prices to be at a premium.
If you'd like to get a feel for this trip, read our blog post ‘Which French Polynesian Island is best for you’- written by one of our consultants who has been there.
This itinerary is purely a suggestion and can be tailor-made to your requirements, so please contact us with your dates and requests, and we’ll put together a bespoke quotation for you.