One of the best ways to discover the translucent sapphire-like sea, exotic palm-fringed islands, flour-white sand beaches and rich tribal culture of French Polynesia is by cruise ship. These islands, covered with jagged volcanic peaks that seem to float on the surface of the waves are breathtakingly beautiful untouched paradises that are waiting to be discovered.
French Polynesia, better known by the name of its largest island, Tahiti, covers over two million square miles of the South Pacific Ocean and is composed of 118 islands, spread over five great archipelagos. "Tahiti's Strand of Pearls", include the atolls of Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava; and the Marquesas, or ‘The Mysterious Islands’.
The most remote archipelago in the world, the Marquesas Islands are best known for their wild beauty, cultural heritage and welcoming people. The custom-built, state-of-the-art Aranui 3 is the only ship to sail the 2,200 mile round trip from Papeete, the capital of the island of Tahiti, to all six inhabited islands in the Marquesas and is the best way to explore them.
Described as ‘the freighter to paradise’, the cargo carrier departs every three weeks delivering everything from beer and bulldozers to cement to sugar to islands inhabitants and doubles up as a cruise passenger ship. The Aranui provides comfortable accommodation in 86 fully air-conditioned cabins, including ten large suites with balconies. While on board, guests can relax or admire the views from one of two lounges, enjoy French and Polynesian cuisine in the dining room, go for a swim on deck or work out at the gym.
A full programme of lectures on Marquesan history, culture and art are also available onboard. Departing from Tahiti on 4 February 2012, the Aranui 3 will be joined by UK author and film producer, Peter Crawford, who will be serving as guest lecturer. Peter, who spent three years travelling through the Polynesian islands, researching his book ‘Nomads of the Wind’ and producing an award-winning television series for the BBC, has a special passion for the Marquesas Islands, which he enjoys sharing with other travellers.
"It is - above all - the remoteness of the Marquesas Islands which has kept alive their traditional culture and spirit. Their unique character and wild beauty draws me back to this vibrant heart of Polynesia," says Peter.
At each island, passengers are taken ashore by wooden whaleboats and welcomed by locals with flower garlands, dancing and music. Four-wheel drive jeep safaris take visitors through spectacular mountain scenery to explore mysterious, virgin jungles and to experience the fascinating and individual culture of each of the islands. You will also be able to swim in the clear warm ocean discovering the colourful worlds below the islands too, full of colourful coral reefs and iridescent tropical fish.
Among the experiences guests will discover how pearl farmers harvest rare black pearls from giant oysters, visit the mountain spires of Ua Pou and marvel at Me'ae Te Iipona, one of the most important ancient temples in French Polynesia, famous for the largest stone tiki in the region, after the mysterious figures on Easter Island.
Facts: Prices for the February 2012 departure start from £3100 per person, sharing a standard twin cabin with private facilities, including all meals with wine, all land-based sightseeing excursions and taxes. Flights to/from Papeete, Tahiti are not included. Visit the Aranui's website for more details.