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The Aranui 3
Cruising The Marquesas aboard the Aranui 3 
Article & Images by Michael Morcos

We are so fortunate to live in a world so filled with oysters and pearls! One such oyster is the Marquesas Islands, part of the French Polynesia. This part of the world is a tourist paradise, and though many venture straight for Tahiti – fascinating and beautiful in its own right – but if you want to really immerse yourself in the true spirit of these beautiful islands, you must visit some of the smaller islands. These pearls of Polynesia are less inhabited and commercialized but are amazing in their own right, and well worth exploring.

From exotic cuisine to crystal clear ocean water, each locale we visited welcomed us with open arms, full plates and open doors to their villages, which was nice as I spent a large portion of the trip island hopping around the Marquesas!

Cruising on the Aranui 3

Our cruise was a special boat, as, unlike most cruise ships, the Aranui brings passengers and cargo through the Marquesas Islands. The dual purpose brings joy to both the cruisers and the locals enjoy the necessary supplies that are provided to residents.

As with most similar lines in Europe, North America or Asia, this ship holds about 200 passengers and offers great cabin space. Among indulgences offered on board, guests can enjoy a lazy afternoon by the pool, sunbathing on the spacious deck area or other fun activities.

During the journey, we made stops on more than a dozen islands, though there never seemed to be enough time to really explore any of them properly. This was a wonderful, and only way to see most of the islands in this chain comfortably and in style.

Hiking in Ua Pu

Hiking is a fantastic way to get a feel for the land throughout these islands. On both Hakahau and Hakahetau we were treated to small walks to the best viewpoints available. From these vantage points, we could see how the ocean simply stretches out endlessly around these green islands. We also investigated the iconic mountain spires jutting out of the ground, created by unique volcanic activity.

The Huku Niva group

The past volcanic activity of the islands has also created picturesque bays that are a pleasure to explore. Some travelers took the time to go horse riding the Anaho saddle in Hatiheu while others spent the afternoon swimming at the beach. After a day of adventuring, I chose to walk the deck back on the boat and watch the stars fill the night sky, unlike any other place on the planet.

Pilgrimages to Atuona and Vaitahu 

For many years, these islands have attracted artists and fans of fine art and music. Many make pilgrimages to the Hiva Oa island group to see the graves of painter Paul Gauguin and songwriter Jacques Brel and pay homage to these men’s’ lives as well as the spirit of freedom found in French Polynesia. Both were extremely talented in their oeuvre and although neither were natives to the islands, they would visit and speak highly of the calm and beautiful environment. Near the grave sites are cultural centers that explain more about their contributions to this multi-faceted destination.

The locals in Fatuiva

Fatuiva is where visitors are able to see the skills of the residents who call these islands home in action. Guests were given a demonstration on how to create several everyday items used, like Tapa, or bark cloth, and umu hei, or bouquets of flowers. Also on the schedule was a visit to the local school where a live presentation performed by the students took place. They were dressed in traditional costumes and perform a Polynesian style of dance. souvenirs of the crafts are also available in the village and the purchase of local, handmade goods is a usual practice on most of the islands we saw.

History and culture in Hiva Oa

Foreigners have certainly made their mark on French Polynesia throughout history, but there is also a wealth of rich traditions and stories among the locals. On Puamau, we headed to the archeological site that held a megalithic Tiki, as well as a tomb for the last great ruler and chief of the island. There also some eerie and eye-catching ruins to see in the jungle as we were led by our seasoned guides through the dense forests, we were privy to many stories and a great history lesson.

Faith in the Marquesas on Vaitahu

The Missionaries that brought Christian traditions and faith to the marquesas also left an indelible mark on the islands, highlighted by their magnificent churches. Vaitahu has a Catholic place of worship made from stone and wood, framed by amazing stained glass windows and statues. Sanctioned by the Vatican in the 1800s, it remains a meeting place for locals to pray and keep their community ties strong.

Swimming in Ua Huka

Enjoying the beauty , culture, history and mystery of French Polynesia was incredible, but guests can have just as much fun relaxing on the islands of Vaipee, Hane and Hokatu. The beach offered great opportunities to sunbathe, swim or snorkel near the bay. There is a wild horse population that was introduced to the land by Chileans more than 150 years ago, and the handsome creatures have thrived and now outnumber the human residents!

Residents of Taiohae and Hakahau

The locals on these islands have created a relaxing and fun atmosphere, with many people sporting tribal tattoos and big smiles, both of which complement their historical traditions and laid-back attitude. Everyone I connected with and encountered were extremely friendly, helpful and willing to share information, stories and their love of the islands.

Sailing into the sunset on the Aranui

At the end of each day, we were rewarded with amazing views from the deck of the Aranui, or enjoying food and drinks inside one of the great lounges. Though the off-boat excursions were the highlights of the days, nothing beat returning to my cabin or spending some time socializing at the bar, going to the ship’s gym or simply reading a book on the deck. I could not be more pleased with my experience aboard the cruise liner-cargo ship, They have perfected luxury and functionality.

I cherished the time I spent exploring the islands and understanding the simple pleasures in life, whether it was seeing a Polynesian dance show at a local school or sipping a cocktail by the emerald green ocean. Sailing and smiling are the way to go.