The cruise for cruise-haters: Tahiti’s Aranui III freighter

One of Paul Gaugin’s big bottomed beauties

The half freighter/half passenger ship Aranui III was in Devonport dry dock undergoing it’s tri-annual spring clean before a soft refit will be carried out back in Tahiti and this lifeline to the outer Tahitian islands, will be cruising again. For 50 years the Aranui has serviced the Marquesas and passengers have been tagging along now for about 20 years. Only 200 passengers are onboard when the ship is full.

The pool deck in Auckland

Today a whole bunch of travel agents and me got to have a sticky beak onboard, meet the owners and execs and look at a DVD of her two-week itinerary. I’ve heard about the Aranui, seen pictures, even trawled the website in times gone by, but I still wasn’t entirely sure that this was more a working ship with a rough and ready ambience or whether the cruise passengers had a bit of luxury. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the latter is true.

You’re not going to find a casino or a stage for caberets, but you will find carpetted suites with full size bathrooms, queen size beds and balconies, right down to a bunk room that can sleep up to 8. There’s a lounge with comfy chairs and a bar in the bow, and upstairs is an open plan dining room where buffet meals are served.

The Aranui III is the third ship to serve the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. To get there it takes about 36 hours of sailing from Papeete – plenty of time to unwind, read a book, sleep, meet your fellow passengers, check out the captain on the bridge … and by the time you arrive you’re refreshed and ready to roar. Well, as much roaring as one can expect in the tropics.

Where will the Aranui visit?

You’ll jump on in Papeete and set sail at 11am on Day 1. Day 2 is in Fakarava then Day 3 at sea as you’re full steam ahead to the Marquesas. Day 4 is in Ua Pou, Day 5 Nuku Hiva, Day 6 Hiva Oa, Day 7 Fatu Hiva, Day 8 at Hiva Oa again – this time a different port, Day 9 Tahuata, Day 10 Ua Huka, Day 11 Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou again on the other side of these islands, Day 12 is at sea as you head back to Tahiti breaking it on Day 13 at Rangiroa Lagoon and arrive back in Papeete at 9.30am on Day 14.

The Aranui lounge

Who will love this cruise?

Typically your experienced cruiser who is over the glitz and glam of onboard entertainment and is looking for an authentic experience of Tahitian life. And since they’re two weeks long, you’re probably retired or have a nice chunk of leave to use up. Excursions on these remote islands include plenty of hiking, picnics, meeting local villagers and shopping at their handcraft markets, photographing waterfalls and archeological sites, even riding horses. Not to mention swimming on idyllic and remote beaches. Back onboard there are lectures for those interested in artist Paul Gaugin, who spent the latter part of his life in Tahiti, and other stuff like archeology, culture, history – all taught by experts in their fields.

Family style dining

One day there is a 17km hike over the island and everyone does it. I LOL’d at the management who told me this. I’ve never walked 17 kms in my life! But apparently its very popular and with lunch at the top, I guess it might be the only way to get fed! The ship meets you on the other side of the island.

There is a gym onboard, but I’m reliably informed that there is so much to do on the islands that most people are knackered and just to come back for a glass of wine and a delicious dinner at the end of the day.

The Aranui suite

What are the cabins like?

Suites: There are 14 suites (12 with balconies). They have a spacious studio layout with a lounge area and a large bathroom that has a full size bathtub. Air conditioning, queen size bed, flat screen TV, fridge.

Aranui Deluxe cabin

Deluxe Cabins: There are 9 of these with opening doors that you could pull a chair up to for a breeze but not actually a balcony. These are also very spacious with a queen size bed, bathroom with bathtub, air conditioning, TV, fridge.

Aranui standard twin room

Standard Cabins: 63 standard cabins have a porthole window and are twin share with some triple share. Air conditioning and TV as well as small bathroom with a shower. You can keep your luggage here, or there is storage that the crew will arrange.

The unisex dorm

Dormitory: This ‘Class C’ room is for those who are travelling with mates or alone and want to mingle. (I met one travel agent who told me a 75-year man booked himself in the dorm and had a whale of a time!) These can sleep up to 8 in bunk beds with shared facilities and of course, air conditioning.

For more info on the Aranui III, click here for www.aranui.com

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