Cruise on a Freighter to “The Land of Men”

By David Currier, Kevin Kalley -


The Aranui 3 freighter sailing off the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific.


Burly, tattooed men. Really. This is not a Chippendale cruise.

Just 4,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles lie the Marquesas Islands, among the most remote places on the planet. Herman Melville writes about the Marquesas in his books Typee and Moby Dick. A visitor there himself, he escaped being eaten by cannibals. (Google “Marquesas cannibals German” for some interesting news.)

But, hey, this is 2015. All is A-OK; isn’t it?

Nearly 1,000 miles north of Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, an archipelago of 20 islands and atols of which only 6 are inhabited, depend on supplies from Papeete, Tahiti, the major port in French Polynesia. Interestingly named Ua Pao, Nuku Hiva, Ua Huka, Oa, Thauata and Fatu-Hiva, they are situated southeast of Hawaii, just south of the Equator. The names of some of the islands and villages loosely translate to “Land of Men.”

As we discuss cruising on the Aranui, it’s interesting to note a bit of Polynesian history. See where their “ships” did and may have sailed before Columbus sailed to America.

Your cruise ship, Aranui 3, a freighter, the lifeline to the outside world, provides supplies of Coca Cola, containers of frozen foods, Pampers, modern outrigger canoes, a Primavera Vespa scooter or two, perhaps a Toyota 4Runner, or a Caterpillar D10 bulldozer to the small villages situated in Marquesan bays. Representatives of the 9,000 inhabitants of the Marquesas are enthusiastically waiting on the docks or at the community centers when the Aranui arrives with food supplies for their small general stores, and 150 passengers.

The “muscular” crew, as even Aranui literature refers to the cruise staff, doubles as longshoremen loading and unloading freight when they are not assisting with the whaler-tenders that ferry you to and from the islands’ often primitive docks.

Unlike Tahiti, Moreea, or Bora Bora, the Marquesas are relatively young volcanic islands with spectacular, cloud capped, rain forested mountains encircling some of the world’s most beautiful small harbors. They are not protected by coral reefs and calm lagoons although some have spectacular beaches. When the your cruise is unable to dock, your tender excursions may provide the equivalent of a 10-coupon amusement park ride to a weathered wharf or flat beach. Dramamine anyone? Note: the ship, tenders and islands are not equipped for the mobility challenged. But the adventuresome elderly did just fine!

DV Dancer with tats and bonesCutely-shy Jacob, the dining room manager, and his staff, and the hot and out-there Manaarii, the cruise entertainment coordinator, are not in the beefy category. But the hunky Polynesian dancers dressed in loin cloths, with tusks and bones adorning their classic Marquesan tattoos and accentuating well defined chests will tease somebody’s fantasies as they perform on deck!

Tattoos are significant in Marquesan culture. According to one of the French lecturers onboard the Aranui, categories of tattoos are reserved for particular types of individuals depending on their personality and occupation. It’s not uncommon to see males with their face entirely decorated with geometric patterns. Marquesan women frequently have tattoos from back of their ear down to the collar line of the neck.

During our cruise, the husband of a Dutch couple arranged for an arm tattoo of a traditional Marquesan pattern from one of the Aranui crew. His son in Amsterdam was not amused. “It’s all downhill from here, Dad. The next thing you’ll do is buy a Harley,” he texted. You may want to add to your collection or get your first tattoo, too. (This service was not an advertised part of the cruise.)

DV Paul Gauguin GraveThe Aranui cruise is a 14-day adventure visiting six islands of the Marquesas plus Takapoto and Rangiora (the world’s largest atoll) in the Tuamoto Archipelago, and Bora Bora in the Society Islands. Each of the islands offers a different experience: swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing (the Aranui chef will prepare your catch for dinner), visits to the museums of artist Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel (and their tombs), exploring the most significant tikis outside Easter Island, hiking to ancient petroglyphs, purchasing stunningly iridescent black pearls – you’ll have the option to visit a pearl farm where you may acquire pearls in a rainbow of colorful shades, various shapes and quality;

Marquesan tapa art is easily brought home.

Marquesan tapa art is easily brought home.

meeting woodcarvers producing tikis, jewelry and masks for souvenir hunters; observing tapa being made and purchasing paintings on tapa, trying on some colorful pareos (sarongs) for that South Seas themed party back home, swimming with sharks and rays, take a helicopter tour…your days are slow-paced but busy. (If you plan to snorkel, pick up your ship-issued gear as soon as possible. There may not be enough for every passenger who wants to swim with the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.)

During your cruise through the Marquesas, you occasionally get “leied” in the villages, or at least have a traditional, fragrant tiare flower placed behind your ear. Warrior-like “savages”, tender “hula” dancers, and tribal musicians will entertain you in several z12communities. Local children may scurry up to you to have their photo taken.

While ashore in some ports you will dine on traditional foods at a simple local restaurant. Goat, pork, and fish cooked in a Marquesan earth oven are accompanied by vegetables, fresh salads and fruit desserts.

Onboard the Aranui, we easily made many friends with couples from around the world during the social events. Passengers were quick to “bravo” us during the Polynesian costume night – of course (we took cheap tropical stuff from Walmart!), and Kevin was cheered as he won the build-a-ship-that-floats-in-the-pool contest. The fashion show (couture provided by the ship’s boutique) also provided for multi-lingual camaraderie.

Graduates of the dance class gave a talented performance after dinner at the last night at sea. Manaarii would have had great success teaching line dances Marquesan style in American clubs! He also provides classes in ukulele, pareo fashion, and palm frond weaving.

DV Basic Cabin

Basic cabin on the Aranui 3.

Aranui 3 has a variety of accommodations with standard cabins featuring twin beds, porthole, a desk, closet, under bed storage, television, intra-ship telephone, a safe for your valuables, and bath with shower. Larger suites feature private balconies, queen size beds, sitting areas , mini-fridge and full size tub with shower. The Owner’s Suite can accommodate larger parties (and partys). For those of you who may be more budget-minded there are even dormitory style accommodations. And speaking of budgets, tipping is not expected or appreciated on the ship or any of the islands including cosmopolitan Tahiti.

z53A new ship, Aranui 5, is scheduled to launch towards the end of 2015 or early 2016. (The number 4 is considered bad luck in the Marquesas.) About 30% larger than the Aranui 3, with more modern cabins and suites, the current efficient, delightful, multi-lingual, and in the men’s case, yes, beefy crew will be onboard the “5” to ensure that your soft adventure is fun, safe, and memorable.

You are visiting a remote part of the world where western civilization was not known until a few centuries ago. Expect to see fine elements of a culture proudly preserved by the contemporary citizens. Their Parthenons and Davids are much simpler than you find in the grand cities of Europe

Richard entertained with Marquesan songs when he took the Aranui 3 to another island to visit his mother.

Richard entertained with Marquesan songs when he took the Aranui 3 between islands to visit his mother whom he had not seen in 5 years.

At sea and ashore, dress is always casual – t-shirts or a loose Hawaiian style shirt with shorts and flip flops are standard. You will need a pair of good walking sneakers for shore visits and lightweight hiking boots if you partake of the numerous hiking adventures offered. A disposable rain poncho may be useful. Casual Rodeo-Drive-drag would be cool, but leave your hot, tight jeans back home.

Don’t expect black-tie dinners with the captain. Instead you’ll enjoy the company and service of Jacob and Tare and “Jacob’s girls” dressed in colorful pareos (yes, Tare, too) while enjoying meals with a Polynesian or continental theme. Multi-course lunches and dinners include complimentary wine. If your table is thirsty, feel free to order more.

The Aranui is not the latest luxury “Gargantuan of the Seas” type ship with rock climbing walls, pools big enough to surf in, a food court, and a shopping mall. It’s a freighter and its primary purpose is moving freight. In addition to delivering supplies to, and transporting locally grown and manufactured products from the Marquesas, they offer passengers a unique opportunity to visit areas where few other cruises ever disembark.

April 29 boatsDuring your Aranui cruise, you will see lands and sights that only the tiniest fraction of tourists ever see (for example, the Hawaiian Islands get more visitors in one day than the Marquesan Islands get in a year). The entire population of all the inhabited islands in this archipelago is less than what some of the new mega-cruise ships carry in passengers and crew.

Your schedule might even change based on the time it takes to off- and on-load freight. Oh, the Aranui 3 and its fabulous crew will certainly take care of all your dining and entertainment needs… (and there is a small exercise room, a pool, and a boutique onboard) but if you can’t go two weeks without a spa treatment, this may be roughin’ it.

The Aranui Band provides entertainment. But there are no big-name rock bands or stand-up comedians every night. There is the occasional karaoke opportunity, and you may participate in presentations by noted educators about aspects of the Marquesas Islands (given in French, German and English).

Along with the previously mentioned activities, you’ll find a well-stocked library, a large salon for lounging (and where lectures and next-day activities are presented), a small theatre and other activity rooms.

If you are a heavy user of cell phone or WiFi, get ready for lots of down time. While cruising the Marquesas, in only a few locations will you have cell phone service. Wifi is not much more accessible either. You can legitimately tell the boss that you are off-grid!


Women in the Marquesas often have flowers in their hait.

Some of the sailings of the Aranui feature special events on their calendar. This December’s cruise occurs during the Marquesas Festival celebrating the culture, language and music of the people on the different islands.

As you prepare for your adventure, get cash. The currency of Tahiti and the Marquesas is the French Pacific Franc – XPF – which trades at about 100 to the US dollar. US dollars are not accepted anywhere. And there are few currency exchanges in your ports of call.

Tahiti is very expensive. A lunch for two is easily $70. Most banks in Papeete will exchange currency; some even have ATMs that will accept your US paper money and give you XPF. If not using a machine, you will need your passport. (Note: The vendors on the islands take cash only.)

The primary language is French, however you will hear many locals speaking Tahitian or Marquesan or even dialects of the local languages. But most people do speak some English.

When making your cruise and airline reservations, we recommend using a travel agent who is familiar with international fare construction, particularly if you want to have enroute stopovers.          In all instances, ask the airline agent or your travel agent about published fares between your airport and Tahiti. There may be rates which are significantly lower than point-to-point prices that you can construct yourself using any of the travel websites. Special fares may permit a stopover in California, Hawaii and/or New Zealand.

Three ways to get to the Marquesas from mainland USA:

  1. American Airlines with codeshare partner Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete.
  2. Get yourself to Hawaii on United, Delta, or American, take Hawaiian Airlines to Papeete and cruise on to the Marquesas. (Hawaiian Airlines has a weekly flight only on Saturdays which means you need to go to Tahiti a week in advance for the cruise.)
  3. Delta Airlines connecting with Air France at Los Angeles

If your trip includes a few days in Papeete, we recommend that you spend at least a day in Moorea. Use the Aremiti ferry between the two. Take your Papeete car rental with you on the ferry unless you get an exceptional deal in Moorea. Don’t waste the time picking up a new car. The ferry rate for your car is about $90 US round-trip. Passengers pay about $20 round-trip.

As you explore either Tahiti or Moorea by car, you will discover that bars and restaurants outside the city are quite hidden. There are no blaring signs announcing much of anything. They could use a good PR firm!

On cruise departure day, drop your luggage early at the Aranui, then return your rental car to the Fa’a’ā Airport. The car rental company will bring you back to the ship.If you’re not ready yet, check out the Aranui website for exciting videos and more detailed information.

DV Outrigger tour of Bora Bora

During your stop in Bora Bora you may take an optional outrigger tour around the island and stop several times for a swim.