The most remote archipelago in the world, the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands have long been an inspiration for artists, writers and adventurers who come for the region’s wild beauty and cultural heritage. Aranui 3, the only ship to sail the 2,200 mile round trip from Papeete to all six inhabited islands in the Marquesas archipelago, has just released its 2012 and 2013 dates and prices, including some special discounts.
Departing every three weeks, all year round, the Aranui 3’s 14-day adventure cruise follows in the footsteps of Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, to name just a few of its famous visitors. Famous 19th century French artist, Paul Gaugin, painted his last picture on Hiva Oa and is buried in Calvaire cemetery overlooking Atuona, capital of the south Marquesas group. The Paul Gaugin Cultural Centre was opened in 2003 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the painter’s death and features numerous reproductions of his work and writing from his famous Tahitian period.
American writer, Herman Melville, best known for writing Moby Dick, was held by a group of notorious cannibals in 1842 in the deep Bay of Taipivai on the island of Nuku Hiva. He escaped his captors to tell the tale in his first book, the best seller ‘Typee’. And in 1888, on the north side of the same island, Robert Louis Stevenson landed at Hatiheu on his voyage on the Casco. His impressions of the islands are recorded in the classic 19th century travel book, ‘In the South’Seas’.
Aranui 3 offers travel in comfort. Doubling as a cozy passenger ship as well as a cargo carrier, she features 86 fully air-conditioned cabins (including 10 large suites with balconies) and can carry over 2000 tons of freight. Two comfortable lounges, a swimming pool and gym and a full programme of lectures on Marquesan history, culture and art are all part of the experience. English is widely spoken onboard and all presentations are given in English and French.
The vessel, which has been in operation since 2003 delivers regular supplies from bulldozers and beer to boats and brake pads to the islands’ remote valleys, some of which are totally secluded and have no road access to the main villages.
While the ship’s crew loads and unloads cargo at each island destination, passengers are taken ashore by wooden whaleboat or barge and welcomed by locals with flower garlands, dancing and music. Four-wheel drive jeeps driven by locals then take participants on spectacular safaris over the mountains to explore mysterious, unspoiled jungles and to experience the fascinating and individual culture of each of the islands.
Highlights of the voyage include the restored Me'ae Te Iipona in Puamau, one of the most significant ancient temples in French Polynesia, famous for the largest stone tiki in the region after the mysterious figures on Easter Island. Visitors are also impressed by the plethora of traditional handicrafts being kept alive within the islands, such as the tapa cloth on Fatu Hiva, which is produced by islanders from tree bark and painted with the designs that their ancestors wore as tattoos.
Prices for 2012 start from £3100 (Euros 3511) per person sharing a standard twin bedded outside cabin with private facilities including all meals with wine, all land-based sightseeing excursions and taxes. However, during 2012, three departures on board the freighter-cum-passenger ship are being offered at a 10% discount: 17 March, 9 June and, for seniors aged over 60 only, 22 September, bringing the starting price down to £2805 (Euros 3183) per person sharing a twin cabin. For those planning ahead to 2013, there is a 10% early booking discount on sailings between January and March 2013 for bookings received by 31 December 2011.
Flights to/from Papeete, Tahiti are not included in these prices. Air France and Air Tahiti Nui fly to Papeete (via Paris and Los Angeles), with prices from around £1750 pp return.