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On a Freighter Even the Routine is Extraordinary
And the Destinations are Some of the Most Exotic in the World

Mail and Supply Ship


Tahiti to Marquesas
and Austral Islands

Traveling Maps

The lush, jagged volcanic islands of the Marquesas are the most spectacular island chain - yet few tourists have experienced them. You can learn about their beauty, welcoming people, and their mysterious stone tikis by reading the adventures of Paul Gaugin, Herman Melville, Jack London, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Thor Heyerdahl.

In addition to approx. 20 voyages to the Marquesas, the Aranui 5 is also sailing a few times per year to the Austral Islands - the southernmost archipelago, below Tahiti in the Society Group. It is best described as authentic, unspoiled, which is one of the primary reasons to travel to French Polynesia.

The vessel belongs to the Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (CPTM). Built in 2015, it is larger than previous vessel, yet only 126 meters long, so to be able to continue to safely navigate the smaller harbors. Total passenger capacity is 256. On all these sailings, freight operations take place. Aranui Cruise would not be the unique experience promised without this core aspect of its identity.

Interior decor features Marquesan designs, Paul Gauguin prints and original paintings by Erhard Lux, a German artist who lives part-time in Moorea. Suites and Superior Deluxe cabins all have private balconies. Staterooms will be available for single, double or quadruple occupancy. Private bathrooms with showers are included in each guest room.

There are bunk berths for 24 passengers in four Class C dormitory rooms, each with a bathroom and shower. The vessel can also accept up to 45 locals as deck passengers traveling short distance between the islands.

2025 - Schedule and Rates
2026 - Schedule and Rates

On bookings made by December 31, 2024,
a discount promotion is published on all 2026 sailings for all cabins, except Class C dorm, and it cannot be combined with any other discounts:

To Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands, 10%
To Austral Islands, 15%

Traveling Maps
Vessel Accommodations and General Information brochure
Voyage Experience brochure

Registration Form

Three-minute video preview of the adventure
(Click in lower right corner for full screen)

Two Weeks Aboard the Aranui 3 in the South Pacific

A first-hand story by
Walter Brooks

I have traveled to over 100 countries and flown 100,000 miles or more a year for the past decade. I have been railroading during the Malaysian monsoon season, and I have even been highjacked at Uzi machine gun point in Haiti. But no travel trip to date equals the two weeks I just spent aboard a freighter sailing through the Marquesas in French Polynesia.

I always wondered if there were still any of those old tramp steamers plying the trade routes of the world to out-of-the way places without airports or roads like I read about in my misspent youth. Was there such a trip still available, or had I waited too long?

The Aranui, meaning 'The Great Highway' in Maori, operates under the French flag, and her crew are all Polynesian, primarily Marquesans. It serves as the primary transportation and supply link to the Marquesas Islands located north of Tahiti.

This working freighter is the lifeline for these faraway islands. It accommodates about 200 passengers of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities while delivering cargo to some of the most remote islands on earth. Many passengers are islanders returning home by deck passage. While it is a very livable vessel, the experience is not for travelers looking for glamour or glitz.

You go along for the ride to watch the tattooed crew sling sacks of copra (dried coconuts) and oil drums by day, and strum ukuleles on the port deck by night. The Aranui offers an authentic taste of Polynesian life at sea and the rare opportunity to visit these islands like a native.

Despite no advertising budget, the Aranui is booked up long in advance due to the glowing write-ups it receives in the international press. It has been featured in South Seas documentaries as well as motion pictures, including Warren Beatty's 1994 film Love Affair (images below) and in the PBS travelogue In Search of Paradise.

Week One

After two days sightseeing in Tahiti, we boarded this wonderful and colorful freighter. For the next three days, except for a stop at the Takapoto atoll, we sailed through the calm waters of the South Pacific to the Marquesas islands nearly a thousand sea miles north of Papeete, Tahiti. Our first port of call was Ua Pou where our initial view was clouds wreathing the peak of Oave. This volcano rises 4,000 feet above the sea and dominates the skyline as we explore the little village of Hakahau and eat a Marquesan lunch of breadfruit, rock lobster and native delicacies like raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. Next we hiked through the town to a lookout and visited the local grammar school on the way back down.

The next port of call was Taiohae on Nuku Hiva, the administrative center of the Marquesas, where we were taken on a Land Rover jaunt through the mountains. This is the only island with any air connection from a tiny airport which is a one-hour, bone-jarring jeep ride through the mountains to the only spot flat enough for a small airstrip. The airport gets its fuel from the Aranui. Oil drums are ferried to shore in our ship's small whale boats which later return to ferry us ashore as well.

Approaching this island from downwind, the air is thick with fragrant scent of tiare and frangipani. It was here that a young Herman Melville, of New Bedford, MA, deserted his whaling ship, and fled to the Taipivai Valley. His stay with the cannibal Taipi tribe was the basis for his famous novel Typee, which was his misspelling of Taiohae.

The next day we arrived on Hiva Oa and explored Atuona, the second largest village in the Marquesas where Paul Gauguin lived and painted until his death in 1903. A short hike uphill leads to Gauguin's grave which is next to that of Jacques Brel, the Belgium songwriter, who also lived on this island.

Later the same day we set sail for the tiny village of Vaitahu, in Tahuata, where Spanish explorers first landed in 1595. Two centuries later came the missionary to whom the generous local chief gave his wife with instructions that he treats her as his own wife. The missionary fled the next day.

Week Two

By our eighth day we reached the lushest and most remote island, Fatu Hiva, which is formed from two extinct volcanoes. Our next stop was Omoa where Herman Melville also spent enough time to get the idea for his novel Omoo which was his phonetic spelling of the native word for this island.

The next day the Aranui returned to the opposite side of Hiva Oa where we visited the most important archaeological site for tiki, statues representing ancestors. The only other place these tiki exist is on Easter Island.

Our next island, Ua Huka, has 2,000 wild horses. The locals round up one only when they need it. We were provided with wooden saddles and spent the day crossing this island's mountains, including a stop at a horticultural institution.

On our return voyage to Tahiti, we spent two full days at sea before reaching one of the world's largest atolls, Rangiroa, where we took the whaleboats to a picnic on a golden beach and also swam and snorkeled. It would be difficult for even as wide-eyed an enthusiast as myself to exaggerate the joys of this exotic voyage. The local guides aboard were brilliant and insightful while the crew made us feel like friends and neighbors. This is FRENCH Polynesia, so the food has a French Provincial influence. Every meal is a delight, running the gamut from haute cuisine to local Marquesan dishes. All were superb."

How To Get There

The Air Tahiti Nui, of French Polynesia, flies direct from Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and Auckland. Check also Air France and Qantas. For lodging, check Trip Advisor's Best Hotel Deals. If you plan to stay for a couple of days, you may wish to stay near the beach, otherwise chose a hotel in or near the town, Papeete, to be close to the docks.

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Freighter Specialty Cruises
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