A May 2005 trip
to Marquesas Islands by RSchoettger
Quote: The Marquesas Islands are noted for being the most remote islands in the world. This isolation has left this paradise in a state of what we all envision the South Pacific to be: beautiful, peaceful, friendly locals, and incredible natural wonders. The best way to see them: cargo ship!
To experience the wonderful way of life and stunning scenery, the only way to see these islands is on the cargo ship Aranui 3. Although traditional cruise lines are beginning to stop at two ports, the Aranui 3 drops anchor at 19, all unique and wonderful.
Every 3 weeks, the Aranui 3 departs Tahiti with cargo and usually around 100 to 120 passengers for a 16-day cruise. After a day on an island in the Tuamotu’s, the Aranui 3 stops at 6 different islands in the Marquesas. As the hearty, friendly crew works the cargo at each stop, passengers go on shore to soak up the area. Upon returning to Papeete, the ship stops at another coral island of Tuamotu. Each stop proved marvelously different, but my favorites are:
1) Hanavave, Fatu Hiva: I consider this paradise, called Bay of Virgins, one of the most dramatic and striking ports of call anywhere. The spectacular sun-lit spires and rugged shoreline cast a magical spell. The shore visit was special, as the friendly 750 locals see outsiders only once every 3 weeks. There is no other way to get here, as it is the most isolated island.
2) Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva: Within this crescent-shaped haven lies a rugged shoreline with nothing but what nature provides: beaches, palm trees, and quiet! The ship provides a picnic and ample time to roam the bay. There is no other easy way to get here, as there are no roads.
3) Ua Pou: The most rugged island, we stopped at two ports, Hakahau and Hakahetau. Inland lies several remarkable, large spires that kiss the clouds that constantly hang about. We had opportunities here to hike to several spots and eat up the view.
4) The locals were the heart of the trip. Besides being very talented in crafts, (wood carving, tapa’s, and more), they showed us their traditional ways of life with several native dances and fantastic dishes. We were told that this is becoming less of a practice as the islands become more modernized - so go now!
2) There is some swimming/diving, but it’s not special. There are very steep volcanic shorelines with bad currents. The Tuamotu stops are exception.
3) Go anytime. It’s green and humid in winter and dry and brown in summer, with little variance in temperature year-round. The Aranui 3 always running to get much-needed cargo to and from the islands.
4) There are a variety of cabins. They range from "dorm" style and basic cabins to suites. Some suites have nice balconies and go around ,900 per person.
5) Do NOT expect typical cruise service. The Aranui 3 crew is much friendlier. Take time to be with them during sailing. The ship serves one set meal at lunch and dinner, along with a simple buffet breakfast. The crew arranges most of the on-shore visits.
6) Sit back and enjoy what the South Pacific SHOULD be like.
7) You do not have to be in great shape, although they do offer several walks that require good health. One walk is 10 miles across rough terrain.
If you do not go with the Aranui 3, you can fly into the capital Taiohae, Nuka Hiva, and stay at a nice hotel, but you are limited to that island, with small flights to a few more. The only way to see all the islands is on the Aranui 3, and seeing Fatu Hiva is definitely worth it!
The company decided many years ago to start including passengers and now are able to support in excess of 150, although they average under 120. This ship has been on the seas for about 2.5 years and is in great shape.
The ship was quite comfortable, but certainly not your glitzy cruise liner. We stayed in a suite with a balcony and really enjoyed the large space and ability to sit and relax directly outside the room. They had drinking fountains outside in the hall with good drinking water that is desalinated and filtered from ocean water.
There are four crew members who are directly responsible for the passenger activities. They did a great job working the multi-language crowd (French being the most predominant as it is a French cargo boat). They planned most of the island activities, which turned out good as there are few options anyway. They also gave us plenty of time to shop and go on our own. We never felt we were short of time at any port.
The food was good, but only one choice at lunch and dinner unless you were requiring a special meal. They had a bar at the back, but as with other things in French Polynesia, it was expensive.
A nice plus that is unique to the Aranui 3 is that the cargo crew gets involved with the passengers. Besides befriending passengers, they had a band which performed at the bar with traditional music (and were quite good!). They were also fun to watch working the cargo--very skilled.
One of the more awkward items is that most of the islands do not have piers. The Aranui would anchor off shore and we would need to load into wooden whale boats. Not always an easy thing to do. Several bruises and actually someone had a badly injured leg due to a poorly planned wave.
I would consider this an excellent soft adventure that actually brings out the best of the South Pacific. It is also somewhat affordable. Check out their website and go!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 19, 2005
As the trip moved forward, talking with the crew and seeing the true history behind tattoos in the South Pacific, I became quickly interested. The Marquesas Islands are historically one of the true artistic tattoo centers in the world, where it is more appreciated as an art and is rich in culture and tradition.
So, being over 50 and having little concern with the pressures of measuring up to my current job and life in general, my wife and I took the plunge! She always wanted one anyway.
One afternoon while at sea on the Aranui, they announced that they are taking reservations for one of the best artists, or tuhuna, in the South Pacific at a port on the tiny, remote island of Tahuata. With only 3 hours on shore, they were limited, but they never before had more than two or three takers. Not this time! Over eight people were interested as we wrestled for position. For those who did not make the list on Tahuata, the Aranui offered another opportunity while at port in Nuka Hiva with another tahuna.
Fortunately, my wife and I were picked to get a tattoo from Fati Fi’I, one of the South Pacific’s finest tahunas. As we arrived at the port town of Vaitahu, Tahuata, we were quickly whisked off the ship on the whale boat and made shore. Within a 5-minute walk, we were at a small house that was need of much repair. Both my wife and I looked at each other and wondered if this was wise!
The only thing that actually kept us there was that we were third and fourth in line and watched as the first gentlemen had his tattoo done. In watching, it was a relief to see that Fati took many precautions, such as disposable gloves and needles, and executed great care in applying the tattoo. In addition, the final result was wonderful and very detailed.
My wife went first since she had always wanted one. She asked for something to represent happiness, and in about 20 minutes, Fati completed a wonderful wheel design on the back of her right shoulder. I followed with what I wanted to represent: traveler. He put a Marquesian Cross with water on my left upper arm, which turned out fantastic. He first drew the art in a red marker and asked for approval before continuing. What was surprising was that it really did not hurt that bad, and before I knew it, it was done.
Two tattoos applied: $100. Marquesas tattoo: Priceless.
The only minor problem was that we could not go into the salt water for about 5 days. We missed a couple of beaches, but we ended up being extremely happy with the result. There was no infection from anyone on the trip. I think about this always and enjoy the thought that I can actually take this to my grave!!
So, my recommendation is: If you truly collect art from around the world, it is a mistake to not get a tattoo by a leading tuhuna in the Marquesas Islands. As we did, you can find many places on the body to make this a memorable piece of art! This is one of the best things I have ever done.
Omoa: After sailing from Hiva Oa overnight, we arose the next morning anchored several meters off shore near the township of Omoa, Fatu Hiva. Using the whaleboats, Omoa was one of the roughest trips to shore, as the coast was rough and the get-off point is located among the rocks. It was fascinating watching the crew strategically wait for the heavy swell to shift while coordinating the lifting of the chained cargo from a flat boat to shore using a small Caterpillar. It often took three or four times to actually get the cargo ashore.
Once on land, we walked about 10 easy minutes along the coast to the town center, admiring the dramatic shoreline within a small bay surrounded by shell of an old volcanic crater. Upon arriving at the center, we went to a small handicrafts market geared towards the passengers of the Aranui 3, who arrive every 3 weeks. This was one of the best locations in the Marquesas to buy crafts, as their artwork is superb. Here is one of the better places to buy quality tapa cloths, a Marquesas custom of stripping the bark from a variety of trees, then pound, soften, and roll out prior to an artist applying a local dyed pattern. In addition, they are known for the wood carvings and shell jewelry.
What made this so special was the serene, gorgeous setting and absolutely wonderful locals who greeted us very kindly. The Aranui crew pointed out that these people have more of the traditional Marquesan way of life than the other islands, again due to their isolation.
Vanavave: Upon returning to the ship from Omoa and having lunch, we embarked along the western Fatu Hiva shoreline and enjoyed the dramatic crevices and cliffs indenting the island. Timing is everything, as we are in the later parts of the afternoon, as the sun is shining along the coast and casting wonderful shadows. In only 30 minutes we came to Vanavave.
Originally, due to tall pillars or basalt spires among a plantation of coconut tress, the early explorers called this location "Baie des Verges" or Bay of the Phalli (rather obvious reasons!). The missionaries followed and promptly added one letter to the name: "Baie des Vierges," or Bay of Virgins, therefore resulting in the more common, but inappropriate name.
After taking quite a few pictures, we set ashore and walked easily towards the inland valley through town, which lasted only about 15 minutes one way. Amongst the simple homes along the single cement road were beautiful gardens full of hibiscus, red ginger, jasmine, and gardenias. Several more basalt pillars rose around the village, which offered constant dramatic vistas. The very friendly locals provided some entertainment with dances, and as in most spots, offered their artwork.
After getting back to the Aranui, timing was such that my wife and I were offered a unique trip on the whaleboat around Vanavave Bay to watch the sun reflect on the island as it was setting. (We were lucky that a professional photographer was onboard for a magazine and requested this). I think I have said this enough, but the beauty was breathtaking, and for more than 45 minutes, we lazily circled the bay and watched as the island changed colors from yellow to pink to red. Wow!
We spent one day on the island of Fatu Hiva, but we will never forget the people, scenery, and adventure.
Our visit started with a beautiful sunrise while we were within the enclosed bay completely protected from the ocean. After breakfast, all passengers and crew went ashore via the trusty whale boats for a shore landing. Since it was Sunday, it was nice to have the crew also relax and join us for an entire day while we explored the area. One of the great assets of the Aranui 3 is the openness between the passengers and crew which added pleasure to the experience.
Once landing on shore, several of us proceeded on a hike along the entire length of the shoreline and up and over a small hill to Haatuatua Bay and its archaeological site. As if out of Jurassic Park (better back drop than the movie!), this site contains some of the oldest artifacts dating to around 95 BC, which when discovered recently, completely startled historians and has revolutionized some of the theories for how the entire South Pacific was settled. Although I appreciated this, I still savored the landscape with its windswept isolation and dramatic volcanic presence.
Once we returned along the 1.5 miles of unspoiled beaches to the picnic site, many enjoyed relaxing by swimming and snorkeling. There are not many places in the Marquesas for swimming and since Anaho Bay is so enclosed (no rip tides) and uninhabited (no sewage as in some ports), the swimming was excellent. We also enjoyed a very good meal prepared by the Aranui chef, such as local dishes of Poisson Cru (raw fish in coconut milk), octopus and banana pudding, among other "normal" items as barbequed chicken, fish and pork. During the meal, and for some time afterwards, the crew brought out their musical instruments and sang many native tunes. They were actually quite good.
For about 1 hour I sat on the beach and gazed about this place and hoped it never changed. Already two new 1,600-passenger cruise lines are starting to frequent Nuku Hiva (although in the capital of Taiohae) and I am concerned that places as this will soon become "civilized"--I really hope not. As Robert Louis Stevenson stated upon his trip here on the schooner, the Casco, in 1888: "I have watched the morning break in many quarters of the world, and the dawn that I saw with most emotion shone upon the bay of Anaho."
San Diego, California