Explore the South Sea islands on Aranui 3 – Freighter to Paradise

Actor, writer, broadcaster and avid world traveller, Morris Paton and I are passionate about escaping city crowds to experience off the beaten track,  cultural, laid back adventures. This is a seafaring Adventure with a capital A to a Dream Destination.


Aranui 3 is a freighter supply ship operating around the outer archipelago of French Polynesia but fortunately for us, she has accommodation for around 200 passengers.  While the ship has most of the facilities of a standard expeditition vessel (restaurant, pool, gym, lounge and library), the ambience is all very basic and casual: the rare opportunity to take part in the preserved authentic life and work of the native Polynesian people creates a unique cruise experience.

The name Aranui means “The Great Highway” in Maori. The first Aranui vessel was purchased in 1959 from a New Zealand shipowner to serve as a vital lifeline link for the Marquesas island communities.  She was later replaced by the larger Aranui 2 to transport more cargo and and also increase the number of guests.  In 2000 Aranui 3 was purpose built as a freighter and passenger vessel; accommodating up to 200 guests she is now classified as a Passenger ship. thus adhering to all safety at sea procedures.


The Aranui 3  sets sail from  Papeete, the capital port of Tahiti on regular 14 night voyages to visit the remote Marquesas Islands: the names are just so poetic and lyrical: Hakahau, Taiohae,  Atuona and the remote atoll communities of Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.

Scottish novelist, poet and world travelling nomad,  Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island and Kidnapped), set sail from San Francisco on 28 June, 1888, chartering a 90 ft masted Schooner, the Casco, to set sail for the South Seas.  Accompanied by his wife Fanny and his mother Margaret, skipper and crew,  he was in search of a warm climate for his health and a literary journey to inspirational foreign lands and culture.

Casco Schooner chartered by RLS for his South Pacific adventure

Casco Schooner chartered by RLS for his South Pacific adventure

He had long been “sick with desire to go there”  having heard about ” the beautiful places, men and women with red flowers in their hair and nothing to do but sit in the sun and pick up the fruits as they fall.”

After several weeks at sea on 28th July the magical moment arrived when land was finally sighted – the island of Nuku Hiva.

‘I slept that night on deck upon the cockpit bench. A stir at last awoke me, to see all the eastern heaven dyed with faint orange, the binnacle lamp already dulled against the brightness of the day, the steersman leaning eagerly across the wheel. “There it is, sir!” he cried, and pointed in the very eyeball of the dawn.   For a while I could see nothing but the bluish ruins of the morning bank, which lay far along the horizon, like melting icebergs. Then the sun rose, pierced a gap in these debris of vapours, and displayed an inconsiderable islet, flat as a plate upon the sea, and spiked with palms of disproportioned altitude”
” The first experience can never be repeated, Stevenson wrote in his book, In the South Seas, ” the first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea Island are memories apart and touched by a virginity of sense.”
RLS and Fanny in the Marquesas islands, 1889

RLS and Fanny in the Marquesas islands, 1888

Stevenson was smitten by the “childlike” people and primitive lifestyle which suited his wild, Bohemian character,  and for three years he explored the South Pacific from the Marquesas and Polynesia to Hawaii, Tonga and on to Samoa where he finally settled and passed away in December, 1894.
aranui map
Follow in Stevenson’s footsteps and the wake of the Casco on board Aranui 3, and you too can experience  a (shorter!),  island hopping  itinerary, travelling across the Pacific for around 800 miles to cruise this unspoilt, lush green tropical archipelago.
Huku Niva

Nuku Hiva

Arriving in Nuku Hiva is indeed a wondrous sight, with its craggy mountains and fabulous waterfalls. This is where Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick), jumped his whaling ship in 1842.
Having escaped conventional French society for a free-living existance,  Paul Gauguin found his artistic paradise on Hiva Oa to paint his masterpieces of the flower-garlanded women and picturesque seascapes.
Gauguin - his paradise islands

Gauguin – his paradise islands

Here you can visit his simple grave in a secluded tranquil spot.
gauguin grave
The daily routine is relaxed and carefree.  While the crew deliver essential supplies and pick up sacks of Copra (dried coconut),  noni fruit and pearl shells, guests can explore the islands, which have no roads, cars or tourists.  Excursions vary in time from a few hours to a full day, depending on the port authorities and cargo deliveries.
Cargo supplies to the islanders

Cargo supplies to the islanders

Stepping ashore,  you will have the opporunity to meet the local people, artists, wood craftsmen, fishermen, view archaeological ruins and religious statues, walk through the jungle, ride Marquesan horses, or snorkel in aquamarine lagoons.

music and dance, the lifeblood of the Marquesas

music and dance, the lifeblood of the Marquesas

Along the way, sample local produce – rock lobster, raw fish marinated in coconut milk, curried goat, breadfruit and sweet red bananas.

Entertainment is laid back and fun from a troupe of Polynesian musicians om board, as well as informative with lectures by an expert on Marquesan history, art and culture.

The traditional art of the Marquesan tattoo

The traditional art of the Marquesan tattoo

“For 14 days we have seen no other ship, no other tourist. We have been at sea alone with nature and the people of Polynesia in the immensity of the Pacific aboard the Copra Trader to the outer isles.”    Guest on board Aranui 3

Tender boats to explore the remote islands

Tender boats to explore the remote islands

In order to illustrate this magical voyage on board the Aranui, I was accompanied by a professional fillm-maker to shoot a travelogue Video.  With local music and the sound of the sea, it captures the scenic beauty, culture, heritage – the fascinating legacy of tribal ancestry and authentic Marquesan island life.   Rather than trying to describe these painterly Gauginesque seascape just in words, the film is wonderfully evocative and captures the spirit of the people and place.

Watch the Movie:  The file is too large to add here on this website but if you would like a sneak preview of life on board Aranui 3,  please contact me.

Facts Box –

The Freighter and Passenger Ship:  Aranui 3-  sails under a French flag with a crew who are mainly from French Polynesia and Marquesas Islands.

Cruise Line:  Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime.  For full information on itineraries and reservations:   www.aranui.com

Accommodation – Suite, Deluxe, Standard, and “Class C” cabins.  Suites and Deluxe are large outside cabins (some Suites with a balcony), queen-size beds,  refrigerator, bathroom with a tub.  Standard Cabins are outside cabins with two lower berths, shower-room.  Class C  is a dormitory-style room with upper and lower berths, air-conditioning, and shared facilities.


Facilities:  Dining room, Pool,  Sunbathing deck, Gym, Bar, Lounges, Laundry & laundry service, Internet terminal, Boutique.

aranui pool

Dining:  Meals are served in the spacious dining room with an informal setting for buffet breakfast,  open-seating lunch and dinner. Complimentary wine is served during lunch and dinner. While on shore, guests are sometimes provided with lunch at local restaurants or delicious picnics.   Guest lounge open 24 hours a day with coffee and tea station, as well as the Bar for beverages available to purchase.

aranui dining

Itinerary:  14 day voyage year round. See departure dates on the website.

Shore excursions:  a tender boat takes guests ashore where necessary; island walks and archeological tours, swimming and snorkelling, local arts & culture.

What to pack:  shorts, light, loose trousers, kaftans, T-shirts, bathing suit, rain poncho /waterproof coat, sweatshirt or light sweater, comfortable deck and beach shoes. The native “pareo” is a colourful cotton sarong which is very practical to wear as a skirt, dress, shawl and beach cover up.  Pareos can be purchsed in Tahiti and at the ship’s boutique.  Ensure you bring sufficient medication if required and personal toiletries/cosmetics.

What to buy:  Polynesian pearls, handcrafts, jewellery, pareos, artwork, engraved prints, paintings;  get a traditional tattoo!

Travel Plan:  Cruise only fares or arrange a Fly /Land/Cruise package. Flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti via Air Tahiti Nui; most guests will arrange a pre/post cruise hotel in Papeete, or extend the vacation in French Polynesia with additional nights in Bora Bora and/or Moorea.

Tahiti Tourism: official website for Flights, hotels and travel information to visit Tahiti and Her Islands.  www.tahiti-tourisme.co.uk


The majestic landscape

The majestic landscape


It would be wise to arrange an organised trip to explore these remote Polynesian islands of the South Pacific.!

Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo, the coral Tokelau islands, lie 300 miles north of Samoa. On 25 November, 2010, three teenage boys who went missing from Atafu Atoll in a 12 ft boat were found safe after fifty days during which they had drifted 800 miles away across the Pacific. Filo Filo, Samu Perex and Edward Nassau had left the atoll in the Tokelau Islands after a school event on 5 October to visit a neighbouring island and had been given up for dead after unsuccessful searches.
A Fijian tuna fishing trawler spotted the boat by chance having strayed off their usual shipping route, to find the severely dehydrated and sunburnt boys on board. They had lived on coconuts, collected rainwater in a tarpaulin and managed to catch flying fish and kill a sea bird. Their rescue came just in time when it stopped raining and they began sipping seawater. Their families, friends and residents of their village cried and shouted with happiness after hearing the news regarding it as true religious miracle. After being taken to Samoa, they are due to set off home on 16 December by way of a two day boat journey back to their Atafu island home.






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