A Journey to Pitcairn on the Aranui 5
As a team of French Polynesian specialists, we are constantly driven by our passion of the destination to discover new areas that are unfamiliar, to experience untouched islands that make up some of the more remote Tahitian archipelagos. Recently, Alain Bernard, president of Tahiti Legends, had such an opportunity with the renowned Aranui Cruises. Intrigued by the unique itinerary and the allure of visiting Pitcairn, he decided to embark on a 2-week adventure through the Tuamotu, Gambier and Austral Islands.
Alain has traveled to the Tahitian islands for well over thirty years and is exceptionally well-versed and knowledgeable when it comes to the many different islands that comprise this destination. Upon his return, it was evident that the Aranui cruise had transformed his view of the islands and left him with a renewed passion for not only the destination, but the people and the culture of these islands as well. Read on below for his testimony of his time aboard the Aranui 5:
The Aranui is quite a unique cruise ship in that it is a working cargo ship and a cruise ship all at once. On most itineraries, you get the chance to visit the Marquesas and other islands and experience a unique immersion into the culture of each island. On this specific itinerary, we visited the even more remote islands of Pitcairn; Anaa, Amanu, and Mangareva in the Gambiers; Rapa and Raivavae in the Austral Islands.
As the cargo ship to the outer islands, it is a momentous occasion for these remote islands when the ship arrives into port. Schools and businesses close and the entire island seems to come out to welcome you with flowers, song, dance and genuine joy. It is a welcome unlike any other I have ever received. Each welcome is coordinated with the Aranui and it is apparent how well the cruise connects with the locals. The port welcomes at each island were a true delight and the joy of the residents was contagious!
Pitcairn was a truly astounding place to visit. The tiny island is a British territory located thousands of miles from the nearest continent, and is only accessible by sea. The island juts dramatically out of the water with sheer cliffs and lush vegetation. The ship had to anchor away from the island and all guests were taken ashore by smaller barges. The choppy seas made for quite an interesting disembarkation as the barge moved with the constant swells of the ocean. Luckily, with a crew of very experienced, skilled and strong Polynesians, even the weariest of sea-goers felt at ease. As we neared Pitcairn, you could feel the myths and the history that this rugged island contains swirling around you. Although we didn’t spend too much time on the island, we did get the chance to meet a few of the locals (this island is 3 square miles with just 40 residents!) and view some of the historical artifacts such as the anchor and cannons from The Bounty.
Overall, the Aranui Cruise was a remarkable experience that I would highly recommend! The rooms onboard the ship were comfortable, the food was excellent and the staff is Polynesian which made you feel as if you were truly immersed in the Polynesian culture. As someone who is very used to French Polynesia, I continued to find myself pleasantly surprised at what a unique experience I found this to be. The staff was very well-trained and prepared and knew how to expertly handle transport to these outer islands. And the people of each island were so incredibly happy, proud of their homes and very easy to have a conversation with.
I’ll leave you with one last experience that really stuck with me upon my return home. When we traveled to the island of Rapa, thirty children boarded the ship to travel to the main island of Tahiti for an indoor soccer tournament. As they stood on the dock saying goodbye to family and friends, everyone broke out into song. For more than thirty minutes the children and families sang to each other before boarding. The genuine emotion behind the songs was palpable. Once the children boarded the Aranui 5, they began to sing from the ship’s decks while the families responded in song from the dock. As the ship pulled away, they continued to sing to each other. It was an amazing thing to witness! When we began to pull into the port on Tahiti, I heard Polynesian music and realized that the children were singing as we were coming in to dock. As we neared the dock, there was a crowd of family members waiting for the children, singing in anticipation of their arrival. We slowly made our way into the port and as I sat there on our terrace and listened to the voices of the Polynesian children and their families envelop me, I realized that this could not be a more appropriate ending to my time onboard. The Aranui really is Polynesian cultural immersion at its best.