When you think of Tahiti, most people conjure up exotic images of Bora Bora and the gorgeous peeks and atolls of the Society Islands. Tahiti is a lot more both geographically and culturally than these popular islands that 95% of tourists visit.
In square miles over the ocean, Tahiti is as large as Western Europe. It has 121 islands and atolls with 75 islands inhabited. Many of these little islands can have villages of just a few hundred people. The capital and the largest island is called Tahiti.
Visiting the outer island is not easy. It can mean catching a weekly small airplane, taking a ferry service that does not run often, or boarding an uncomfortable freighter for a couple of days. Then when arriving, finding a hotel or guest house to your standards could be a problem. Boating through this area requires good seamanship and care. This is because you will be in large sections of open water followed by hidden reefs near the atolls.
In 1984 the Aranui Cruise Company converted its freighter to accommodate passengers who wished to cruise to the remote Marquesas Islands. The idea was that visitors can see these unspoiled places while freight was being loaded and unloaded.
Aranui V is a Different Looking Cruise Ship
This winter I left the skippering to the captain of the Aranui V. This ship was built in 2015. It can carry 230 passengers and 2700 tons of freight. Her profile is different from any vessel. From mid-ship to stern she looks like a typical small cruise ship. There are nine decks of cabins, a bar, spa, entertainment areas, dining room, sun decks, and a small pool.
When looking at the Aranui V mid-ship forward, it is all commercial. There are two large cranes, storage in the hull, and areas to stack shipping containers and vehicles. The two “passenger barges” that act as the ship’s tenders are stored here.
The Aranui V does 25 cruises a year. Most of them are to the Marquesas Islands for their freight and passenger runs. Visiting these islands can be a unique experience few visit.
The Polynesian Experience
The Aranui V is a good four-star ship. What it does well is give a five-star Polynesian experience with its all-Tahitian crew. Guest’s immersion into Polynesian culture can include lessons on the ukulele, singing, and Ori Tahiti dance. What we did not know was that while we were taking lessons, the crew was prepping us for an all-guest show near the end of the cruise. (I actually sang in Polynesian, showing that travel does open you up to new experiences!)
Music was a highlight aboard. Happy hour was always lively with Tahitian music sung and played on the ukulele, bongos, and guitar. Anytime there was music playing, the staff both on and off duty could be heard singing in the background.
During our days at sea, a Ph.D. in Polynesian studies gave three lectures. This covered migration, language, and the shared culture of the people of the Polynesian islands. These islands ranged geographically south from New Zealand and north to Hawaii with several other island nations to the west.
Culture also continued at some of the islands we visited. Hereafter landing, passengers would be met by a warm welcome and a lei, flowered head cover, or a neckless of shells. Afterward, there would be local dancing. Each island also offered its own style of dance and handicraft.
Guest’s cultural immersion also included food.
While the ships’ food had limited choices, the islands were different with beachside BBQs and Tahitian buffets.
Meals here were a combination of salads and vegetables from the ship with the locals cooking up fish, breads, pork, clams, and local specialties. The best lunch was a “ma’a Tahiti”, or a banquet cooked in a pit (See the island of Aukena below)
To complete your Polynesian experience, guests can sign on with the ship’s tattoo artist and bring home a permanent piece of their art.
Aranui’s Special Cruise Pitcairn
Twice a year the Aranui V runs a special cruise with its furthest destination being Pitcairn Island. The Pitcairn cruise is considered “special” because the ship cannot carry freight to the islands visited due to licensing restrictions. For these cruises, the ship runs as a passenger ship.
Mutiny of the Bounty’s Pitcairn Island
Pitcairn Island is infamous for a few reasons. First, it was where the mutineers of the HMAV Bounty and their Tahitian cohorts settled. The other being that Pitcairn is considered the most remote island in the world. (Some say that Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic is the more remote, while others say that island is 247 miles from the scientifically staffed island of Gough making Pitcairn number one)
It was on January 15, 1790, that nine mutineers of the Bounty along with eleven Tahitian women and six men landed on this uninhabited island. Each mutineer took one woman as a wife while the six Tahitian men had to share the three remaining women. This was a bad beginning that got worse in a short time.
Morning in Pitcairn
Our arrival at Pitcairn was met with a beautiful blue sky highlighting the jagged cliffs and green hills. It was made better with a mother whale and her calve breaching out of the water on our port side.
Pitcairn is an impressive 2.8 square miles made up of jungle, cliffs, peaks, and the hamlet of Adamstown. While it is only two miles long by one mile wide, it seems to be much larger when you are on the island.
Boaters coming ashore have to heed the five-foot swells when boarding the tenders. This is done through timing, patience, and a little manhandling by the excellent mariners that worked well. Tenders tie up at the manmade cove at Bounty Bay where the ship was burned.
At Bounty Bay, you arrived at the very steep “Hill of Difficulty” as the mutineers named it. People with walking issues were given rides on the back of the residents ’ATVs (quads). The scenic 15-minute steep climb took us to Adamstown, named after the last survivor of the mutiny.
Adamstown is the third smallest populated capital having 47 people during our visit. The village has a church, town hall, post office, museum, small store, and dirt roads with directional signs leading to all points on the Pitcairn. In the village, you will find the Bounty anchor, a cannon, and near the museum on the corner of a private house is 75% of the Bounty’s bell.
Tourism is 60% of their economy from the dozen ships that stop here each year. In Adamstown, we found over a dozen residents that set up a market in front of their food store. This store is closed when a ship calls on the island. This is because they don’t want their stocks reduced by non-islanders due to shipments being limited by freighters every few months.
Pitcairn’s residence market consisted of tables with wood carvings, handcrafted jewelry, their famous honey as well as HMAV Bounty-themed shirts of all types. The post office and one resident sold postage stamps the island is known for.
Before a group lunch in the plaza, the mayor of Pitcairn welcomed us. Afterward, passengers separated to either hike one of the many dirt roads, shop, or take a tour of the island. Like many passengers, we elected to take a tour. We chose the seventh-generation islander “Pirate Pawl”. For his tour, we passed on the very bumpy ATV and used his small 4X4 Toyota.
Pawl took us to scenic overlooks as well as the highest peak on the island. At one point we were able to see over 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean and the occasional whale.
Touring with Pawl we did miss a few key places like Christian’s Cliff, St. Paul’s Pond, and the sole Galapagos tortoise because his 4X4 could not go where the ATVs could. We found Pitcairn beautiful and fertile with so many edible things growing on trees that you can never go hungry while walking around.
After the tour, it was off to Pirate Pawl’s “Whale Tooth Tavern” which bills itself as the world’s most remote tavern. While having two beers Pawl displayed some metal pieces taken off the sunk Bounty. He was also proud to show his self-made prosthetic thumb tip while he played the ukulele. If you ask him how he lost his thumb, your answer will surprise you. Before leaving the Whale Tooth Tavern, he poured us a shot of Tequila using a large whale’s tooth as a shot glass. The man is larger than life.
Part two in the next issue of Long Island Boating World will have day two in Pitcairn Island along with what it was like to cruise to five Tahitian islands few visit. There will also be a description of the Aranui V.
Tab Hauser when not being captain of www.glencovecruises.com in the summer season, does event photography and travel writing.