David Roth, who works in ElderTrek's Sales Department was recently on the Aranui 3 and sailed from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands. Due to limited internet access his reports could not be uploaded during the cruise. We include them below in a series of articles where he shares his thoughts of the trip.
It has been 17 years since I was last in French Polynesia and as my taxi raced around the hills outside of Papeete the sights and smells of this tropical island came roaring back to me flooding me with warm memories. Entering the town I could see how Papeete had grown – all relative of course to things in French Polynesia, which means not that much. I would not be stopping in town this visit for I was off to join the Aranui 3 on a 14-day sailing voyage to the Marquesas Islands.
The Aranui 3 is a combination freighter/cruise ship that visits the Marquesas Islands once a month delivering everything the islands need. The name “Aranui” means “The Great Highway” in the Maori language. I knew this was not to be like any other cruise voyage and my first clue came as we entered the port area of Papeete. Rather than embark here by all the major cruise ships my taxi continued on to the commercial area on the other side of the port. Passing freight yards and warehouses we met the Aranui 3 on a lonely pier. Shipping containers were piled everywhere and fork lift drivers were working feverishly loading goods onto her deck as my taxi came to a stop. At first glance the Aranui 3 seemed much larger than I had imagined.. At 386 feet in length she was much larger than some of the other expedition-type cruise ships I had sailed on in the past. I would estimate that 60% of the vessel was freighter and the remaining 40% for passengers.
I was early and one worker on the pier motioned that it was ok for me to board. No fancy welcoming party for me. I deftly avoid a large oil spill on the ground and struggled to carry my luggage up the narrow gangway. This was a working ship and appeared to be all business. Later on after getting settled into my cabin I found a spot on one of the upper decks and watched as the loading process continued. It appeared as if the Aranui 3 was loading everything imaginable. Frozen foods, refrigerators, pallets of powdered milk, cheese, even a small boat. There was a very methodical system whereby two huge decks swung open and each item was loaded in a particular order into the belly of the ship by one of two massive cranes which overlooked the foredeck. Amidst all this activity, arriving passengers were met on the pier by a crew member and their luggage was placed on a conveyor belt and brought up into the side of the ship while the cargo-loading process continued unabated all around them. At times it was difficult to tell the passengers from the cargo as everything was being loaded as quickly as possible.
Soon after, the horns sounded and we went back to the rails to watch as the ship slipped her moorings and began the long voyage to the Marquesas Islands. The sailing journey would take over 3 days and would include a stop in the Tuamotu Archipelago. The Aranui’s bar had prepared a welcome for us with snacks and a local punch. We sailed off in leisurely fashion as the heavily tattooed crew below worked feverishly hauling lines and storing cargo. It was a rather odd combination but then again the Aranui 3 is not your regular cruise ship. The rusting hull of the Aranui 1 sits at the opening of Papeete Harbor listing badly to one side and I could not help but glance over at her as we sailed past hoping our voyage would have a better ending.