Sunday 22 November 2009

Cruise Weekly: Ready ... on your Marquesas ... go!

Location: Port of Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia

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If there ever was a perfect outpost as sanctuary for troubled artists, refuge for wayward seamen and magnet for restless adventurers, then the far flung islands of the Marquesas would have to be it. Sure, you can catch one of the easy flights from Tahiti and bum around, but for an authentic arrival, come as Cook, Porter and Melville did; aboard ship.

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Unless your name is Packer, whose private ship is moored in Tahiti as you read this, you could not conduct a more thorough exploration of this dramatic, geologically youthful archipelago than with the Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime (CPTM) sailing year round with Aranui 3.

For the trivia-minded, this the location favoured by the disturbed French master, Paul Gauguin, and publicity-exhausted Belgian pop idol, Jacques Brel. Both, despite contrasting, if short, relations with the locals, also chose to be buried here.

As with all true adventure cruises, this is a voyage of discovery and learning. Each island port reveals a little more of this fascinating culture and its catastrophic demise. Although modern Marquesans enjoy comforts provided by their French colonial overlords, the 8000 'survivors' are the tail end of a prominent civilisation that numbered around 100,000 until the beginning of the 19th Century. Although freedom to practice (most) ancient arts and customs is restored, white man has a lot to answer for in the Marquesas.

The Aranui 3 is the CPTM's fifth vessel to ply this route, an exclusive freight/passenger operation that has grown from humble beginnings over 50 years. This newest vessel was built to a German design in Romania in 2003 and flies the French flag. GRT is 7000 tons and passenger capacity is 198 across four grades from fancy suites (14) with balcony, nine deluxe staterooms, 63 standard cabins and 18 berths in three dormitory-style rooms. Expect to spend your time mingling with worldly folks from all over. Our near-capacity complement consists of mainly Germans and French, with a scattering of Americans, Canadians, Brits and sundry EU countries. We are bankers and academics, builders and cab-drivers, flashpackers and corporate refugees. Average age is around 60, but under 50s should also be encouraged. It's a great opportunity to exercise your second language and swap tall tales with seasoned travellers. Friends are made easily in this eclectic human trail mix.

With any cruise like this you need personal versatility. The schedule will almost certainly be interrupted or altered en route due to the primary function of freight delivery. Difficult cargo and sea conditions will dictate time in port and shore activities offered. There's no point bleating “... but the brochure says ...!” because it warns you that [stuff] will happen and it does. You're in Polynesia and all that 'island time' means, but it's also extraordinarily remote and challenging. In my mind, none of this is sufficient reason not to go because the Marquesas are definitely one of the few remaining corners of the world worth every effort.

Book through a speciality cruise office such as Ultimate Cruising in Ultimo (Sydney) who have specific experience with these products. Discounts are sometimes offered and ask lots of questions. For further information, visit

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