At our first stop in Taipivai on the “main” island of Nuku Hiva, we were literally following in the wake of Herman Melville, who jumped ship there as a young sailor in 1842. Although we would not be marooned for four weeks like the celebrated author, our approach was nonetheless formidable as the barge was run up onto the black-sand beach like a World War II landing craft, allowing us to disembark via its unfolding bow ramp to a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Our local hosts then whisked us off on a ride into the tropical hinterlands of Nuku Hiva, past fragrant vegetation, wild horses and waterfalls. A visit to an ancient archaeological site to view petro- glyphs and witness a tribal dance under a giant banyan tree once used for human sacrifices was followed by a walk on a spectacular beach before we were treated to lunch, “umu” style. Especially popular in Polynesia, umus are earth ovens where a pit is filled with heated rocks and/or charcoal and the food (usually a pig, plantains and various vegetables) is laid on top and then covered in greens and soil.
The first of many included day-long tours continued with a drive to Nuku Hiva’s capital, Taiohae, where we visited a church and then returned to the air-conditioned ship, which had since berthed in the town. After such a full day in the equatorial climes, nothing tasted better than a fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice at the pool bar, which was well worth its steep price of 9 French Pacific francs (approximately .91 to the dollar).
For the next several days, as the Aranui 9s crew offloaded her myriad cargoes in a succession of remote ports and anchorages, we would take a short hike and enjoy another feast in exotic Ua Pou, marvel at ancient stone tikis in Hiva Oa’s Puamau archaeological site, swim on a pristine beach on Tahuata, visit the graves of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel on Hiva Oa, embark on an arduous but magnificent 10-mile hiking trek across lush Fatu Hiva, and visit an arboretum and several more museums on relatively arid Ua Huka.
The ship would then loop back to Nuku Hiva and Ua Huka to load Marquesan wares before making her return to Tahiti, this time via Rangiroa in the Tuamotus and Bora Bora, with yet more deck parties and heavenly sunsets in store.
In an age where cruising may have become overly focused on trendy distractions, gourmet eateries and creature comforts, it is nice to welcome a new ship with an old soul like the Aranui 5, a simple but ideal vessel built to transport her adventure-seeking guests and exotic cargoes within a breathtakingly beautiful, off-the-beaten track locale. And for those with a bit less time to spare, this unique voyage can be taken in shorter segments, beginning and/or ending in Nuku Hiva, which has a daily flight to and from Papeete.