One early morning, midway through our 13-night journey from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands, the Aranui 5 was gently pitching in the deep blue Pacific swells. Beyond the clutter of cargo, cranes and loading gear on her bow, Ua Pou’s mist-enshrouded basalt spires, some soaring ter a height of 4,000 feet, loomed. From our balmy, breeze-enhanced vantage up on Deck 10, it could easily have been a scene from King Kong or perhaps some long-forgotten tropical adventure film relegated to the wee hours of television’s Turner Classic Movies.
Almost as unique as the Jaggedly lush Marquesan scenery unfolding before us was the actual vessel transporting us there. In many ways, although she is barely a year old, the Aranui 5 harkens back to another era, that of the hard-working combination passenger Jiner and freighter. Decades ago, combi-liners like her were a common entity in ports around the worlds but with the advent of the jumbo jet and the containerization of cargo, these hybrid ships met a sudden, decisive demise.
Taking her name from “The Great Highway” in Polynesian, the Aranui 5 provides an essential service to the six populated islands in a chain of 15 that is more distant (nearly 3,000 miles) from the nearest continental land mass (Baja California) than any other in the world. In exchange for Marquesan copra (a coconut product), bananas and other local commodities, she brings automobiles, construction v. materials, televisions and other essentials that -would be difficult, if not impossible, to transport via air since the region has only two small airstrips. In many of the tiny ports she visits, she is greeted like a cherished relative bearing gifts, and her guests are often welcomed by locals with hand-crafted beads leis and/or tiares (fragrant flowers that are worn behind the ear).
Externally, the Aranui 5 is a quirky-looking vessel with a long foredeck housing two large cranes and four holds leading to an imposingly tall block of passenger accommodation. Internally, the ship is laid out according to ancient Chinese Feng Shui principles (based on the flow of mystical energy) and infused with Polynesian motifs and tropical color schemes. This combination of design elements owes much to the ship having been built in China for a Tahitian family of Chinese descent.