Aranui Heads into the Jungles of the Marquesas Islands

Plying the waters of French Polynesia in the South Pacific, the Aranui 3 offers a unique cruise experience to the remote Marquesas Islands.

The Aranui 3 is a mixed passenger-cargo vessel operating between Tahiti and the Marquesas, offering comfortable, air-conditioned accommodations for about two hundred passengers. The ship features 63 standard cabins, nine deluxe staterooms and 14  private balcony suites.

"The major draw of our French Polynesian cruises are the rarely visited destinations," said Jules Wong, the company's marketing director. "In fact, we currently offer the only means of traveling to many of the Marquesas Islands.

The cruise departs from the Tahitian capital of Papeete, which is the closest destination one can reach by air. From Papeete, guests will sail approximately 800 miles until they reach the Tuamotu Islands, which lie halfway between Tahiti and the Marquesas. Here they will stop at Fakarava to see pearl farmers harvest rare and valuable black pearls from giant oysters.

The Aranui 3 reaches the Marquesas Islands on day four of the journey. Travelers' first introduction to the Marquesas will be Ua Pou, known for its mountain spires, which have been described by Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson as "volcanic needles like the pinnacles of some ornate church."

Next the Aranui 3 will bring passengers to Nuku Hiva where they will discover a giant volcanic amphitheater flanked by towering cliffs and waterfalls. Notable in literary history as the location at which Herman Melville jumped his whaling ship in 1842, a decade before he penned Moby Dick, Nuku Hiva is still very much the same as it was described in the novel.

Visitors will retrace Melville's escape route on a Jeep safari over the mountains to a jungle river valley where they will see stone tiki gods, sacred ritual sites and enigmatic petroglyphs hidden amidst bamboo vines.

Art enthusiasts will consider the Aranui 3's next port of call, Hiva Oa, among the highlights of the cruise. Hiva Oa is where impressionist Paul Gauguin's search for an unspoiled island ended. Guests will trek to a hilltop cemetery to observe Gauguin's gravestone, as well as the final resting place of singer-composer Jacques Brel, who was also seduced by the island. Visitors will be permitted to enter a replica of Gauguin's famous "House of Pleasure" before returning to the ship.

While docked at Hiva Oa, passengers will be guided through mysterious jungle ruins to the largest tikis outside the Easter Islands.

Even though Fatu Hiva is regarded as a center of Marquesan culture, Aranui passengers are usually the only visitors to the remote island. Guests will see artists painting on tapa cloth, carving intricate bowls and spears and making pareros (similar to the sarong) as well as monoi (coconut oil scented with tiare blossoms). After hiking cliffs with  waterfalls, travelers can opt to cool off with a plunge in a secluded river pool.

Tahuata is a leaf-shaped island with historic significance as the site at which Spanish explorers first landed in 1595 as well as the first French settlement in the Marquesas in 1842. A huge Vatican-built church remains and features some of the most intricate Marquesan carvings. Guests will enjoy a picnic in Hapatoni Valley as well as a swim or snorkel at a nearby beach.

On Ua Huka, wild horses vastly outnumber the island's 300 residents. Visitors will explore the island by horse or jeep, stopping along the way to indulge in a buffet featuring barbecued rock lobster, curried goat, breadfruit, taro and sweet read bananas, as well as a Marquesan specialty known locally as poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice and soaked in coconut milk).

On the way back to the Tuamotu Islands, the Aranui 3 will stop at Nuku Hiva, where passengers will have some free time to explore the town center on their own.

The Aranui's final stop before returning to Papeete is another island in the Tuamotu group, Rangiroa, the largest atoll in the world. After a picnic on Coral Beach, passengers can snorkel or scuba dive "Rangi" lagoon, where an underwater jewel box offers corals and clouds of tropical fish. Visitors can pick up some black pearls from local harvesters before heading back to Tahiti on the final leg of this spellbinding journey.