The 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia are sprinkled across an expanse of South Pacific Ocean half the size of the United States. Most visitors use Air Tahiti to get around the territory’s five archipelagoes but it’s also possible to travel by boat. The wharves of Motu Uta in the capital city Papeete bustle with supply ships loading for Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tubuai, and a host of other outer islands. Deck space is available on most vessels and fares are low thanks to French government subsidies. Service from Tahiti to the Leeward Islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Bora Bora is three times a week on several different ships. I usually fly to Bora Bora the same day I arrive in French Polynesia and island hop my way back to Papeete by cargo boat.
Of course, there are also frequent tourist cruises from Tahiti to Bora Bora on luxury vessels such as the Paul Gauguin. In my opinion however, the most unforgettable cruise of them all is the 14-day voyage from Tahiti to the six inhabited islands of the Marquesas Islands aboard the passenger-carrying freighter Aranui. The present Aranui is the third to bear the name, in service since 2002. It leaves Papeete 16 times a year carrying essential supplies for the Marquesans, plus 200 paying passengers. Accommodations range from deluxe suites to air-conditioned dormitories, but everyone aboard eats the same food in the dining room and participates in the same land tours, most of which are included in the basic fare. The Aranui isn’t for those who want onboard casinos, floorshows, duty free shopping, and gourmet cuisine but it’s perfect for the slightly adventurous traveler who wants to see a corner of our world almost inaccessible by other means. The Aranui website introduces the ship and I’ve found Travltips a convenient place to book passage.