Where to begin? Our DAR friend Gayle was talking to me for months about the Captain James Cook Society, a world-wide society who study Captain Cook and his travels. When we said we were coming to Anchorage, Gayle said she would be our tour guide.
Our first port of call was the statue of Captain Cook overlooking Resolution Park and the silted waters of Cook inlet.
Followed by an informative tour at the Anchorage Museum, with erudite docent, Nancy Britton. If you can visit the Anchorage museum and have a tour with Nancy, your appreciation of Alaskan First Peoples’ live before and after First Contact will be greatly enhanced.
Literally at dawn the next day, we boarded the train to Seward. We had booked the dome car, with 270 degree views and plenty of scope to go outside to see the verdant or frozen Alaskan landscape. We passed several glaciers and learned that there are over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. There are 616 officially named glaciers.
The photos of the lakes and icy water were taken from the inside of the train and are not photo-shopped. It is cold in Alaska but it isn’t windy like Sydney. The water of the lakes were perfectly flat and acted like a mirror.
Gayle took us to Sea Life in Seward and it was great to see puffins, otters and seals. The seals seem to interact with the children.
Thanks to all the lovely people in Anchorage and in Seward who showed us such wonderful hospitality. It was special.
James and I last visited Tahiti and Bora Bora in 1985. We have to say it was romantic and if you are looking for the most beautiful lagoon to set a Tiffany’s commercial, this would have to be it. The Aranui came into the lagoon off of Vaitape and anchored. We had a wet landing and disembarked to a motorised pirogue or canoe. Other passengers, went to swim with sharks and rays and others decided to take a truck tour around the island of Bora Bora.
The rain didn’t dampen us because we were under cover on the canoe but we missed some of the Tiffany blue water. The barge took us to visit the shallow lagoon, the sharks, rays and terns and then to a beach where you take a swim and a mudbath of coral shells. We also passed a turtle sanctuary and so many bures posted over the water.
Our guide was the very image of Disney’s demi-god, Moana, but was beautifully spoken in French and English.
Even though the sky was grey, the water is turquoise. No rays, though. These sharks seem used to humans but they will go for a shiny ring, so keep your fingers in the boat. (Davo, would you like to hop into the water? Me neither)
We went past the Le Meridien bures on the water but we didn’t see any turtles. Still we were glad to hear an International hotel is looking after the sea turtles. We went for the mud baths with the white coral mud, simply rejuvenating as you can see in the photo.
The sun started to peek out of the clouds and still on the canoe with Moana we went to a motu or small atoll, which belonged to his Ukele playing uncle. We could have a swim, they gave us fruit and coconut in abundance and the best part would have to be the singing and ukele.
These little motus are the Bora Bora half acre, just private and lovely. You need something from the shops, just take the pirogue.
Back to the Aranui because our picnic on Motu Tapu, was rained out. Later we go pearl shopping and playing in Vaitape but we didn’t have enough time to visit Bloody Mary, which only opens in the evening. But in the evening we consoled ourselves with mohitos and chichis and the Aranui took off for Papeete.
This morning we sail into Rangiroa. The island is brilliant and sunny. It is also my birthday. James and I meet Rick and Sandy on the bridge early to come into the Tuamotu and Rangiroa.
It had rained earlier and there was a rainbow. Then another rainbow appeared. As if nature wanted to be sure that I was at my happiest, dolphins came up to Aranui and said hello.
If you want a natural high, I suggest you start your birthday with a wonderful husband, rainbows and dolphins and good friends. Yes, I know the picture could be sharper but isn’t the water the most spectacular colour?
Rangiroa is the second largest coral atoll in the world. If climate change raises water levels, these motu will be submerged. Visually, you see blue and white dominate the landscape instead of the lush green volcanic islands of the Marquesas. To fully see Rangiroa, you need a drone or an airplane.
If we look at island formation, we see first an erupting volcano thrusting out of the ground and in time it is covered in trees and plants and birds. These are the Marquesas Islands. Over millennia, a volcanic island like Bora Bora will develop a ring of coral around its edge and begin to subside and erode. Instead of getting taller the mountains of the island will wear away. BoraBora is a subsiding volcano with a ring of coral creating its lagoon.
The third stage of this island making is a coral atoll, a subsided volcano, now enclosed in a coral reef. This is the stage the Tuamotu are in, sand bars on top of coral. Whether the coral attached to a submarine volcano or a subsided volcano there is no volcanic activity in known history.
If you are coming for a vacation here, you will be happiest if you are a scuba diver or a pearl connoisseur. Speaking of pearls, we went to the pearl farm and discovered how they cultured the pearls in Rangiroa.
Unlike Australian Paspaley Pearls or Japanese cultured pearls, black pearls come in a range of colours, which is influenced by the insertion of a piece of mantle from a sacrificed oyster, into a tiny pouch on the accepting oyster. The mother of pearl of the shell above is quite silvery and you can see the pearl in the tiny pouch ready to be harvested. Pearls are used for three pearls and then their pearls lose their quality. Tahitian pearls are graded and cost ranges on quality.
First let me mention that we have it on the highest authority, that the best way to motivate your children to do well in high school and continue onto university, is to send them to work on a pearl farm. After six months or so, they will be begging to return to school.
Rangiroa has the white coral sands we expect to see if the South Pacific, beautiful beaches and spectacularly coloured water.
There was a small handicraft stall which had the loveliest hand painted pareus. They are made on the island and worth the extra you might pay for a pareu in Papeete.
In this part of our voyage, we are following in the path set by Captain James Cook in his second journey (1772-1774) navigating around a treacherous and moody Cape Horn towards the Marquesas Islands. He was a navigator extraordinaire, no GPS nor even a chart to follow. Some of his sailors felt they would possibly sail off the ends of the earth. He improved nutrition as well as insuring his men had a ration of beer each day, which probably kept their hydration up.
When we have sailed in the Pacific, many of the soundings noted on the charts were made by Captain Cook. Some of his journals are kept at the State Library Of NSW and you can request a viewing of these historic documents.
We are on our way back to Nuka Hiva to collect a container, now divested of it contents from Papeete and full of copra or bananas. You have to admire the efficiency of the crew of Aranui in getting the containers on loaded so quickly. We have a bit of time and go into Taiohae to see some replica Tikis in the park.
These tikis remind me of other prehistoric stones and instances of ancestor worship we have seen in Europe. It reminds me of sacred places the world over, where ancient man would use stone and sites to worship their ancestors or perhaps use them as a nemonic system. Wouldn’t it be great to ask them?
We repeat the loading exercise in Ua Pou and then we depart at 4:15 pm for the return 40 hour journey to the Tuamotu and the island of Rangiroa.
The staff of the Aranui were tremendous, welcoming and professional. There were several special evenings and even a Polynesian Breakfast. We would often have a lovely dinner in a harbour, very festive with very little boat motion. These are photos of the Polynesian Banquet.
Tave helped me make purchases in the shop and often helped us tie our pareau on securely. The staff participated in both looking after us and entertaining us. They were all quite talented. Even the men of the Supercargo did a haka for us one evening that was quite amazing.
Ric dressed for his performance and James ready to show his model boat. Aranui expects everyone to do most of the activities.
So the Polynesian night is definitely a night to remember. The flower crowns alone made us feel like we were in Paradise. If you go on the Aranui, join in. Don’t hold back.
The Aranui 5 is 126 metres long or about 413 feet. The harbour of Vaipaee on the island of Ua Huka is about 50 metres wider than Aranui is long. Docking a ship in these conditions is not for the faint of heart. The Aranui crew put on a complete spectacle for us, bringing their best game to dock in Vaipaee.
Heading into the narrow bay, Aranui drops the anchor then pivots 180 degrees bringing the stern into place.
The barge is in place and the long boats with the shore crew are in the water, taking the stern lines to the headlands either side of the bay. The waves are substantial enough that the men might take more than one attempt to jump ashore.
Getting stern lines out has more to do with tying down a bucking bronco than a tying into a dock.
Disembarking the passengers is equally exciting. (No photos because of the roughness.) We were wearing wet shoes today because as you walk downstairs to the passenger barge, the water is spilling in up to your knees and the crew are lifting you in. Trust is the word. You stand in front of four or five muscular men who are gauging the thrust of the barge and waiting for the entrance to the barge to line up with the entrance of the ship. All you can do is trust them to get you on the barge intact and sit down immediately once you are on this bucking bronco. Oh, and keep your arms and hands inside the barge. This is an adrenalin start to your morning.
We go to a food producing Botanical Gardens and see orchards of citrus and breadfruit. We hear about native trees and also about how much food can be produced on the islands. Some items may have been introduced thousands of years ago with the first visitors.
The 4 x 4’s then take us to the Handicraft centre and Sea Museum in Hane Village. The models are rustically exquisite and the carvings are intricate.
After lunch, we hiked up to a meeting point and our guide told us the history of the people here. The views were spectacular over the coast.
Ua Huka has miles of winding road, which you can see hugging the coastline. What you don’t see are the wild horses and goats that are often near the road. The goats are wild and harvested by locals for milk or meat. They are not indigenous animals but the locals are happy for the food source. Since the Aranui is the main avenue for supplies to arrive on the island, having a ready supply of dairy and meat seems more than reasonable.
I had one favourite view which I found just splendid and reminiscent of the California coastline.
Last photo, of the bargemen negotiating Aranui out of Vaipaee Bay. Discernible difference between Vaipaee Bay and Hokatu, isn’t there?
The Tiki at the me’ae or marae in Puama’u were in a wild setting. Here you find the largest tiki in French Polynesia. Called Takaii you see a tiki that was taller than most about 8 feet high; a monument to a great king perhaps. The tikis needed protection from the environment, so they are now under huts arranged by UNESCO.
There is also a large stage that was used to kill enemies on a sacrificial altar.
One of the tikis was of a well-loved queen, who died in childbirth and the tiki is a monument to tell her story and it became a place women could come and ask for help with their own pending births.
We returned to the ship, and were mesmerised yet again watching the Supercargo add the containers and reposition the barge, the fishing boat and the backhoes as if they were moving pencils and pens on a desk.
We had lunch on board in a much calmer, Vaitahu Bay. Aranui often finds a lovely calm anchorage at meal times and even until the early morning hours so that we could get a good nights rest.
After lunch we went to a church built with an aesthetically pleasing reference to the Hiva Oa’s crafts and its environment. Sadly in a storm, they had lost two panels of the stained glass windows and I hope they are able to replace them. Notice the beautiful carving.
Tomorrow we are up early to watch the spectacular manoeuvre to anchor in the narrow harbour of Vaipaee.
Fatu Hiva, famous for its visitors, like the Spanish explorer and navigator, Mendaña, circa 1595 and Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame circa 1947. We feel like adventurers reaching Fatu Hiva, although we arrive in absolute luxury and comfort.
The evening before we arrive at Fatu Hiva, all talk is about handicrafts: making tapa, flower leis and crowns and monoi, a coconut oil for hair and body. We also hear about the beautiful flowers on the island.
When we go to see the local handicrafts, we have a band playing music for us. The children would come right up to the band and play without worry. This young musician had a go of the drums and the ukulele. He was not worried about the crowd at all. Nearby a little girl about 9 months was trying to dance. The children are lovely, generous and simply gorgeous.
You wouldn’t be able to get away with buying some beads or shells. They were offering us pamplemousse or sweet grapefruit to get us to have a look at their beads.
In the afternoon, we went to the Bay of Virgins, before the priests arrived the Islanders called it the Bay of Phalluses or Baie des Verge. It went to Virgins just by adding an ‘i’. The Catholic priests were perhaps easier to live with than the Protestants. They made small changes (like adding an i), they didn’t destroy the tikis and were more understanding of the traditions. I am not comparing the religions or cultural imperatives, just noting the softer approach.
The other topic of discussion on the way to Fatu Hiva was the ten mile hike. Where all the other hikes are highly advertised and recommended, the discussion of the ten mile hike is an exercise in dissuasion.
The hikes in the Marquesas are all uphill/downhill but the on Fatu Hiva, you walk up for half the hike, at the top it rains on you and you come down in mud and hellacious humidity. The hiker disembarked at 8:00 am but the hike didn’t start until 10:00am. That is one start time the Aranui guides should reconsider. Earlier would be better.Reading an Aranui blog citing a few hikers staying in bed for two days after the hike. I decided to give the 10 miler a miss, but now I wish I had trained for it.
Tip: train for the hike, use hiking sticks to help control your decent in the rain and mud. Good shoes, insect repellent, sunscreen, a hat and water are a must. After all you want to see the beautiful flowers.
Another dawn with the island of the Hiva Oa in the distance. The mornings are so magnificent; golden light on billowing clouds.
Aranui is ready to negotiate a small harbour, with a very small and restricted docking, and several yachts anchored right in the way. The ships captain blasted the horn three times and we could see the yacht crews springing to life much earlier than they would have expected. The barge and the life boats were unloaded and went to help the hapless yachties reposition themselves.
We were fully absorbed in watching the captain dock Aranui in this diminutive harbour. I was incredibly thankful that it wasn’t my yacht in the way of a ship in such close quarters. Here is a photo of Aranui, once she has docked.
Hiva Oa is where Paul Gauguin spent the last two years of his life. We did the walk up to see the graveyard, where he was buried and then walked into the city to visit his last home and the Gauguin museum. We hiked directly up hill from the dock to the cemetery. Like so many cemeteries, it has the most beautiful view down the hill and over a harbour.
Gauguin was in trouble with the church and he was in ill health. Hiva Oa was his last refuge. Didier Benatar gave us quite a wonderful talk about Gauguin’s life, his troubles with the Church and the politicians too. Even though the Church didn’t approve of Gauguin’s life style, they did bury him in the consecrated ground of Calvary Cemetery. More to better to keep an eye on him, than to grant him dispensation. The statue is not a Madonna but perhaps a copy of his ceramic, Oviri, a goddess of Wildness.
Gauguin had visited Melbourne, Sydney and then Auckland and he was very taken with the Maori’s way of building their houses and when he came to Hiva Oa and sent some money he did build a whare whakairo. Today that is part of the Gauguin Museum on Hiva Oa.
In this glorious setting, at sunset, we have a Tahitian dance class with the men learning a Haka and the women learning something more graceful. This isn’t your typical dance studio.
Like a kid at Christmas, I would wake up before dawn if we were going to make landfall. There are other early birds on this trip, who we would join on deck 9 and we would watch with fascination the abilities of the men of the Supercargo. These men would initially be hoisted off the ship on a barge and life boats and approach the harbour to prepare for docking. They were able to handle all types of conditions.
On Ua Pou, the Aranui goes into a small harbour with a smaller wharf. These men of the Supercargo are experienced in docking the Aranui with precision and speed.
After breakfast, we left the boat and hiked to the white cross which overlooks the village of Hakahau. You can see Aranui in the lower right hand corner.
Almost every village we visited welcomed us with song and some with dance. We hiked down and went to Pae Pae for a welcome dance and haka. The men did the haka and then jumped into the crowd. There was an abrupt intake of breath and a few people in the front row were heartily surprised. The dancing woman are more welcoming.
Ua Pou is famous for Flower Stone, spewed out by volcanoes with crystalline garnet flowers in the stone. We went to the cultural centre to find a hand carved Cailloux Fleuris or Flower stone.
On the way back to the Aranui, we could see the children using the ship as a playground. They would dare each other to ‘walk the plank’ on the ropes and then jump in.
As the ships leaves the harbour, James spots a big stingray coming to the surface with the churn of sand from the harbour and once the Aranui is in place to leave Ua Pou, they bring the barge back onto the ship.
Ua Pou is also an island known for its majestic volcanic spires, which are often captured in cloud. We see this as we sail away.