Isobel Marriner gives the lowdown on sailing to a Pacific paradise.


Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime.

Flag: France (French Polynesia)

How big? It's a 126m dual-purpose passenger/freighter.


How old? Custom-built in China, she went into service in 2015, replacing the Aranui 3, which used to sail the Marquesas route. There was no Aranui 4 as the owners are Tahitian-Chinese and the number 4 is unlucky to Chinese.

How many passengers: Can take 295; it was fairly full on our trip - a mix of mainly French and German tourists, some Americans but only a few from NZ and Australia.

Destinations: Aranui 5 sails from Tahiti to the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Bora Bora in the Society Islands — paradise, in other words.

Cruise length: 14 days.

Check-in: No queues at the wharf in Papeete; we were greeted immediately by a crew member and taken through to the cabin with a minimum of fuss.

Cabins: The Aranui 5 has 103 cabins, ranging from shared bunkrooms with a (separate) shared bathroom to luxury suites with verandas. Our premium suite was well set out, with a king-sized bed, plenty of living space and the good-sized bathroom had fragrant Tahitian cosmetics. There were some free treats — water and juices — in the refrigerator.

Food: Breakfast is a buffet but lunch and dinner are three-course affairs served in the dining room. It's French-style with a Pacific flavour, and wine comes free with the meals.

Three courses for lunch might sound a bit daunting but the portions are small and the starter usually a light salad. Lunches offshore in local restaurants are also a highlight — umu-cooked pork and goat, fresh seafood salads and local produce. The Aranui's pastries, made on board, are to die for.

Entertainment: The Aranui has two charming full-time entertainers (the guides and crew were entertaining as well). There were Polynesian-influenced classes (cooking, weaving and making garlands) and the world-famous Aranui Band, made up of crew members, played on several nights. Crew also joined in on party nights with dancing and singing, which was loads of fun.

Facilities: There's a spa, two small gyms and a really neat-not-tacky boutique with clothing, toiletries, souvenirs and charming staff.

Service: No complaints. Rooms were discreetly tidied and staff, whether in the restaurant, boutique or bars, were warm and welcoming.

Shore tours: Tours on every island are included in the cost of the cruise. Highlights included Marquesan hakas and a visit to the Iipona archaeological site. The Aranui's guides, most of them from the Marquesas, were fun, approachable and knowledgeable.

What's great about this ship? The fact it's a working ship makes it so much more interesting. And because the crew are mostly from the Marquesas and surrounding islands they impart plenty of local knowledge. There are some spectacular nautical manoeuvres as the ship negotiates narrow harbour entrances.

What's not? I was a little concerned at the ginormous wasps that sometimes flew aboard - but that's nature.

Ideal for: Trip of a lifetime. The Marquesas and Tuamotus are spectacular, in their different ways, and visiting a relatively remote and unspoilt part of the Pacific is an experience to cherish.


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