Knego’s ten night adventure in the South Pacific aboard the exotic combi-liner ARANUI 5 begins with a voyage from Tahiti to the Marquesas, a look at the unique ship and a northbound stop at Fakarava in the Tuamotu Archipelago.
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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Moorea from the Pearl Beach Resort, Tahiti.
Fortunately, this was not my first visit to Tahiti, so the pangs of spending just a couple of hours at Papeete’s palm-fringed Pearl Beach Resort prior to embarking Aranui Cruises’ MV ARANUI 5, weren’t too severe. Even for my sleep-deprived eyes, the sunrise view of Moorea was as dramatic as memory served and a balmy breakfast with fresh mango, pineapple and papaya in an aural backdrop of gurgling surf was quite a nice way to kick off the first official morning of this latest trek.
MV ARANUI 5 at Papeete. Bow view.
My home for the next ten nights, the ARANUI 5, is no ordinary cruise ship. Built in late 2015, she is that rarest of vessels, a bona fide passenger cargo liner with four holds and accommodation for up to 295 passengers on her regularly scheduled 14-night voyages to the Marquesas Islands. Taking her name from “The Great Highway” in the Maori language, ARANUI 5 supplies the remote island chain with much-needed stores in return for their local wares like copra, dried bananas and lumber.
MV ARANUI 5 at Papeete.
These days, an actual combination cargo passenger liner is the maritime equivalent of the dodo bird but until the advent of the jet liner and containerization, the seas were filled with these exotic vessels. Companies like American President Lines, Messageries Maritimes, Lloyd Triestino and so many more, had fleets of fascinating, often fetchingly beautiful combi-liners that linked the most distant of lands. They were less glamorous than true ocean liners but they were that much more mysterious and enchanting with their myriad cranes, rust-streaked flanks and exotic cargoes of both the human and inanimate kind.
Welcome aboard ARANUI 5!
With the ARANUI 5, all that combi-liner mystique is mashed up with a dose of charming incongruity. The ship was built in China, incorporating elements of Feng Shui, albeit with a Polynesian, floral-and-tiki-enhanced decorative theme.
ARANUI 5 guests enter via the Reception on Deck 3, shown facing aft.
Oh, and this is actually the fourth ARANUI, having just replaced the smaller, 2003-built ARANUI 3. Because of a Chinese superstition that associates the number four with death, the fourth ARANUI is named ARANUI 5 — sort of how some Western ships just don’t do a Deck 13.
MV ARANUI 5, Deluxe Suite 7319, facing starboard.
In the weeks leading up to the voyage, I resisted over-studying the cruise documents and forming too many preconceived notions about what lay ahead, so it came as a very pleasant surprise when I encountered my stateroom, Deluxe Suite 7319, on starboard Deck 7.
MV ARANUI 5 Deluxe Suite 7319, facing port.
In addition to its 45-square-foot balcony, the 245-square-foot space had a wonderfully firm but nicely cushioned king bed (made in Italy, I’m told), a wooden screen with inverted tikis separating the bedroom from the sitting area, a large console with plenty of big drawers, a mirror, computer desk, fridge (stocked once with complimentary water and soft drinks) and ample closet space.
MV ARANUI 5 Deluxe Suite 7319 sitting area.
The sitting area, which I unfortunately did not even get a chance to use, had a pair of chairs, a cocktail table and a sofa long enough to sleep on.
MV ARANUI 5 Deluxe Suite 7319 WC.
The WC was all it needed to be — large enough for a shower, sink and toilet. The tap water was not potable but each deck has its own water and ice machine.
MV ARANUI 5 toiletries.
Aranui supplies its own Tiki Tiare brand of toiletries in each cabin.
MV ARANUI 5 Suite amenities.
For those in suites, an extra package of sundries, including a bar of starfruit-shaped soap, is provided.
With many guests still embarking, I decided to give the ship a quick once-over. There are nine passenger decks connected by fore and aft staircases and lifts.
At the top of the ship on Bridge Deck (10), there is an observation terrace in front of the bridge, which is open for guests to visit, sea conditions and maneuvering circumstances permitting.
MV ARANUI 5 Sky Bar, facing port.
Sky Deck (9) begins with the Sky Bar observation lounge that overlooks the bow. A block of cabins and suites follow, leading to a sheltered terrace at the stern.
Sun Deck (8) is devoted to more cabins and suites that are likewise followed with a sheltered stern terrace.
MV ARANUI 5 Pool.
MV ARANUI 5, facing forward from aft Deck 7.
Pool Deck (7) is laid out much like Sun Deck, but with the added pool and lido space at the stern. The configuration of ARANUI 5’s afterdecks is very nicely laid out in an amphitheater-ish manner — not unlike that of the veteran cruise ship MARCO POLO — perfect for viewing deck parties, dance rituals and magnificent sunsets. There is also an al fresco bar here.
MV ARANUI 5 Veranda Bar.
Veranda Deck (6) begins with yet more cabins and suites that lead to the Veranda Bar, which has an open terrace, directly aft.
MV ARANUI 5 Totally Random Veranda Bar carpet shot.
We nicknamed this space the Hibiscus Room.
MV ARANUI 5 Card Room, facing forward.
MV ARANUI 5 Library, facing forward.
On either side of the Veranda Bar are two small enclosed galleries: to port, there is a card room and to starboard, a library with books, largely referencing Polynesia, in French, German and English.
MV ARANUI 5 aft Deck 6, facing port.
Another nice terrace awaits on aft Deck 6, this one with cushioned rattan chairs lifted from a Somerset Maugham novel.
MV ARANUI 5 Conference Room, facing forward.
Boat Deck (5) begins with more cabins and the scholarly Conference Room, which would be used on our voyage for port talks for English-speaking guests.
MV ARANUI 5 Lounge, facing aft from starboard.
The Lounge, an attractive but quirkily laid out space with twelve support pillars in its center, is at the aft end of Deck 5.
MV ARANUI 5 Totally random Lounge carpet shot.
MV ARANUI 5 Lounge, facing forward.
The Lounge can only be accessed from the starboard side because…
MV ARANUI 5 Snack Bar.
…on the forward port side of the Lounge, there is an items-for-purchase snack bar. On the aft/port side, there is a 24-hour coffee station and on the aft/starboard side, a 24-hour tea station.
MV ARANUI 5 Restaurant, facing port.
Upper Deck (4) has port and starboard promenades that lead to a sheltered terrace at the stern. It also has dormitory style accommodations and the Restaurant (more on dining in a bit).
MV ARANUI 5 Reception, facing forward.
MV ARANUI 5 Boutique, facing aft.
In addition to a few staterooms, Main Deck (3) is home to the Reception and the Boutique, which was very well stocked with souvenirs, Aranui gear (t-shirts, hats, etc.) and snacks for those long gaps between meals.
Deck passenger lounge.
Lower Deck (2) has a few more staterooms and even a deck passenger lounge that is not shown on the plan. ARANUI 5 not only carries cruise passengers but also locals seeking transport between the islands.
MV ARANUI 5 Gym, cardio room.
MV ARANUI 5 Gym, weight room.
The gym, which is comprised of a separate weight area and a cardio space, is on Lower Deck.
MV ARANUI 5 Spa reception area.
There is also a spa with two treatment rooms and a menu of services for a modest fee.
Polynesian deck dance.
I wrapped up my self-guided whirlwind tour just in time to catch the tail end of a colorful welcome dance on the pool deck.
Arcing past Papeete.
Following boat drill, there was no better vantage for our departure than the various platforms on Bridge Deck. No assistance was required as ARANUI 5 slid past Papeete’s waterfront and into a calm, deep blue Pacific.
Foredeck at sea.
A layer of clouds kept the sun at bay as I unpacked and attended a briefing on the morrow’s scheduled visit to Fakarava in the Tuamotus, the island chain of reef-fringed atolls that is midway between Polynesia’s Society Islands and the Marquesas.
Polynesian sunset from wing.
The clouds fizzled away in time for a magnificent sunset.
MV ARANUI 5 full moon ahead.
Meanwhile, directly ahead, a silvery moon was on the rise.
We were assigned first seating dinner at 7:30 PM. The Restaurant is large enough to handle the ship’s entire complement at one time but the mealtimes are staggered by a half hour to provide a little relief for the Polynesian staff, who couldn’t have been more sweet and engaging throughout our time on board.
I was delighted with the quality of the meals, which were fresh and well-prepared with a heavy emphasis on Polynesian specialties like poisson cru (marinated raw fish). Dining on ARANUI 5 consists of three daily meals that include a buffet style breakfast and two seatings each for full service lunch and dinner featuring set menus with an appetizer, main course and dessert. Red and white wine are included with lunch and dinner. Vegetarian, gluten-free and other non-kosher dietary choices are happily honored with a little advance notice.
After dinner, I took a leisurely walk around the ship before calling it a night.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Unloading a barge at Fakarava.
After breakfast, I headed up to Deck 10 as ARANUI 5 neared Fakarava, the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago. Too large to berth at its small landing, our big white ship dropped anchor and began to offload her barges.
Barge unloading us at Fakarava.
As soon as we stepped ashore, we were greeted by the locals with a fragrant tiare. With no scheduled tour and Fakarava’s relatively flat, long (60 kilometers) surface, I chose to run along its long, paved road for a few miles before donning mask, snorkel and fins (provided at Reception, free of charge, to all guests) for a swim along one of its many reefs.
Monsoon a comin’!
The run went well but then a huge front blew in, bringing high winds and calamitous rain. I ditched the swim but got caught in the deluge and took shelter under a huge banyan tree, hunched over my cameras.
During a lull, I raced off to first available barge. Back aboard, I jumped into the pool and watched as the storm raged on. For the next hour, it was as if Fakarava had been washed away but at least I can claim I swam there.
MV ARANUI 5 table setting.
After that rain, a warm, dry lunch was all the more appealing. As were the accompanying, fresh-baked breads and a glass of red wine.
With all her guests accounted for, ARANUI 5 hoisted her barges and anchors and continued her northeasterly trek to the Marquesas. We would have the remainder of the afternoon and a full day at sea to enjoy our ship, rest up and prepare for an in-depth exploration of the Marquesas.
End Of ARANUI 5 to the Marquesas, Part One
Click Here For Part Two
Special Thanks: Rani Chaves, Marilyn Green, Cait Langley, Julie Parrotta
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
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