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Oct. 14th, 2009

Take a Freighter to Paradise: Aranui Cruises to the French Polynesian Islands

Here the skipper - under the close gaze of enthralled travellers - threads the boat between towering cliffs then does a kind of handbrake turn, swinging 180 degrees to face where we had just been with only a few metres to spare on each side. That little bit of extreme seamanship earns him a big hand every time, together with praise for the nimble matelots who leap from a dinghy on to a sheer rock face to make fast the hawser.

And all this before breakfast, which in true Gallic fashion is a feast of eggs any way you like them, croissants, pastries, fruit and excellent coffee. Lunch on board is a three-course affair with lashings of wine (French, of course), and dinner is, if anything, even bigger.

On this valiant vessel there's not much time to get bored. There's a library, bar, lectures, photographic displays, Polynesian dance classes, gym, pool, video room, boutique and a cosmopolitan group of fellow travellers. If you're feeling queasy, there's also a doctor.

Getting ashore can be an interesting procedure. You totter down wobbly stairs lashed to the side of the ship then scramble on to a waiting whaleboat. Here you're manhandled with great vigour and precision by crewmembers and the same process is followed when you reach shore.

Wildly enthusiastic tour guides urge you to take a 17km hike on a mountain track in extreme heat and almost total humidity. Fortunately there is a civilised alternative - you stroll ashore, find a shady place in an interesting little town, sip a Hinano beer, watch a game of petanque and sit very, very still. That generally wins about half the passengers and gets me every time.

Accomplished scuba divers get opportunities to explore the fish-rich depths; snorkelling is available at several locations and is best in the sheltered atoll reefs.

If you're on an island around lunchtime chances are you'll be taken to see some ancient stone carvings - tikis - in the jungle, watch some dancing girls and warlike tribesmen, then drop into a restaurant to see a pig and various other foodstuffs being hauled from an earth oven, Maori style. This can be an imprecise cooking method, but in the Marquesas it seems to work.

The cruise visits two coral atolls in the Tuamotu group - Fakarava and Rangiroa - where the highest point is only three metres above sea level and they're seriously worried about global warming.

However the six Marquesan islands visited are much more rugged, with spiky mountains soaring over 1000 metres and dense undergrowth threaded with brilliant tropical flowers. King Kong would like it here - most of the islands are gothically spectacular and the spires of Ua Pou are almost dreamlike; contorted towers shrouded in cloud.

Threading through this pattern of islands the Aranui picks up copra, bananas, limes and bottles of noni juice - evidently wildly popular as a remedy against growing old, growing fat, growing thin, broken legs, baldness, infertility, fertility, dropsy, ague, plague and other ills to which the flesh is heir.

Without the Aranui the cure-all compound would never leave these shores. More importantly, without her the world of adventure travel would be a much poorer place.

For further information and travel deals go to;

For JustLuxe Paul Edwards
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