By John Rozentals.
French Polynesia is reopening its borders to international tourists on July 15 as long as certain conditions are met.
Cruise lines have also been given the green light to resume cruising and Aranui Cruises is set to recommence passenger services on July 18, with some enhanced health and hygiene measures.
With some uncertainty around who will be able to travel to French Polynesia in the coming months, Aranui is kickstarting passenger operations with a locals’ cruise.
As a mixed passenger-freighter vessel, Aranui 5 is one of the few ships that continued sailing during the pandemic, carrying on with its essential service of cargo delivery to one of the most remote island groups in the world – the Marquesas Islands.
Located nearly 5000 kilometres from the nearest continental land mass (Mexico’s west coast) and 1400 kilometres north-east of Tahiti, French Polynesia’s northernmost archipelago is no stranger to isolation and for more than 60 years an Aranui vessel has acted as a vital lifeline connecting the people of the Marquesas with the outside world.
While Aranui’s crew unloads cargo at the six inhabited islands of Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva, passengers usually disembark and explore the places that once lured artist Paul Gauguin, novelists Robert Louis Stevenson and Herman Melville, and musician Jacques Brel, to their volcanic shores.
Since the pandemic grounded flights, closed borders and stopped cruise operations around the world, Aranui 5 has been unable to take passengers on its usual 13-day roundtrip voyage from Papeete to the Marquesas, but this hasn’t stopped the ship making its epic 3000-kilometre delivery run to ensure the island communities weren’t completely cut off from the world.
After returning in late January from a dry dock at Sydney’s Garden Island, Aranui 5 has made its usual calls to the Marquesas, with the only sign of a pandemic that the frequency of visits extended slightly to monthly and the load has been lighter than usual as communities, which rely heavily on tourism, feel the economic pinch of covid-19.
To ensure the health and safety of the remote island communities, the 30-strong Polynesian crew wear masks and gloves when handling the cargo, practise social distancing while on board the ship, and locals are encouraged to pick up their cargo at staggered times throughout the day.