Site Information

 Loading... Please wait...

You Recently Viewed...

  • Outrigger Canoe at Sunset
    Tahiti by Gauguin
    Tahiti conjures up images of overwater bungalows and stunning sunsets, but as Joanna Hall discovers, cruising on the ...

Tahiti by Gauguin

Joanna Hall

Tahiti conjures up images of overwater bungalows and stunning sunsets, but as Joanna Hall discovers, cruising on the m/s Paul Gauguin among the Tahitian Islands also offers an authentic insight into an ancient and fascinating culture.

It’s just after 6pm and it’s time for the nightly sunset show. We mix a few cocktails in our stateroom suite and step onto the balcony as the first tinge of yellow permeates the horizon.

With the mythical peaks of Bora Bora as the backdrop, the show quickly moves into full swing. From yellow to orange, pink, red, blue, purple -  and various outrageous hues in between - the multi-coloured palette moves through the sky and glassy ocean.

It’s the end of a typical day in Tahiti, and on a private deck on a six-star cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean it’s hard to believe that somewhere out there is the “real world”.

It’s not surprising that Tahiti attracted the attention of artists like Paul Gauguin. In addition to France’s greatest postimpressionist painter, many other artists, explorers and writers made the arduous journey to French Polynesia, sometimes spending months at sea to answer its alluring call. 

Today these islands remain picture-postcard perfect: white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and jagged mountain peaks. And a leisurely cruise is the best way to experience Tahiti’s seductive highlights. Aptly named the m/s Paul Gauguin, the 320-guest luxury ship is built specifically to cruise these islands year-round thanks to a shallow draft which allows her to sail into bays and ports that other vessels can’t access.

Most of her itineraries feature a seven-day voyage around the Society Islands and usually take in Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Taha’a. But demand from repeat cruisers means more diverse and longer itineraries are being added to other Tahitian island groups such as the Marquesas and the Tuamotu Archipelago as well as the Cook Islands and Fiji.

We’d opted for a 14-day cruise which took in the Society Islands, Rangiroa in the Tuamotus and the northernmost archipelago, the Marquesas, which are regarded as one of the most stunningly beautiful island groups in the world. As with most Gauguin cruises, this one starts and finishes in Tahiti’s capital city and main port, Papeete, on the main island of Tahiti Nui. As the only real city in French Polynesia, it gets a bad rap in some travel guides.

True, it does have traffic, but what it lacks in the classic-island-postcard stakes it makes up for with a very authentic French colonial charm. This is a working city after all and a visit to the main market, or Le Marche as its known to the locals, is a must. Set out over two stories, the downstairs section features a massive and colourful food market with fruit and vegetables, meat and fish.

Upstairs, traditional arts and crafts are sold and local women work away on basket weaving and sculpting in between the lines of the colourful pareos, or Tahitian sarongs. Most visitors bypass the main island of Tahiti and simply connect to the outer islands, and miss out on its charms. From the street life of Papeete, to a four wheel drive tour of the interior with its ancient marae, or archaeological sites, or simply catching some sun and snorkelling, the main island possesses its own unique attractions.

As we prepare to set sail and leave the main island behind, we’re looking down over Boulevarde Pomare which runs along the harbour front with Papeete tucked neatly between the towering peaks of Aorai and Te Taraomaiao.\The islands of French Polynesia are stunning and the best way to take in their grandeur is from the water. We sailed that night at ten, cocktails in hand on the pool deck, listening to the melodic voices of the ship’s Polynesian entertainers in the balmy darkness.  Papeete’s shimmering lights were soon left behind and we were on our way towards the magical island of Bora Bora, the first stop on this two week voyage.

It’s difficult not to be tempted into breakfast on the first morning.  Having breathed the fresh, appetite-enhancing sea air all night through open balcony doors, we call room service and minutes later a tray of exotic fruits, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, toasted bagels and coffee is delivered with a big smile; our room service waiter insists we set up the enormous spread on the balcony to make the most of Bora Bora’s stunning landscape.

An elegant ship with fantastic service, the Gauguin itself is the perfect way to experience the charm of the region. She boasts all of the passenger-pampering facilities which discerning cruisers have come to expect: three open-seating dining venues, a water sports marina, a full-service spa, and spacious, fully equipped staterooms - 70 per cent with private balconies.

Coupled with a relaxed atmosphere and dress code, it attracts a different type of cruise passenger. If you’re into black-tie dinners, midnight buffets and dancing ‘till dawn, this isn’t the cruise for you. This experience features a laid-back elegance and style which fits in perfectly with the surrounds.

It’s popular with honeymooners and the 40-something set, although there are older guests and even a smattering of couples in their 20’s enjoying a wedding gift from mum and dad. Most are from the USA and France (because of Tahiti’s colonial ties), but increasing numbers of people from other countries are discovering the delights of cruising these beautiful islands in luxury and style.

As a first stop, Bora Bora has a “wow” factor that immediately fires the senses - with its emerald-green hills and chameleon-like lagoons, it’s easy to understand why this island is a serious contender for the most beautiful and romantic island in the world. James Michener, author of Tales of the South Pacific which inspired the movie Bali Hai, wrote of Bora Bora: “Anyone who has ever been there wants to go back.” No doubt Michener himself experienced the fiery sunsets which are unique to this part of the world.

After an overnight stop at the coral atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotus - famous for its amazing diving - it then was time to experience the highlight of the cruise - the moody and mystical Marquesas. As the zodiac powers its way towards Omoa Bay, the eerie sounds of conch shells and drums pounding out a driving rhythm increase in intensity. Volcanic cliffs almost one kilometre high drop straight into the ocean which fortunately remains calm enough to allow us entry onto the most remote and unspoilt of the Tahitian Isles - Fatu Hiva.

There are no airports, no jetties, no marinas and a concrete slab at the end of the point on Omoa Bay is the only way on and off the island. On many days, big swells make it impossible to set foot on Fatu Hiva, and this fact in itself sums up the essence of the Marquesas.

They don’t get many visitors, but when they do a buzz goes around the 700 or so inhabitants who turn out in traditional dress to greet the new arrivals, beating drums and singing traditional songs. In the main square, local artisans set up and display their handmade creations and it’s easy to see why Marquesan handicrafts are regarded as among the most authentic and beautiful cultural creations in Polynesia.

A traditional dance is performed but this is not a “show” as performed by professional troupes in five star resorts in the Society Islands - it’s a show of village pride and an authentic snapshot into Marquesan culture.

Located nearly one and a half thousand kilometres north-east of Tahiti Nui, the Marquesas’ isolation means they are relatively untouched by tourism. A smile from a local is genuine, and when they want to take you around their village they don’t expect to get paid - they’re just showing off their lifestyle and heritage.

Bora Bora and Moorea in the Society Islands receive all the accolades as the typical Tahitian postcard destinations, and this is largely because of their close proximity to the only international airport on Tahiti Nui. It’s true these legendary islands are stunning, seen from the air or from the water, but in truth the Marquesan islands possess a more powerful and overwhelming physical presence.

While Bora Bora and Moorea are ringed by reefs creating lagoons around the main islands, the Marquesas are unprotected from the Pacific Ocean and rise dramatically out of nowhere with sheer volcanic cliffs exposed to the elements. The jagged peaks rise side by side more than a kilometre up, creating plateaus at high altitude and steep valleys with lush vegetation which are home to wild horses and goats brought by European settlers. Most of the Marquesan Islands feature partly sunken caldera, which create a natural amphitheatre among the towering mountains and this is where the villagers choose to settle. The locals call their region Te Henua Enana which means “the Land of Men”.

Of the 12 islands that make up the group, only six are inhabited (only four with tiny air strips) and flights are infrequent and expensive. Cargo ships make occasional trips to the Marquesas, taking passengers with them, but the rushed nature of loading and unloading on the islands means very little time is spent at each port.

It means the m/s Paul Gauguin is the ideal way to enjoy the remote island group. The stunning landscapes are best experienced from the ocean on board a ship and a full day is spent in port at each of the unique islands, with the added option of guided tours.

The 12 day journeys on the Gauguin usually take in two of the Marquesas - Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva, while the 14 and 15 day trips add Fatu Hiva and Ua Huka, and this itinerary is becoming one of the most popular for the cruise line.

From the traditional culture of fascinating Fatu Hiva, to the final resting place of France’s greatest postimpressionist painter Paul Gauguin on Hiva Oa, to the wild horses and equally-wild landscape of Ua Huka to the genteel pace of Marquesan capital Nuku Hiva - it’s a special part of the world which so far has resisted the trappings of mass tourism.

Leaving the Marquesas behind is a sad occasion and the general feeling among most people on board, including ourselves, is that this cruise is effectively “over”. But after two sea days we arrive at the second last stop on our itinerary - Motu Mahana - where the much-used word “paradise” comes into its own. It’s a private island for guests of the Gauguin only, and this idyllic motu (which means an uninhabited coral islet) is flanked by Taha’a’s mountains on one side and Bora Bora’s cloud-piercing peaks on the other.

As the tender (or motorised transport vessel) drops us ashore at the motu, we’re greeted by the sight of lounge chairs dotted on the edge of a pristine beach, hammocks strung between shady palm trees, and colourful bougainvillea spilling over pathways. And the unavoidable lure of the warm, crystal clear waters turn even the most sedentary beach lover into a snorkeller or kayaker.

Sitting in the crystal clear water, Randy the barman appears from around the corner with a floating bar. He instructs us not to move and wades towards us. Randy reckons his Pina Coladas are the best in Tahiti, and while he serves it up, colourful fish dart in and around our feet. Motu Mahana is a real life Tahitian cliché and it’s difficult to pack up and leave it all behind but ahead of us is the last stop, Moorea.  

En-route to Moorea, we circumnavigate Tetiaroa, the island chain purchased by the actor Marlon Brando in 1966 after filming ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’. But “The Magical Island” of Moorea beckons; it was the inspiration for the mythical island of Bali Hai, and appropriately, it’s a dramatic heart-shaped island with a landscape which mirrors neighbouring Bora Bora.

The following afternoon, as we wallow in the tepid shallows of the ship’s pool, yet another Gauguinesque sunset was being painted on the horizon beyond Moorea. As we set sail for Papeete, the sun drops between Moorea’s towering peaks as if to farewell us with another outrageous light show. 

It would be a very jaded traveller who wouldn’t fall for French Polynesia’s beauty and charm; the dramatic landscapes, the exotic flowers, the crystal clear waters, and the infectious warmth of the Tahitian people. And as the sun melts into the lagoon in a swirl of orange and purple, we think enviously of the new passengers who will next board the m/s Paul Gauguin, and the unique Polynesian experience that stretches before them.

Vessel: Paul Gauguin

Cruise line: PG Cruises

Tonnage: 19,200

Max passenger capacity: 330

Star rating: 5 stars

Crew to guest ratio: 1 to 1.5

Passenger Decks: 7

Facilities: All of the staterooms are spacious and have ocean views, and 70 per cent have private balconies. There is one wheelchair accessible stateroom. L’Etoile is the main restaurant, serving French cuisine with a Polynesian accent, and La Verandah is its boutique eatery. There’s also a pool-side grill, and if you are tired from a day of diving or exploring the islands, there’s also 24-hour room service so you can eat in the privacy of your stateroom. Dining is open seating - dine when, and with whom you choose - and complimentary beverages including soft drinks, hot beverages and selected wines and spirits are served throughout the ship.

ther facilities onboard include a fitness centre, a Carita Spa and Beauty Salon, two bars and a pool-side bar by day, an outdoor swimming pool, a retractable water sports marina, an onboard dive program, a casino, a library, a theatre, and a medical centre. There is also a computer centre and WiFi access in various parts of the ship. All gratuities are included in the fare. For more information, call Wiltrans on 1800 251 174 (from Australia), or visit

Getting There:

Air Tahiti Nui and Qantas operate code share flights direct to Papeete from Sydney. Visit, or Connections to Sydney can be made with Qantas or Jetstar.

Pre And Post Cruise Stopovers:
The Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti (, or the InterContinental Resort Tahiti (

For more information:
Tahiti Tourism:

For the latest exchange rate on the Pacific French Franc, visit our partners at

Send Me More Info - I'm Okay To Be Contacted Directly By a 3rd Party

   Full Name
Email Address


Write Review

This article hasn't received any reviews yet. Be the first to review this article!