Discover a Tropical Paradise of Uninhabited Islands & the World’s Healthiest Reefs
Days 1–2: Papeete, French Polynesia / Rangiroa / Embark Ship
Depart North America on an overnight flight to Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia located on the island of Tahiti. Upon arrival, take a short flight over the shimmering South Pacific to Rangiroa, not only the largest atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago,
but the second largest atoll in the world. On a brief tour of Rangiroa, explore the seemingly limitless coral string that circles a luminous, jade-green lagoon. More than 240 tiny islets, known as motu
, peek mere feet out of warm ocean waters that boast 150-foot visibility. In addition to the peaceful village of Avatoru, the island is dotted with coral churches, craft shops, pearl farms and secluded beaches.
This afternoon, embark the National Geographic Orion
. Take in the expansive turquoise lagoon that’s home to dolphins and millions of colorful fish, and survey the skies for 57 resident bird species, including the endemic Tuamotu kingfisher, Tuamotu sandpiper
and Tuamotu reed warbler. As the sun dips toward the horizon, watch from on deck as our ship navigates the famously strong currents of narrow Tiputa Pass, brimming with reef and lemon sharks, manta rays and large Javanese eels. The Orion
exits the lagoon into the open ocean and heads north.
Days 3–5: At Sea / Southern Line Islands, Kiribati
After a day at sea, Orion
reaches the far-flung Southern Line Islands and some of the planet’s most remote and pristine coral reefs. While remains of some Polynesian marae
(ancient and sacred ceremonial sites) have been discovered, a time frame for habitation remains unclear. Mined above the water for guano and coconuts in the 1800s, and the site of a British atmospheric nuclear test in 1957, the islands are surrounded by an untouched underwater environment. The five Southern Line Islands are part of Kiribati, a nation of 33 islands spread over 1,351,000 square miles.
Over the next three days
we’ll explore seldom-visited atolls, including Caroline Island, renamed Millennium Atoll after a realignment of the International Date Line made it one of the first places on Earth to welcome the year 2000. Fishing is prohibited around the islands, protecting one of the planet's wildest and least-touched ocean environments as a reserve with dense and healthy coral, plentiful fish
and ample predators—a preserve sporting truly healthy biodiversity. While snorkeling or diving in warm, translucent lagoons, watch for small giant clams the size of a football and giant clams that can grow to four feet long. A recent study found 325 fish species in this string of islands, including some of the highest densities of fish ever reported on a coral reef. Identifiable by their prominent head bump and immense size—growing up to 6 feet long—watch for endangered Napoleon wrasse swimming through the reef while you snorkel.
Days 6 & 7: Southern Line Islands / At Sea
During the Orion’s
final day in Kiribati, navigate the intricate lagoon channels by glass-bottom Zodiac and kayak as we watch for nesting boobies and tropical birds on shore, and beds of giant clams underwater. Snorkel from the long expanses of white sand beach, or explore palm groves with a naturalist guide in search of endangered coconut crabs, the world’s largest land-dwelling arthropods, which weigh up to 9 pounds, measure 3 feet from leg to leg and live up to 40 years. During the following day at sea, join the Orion
naturalists on deck with binoculars as we search for marine mammals, seabirds and flying fish skimming the azure sea.
Day 8: Moorea, French Polynesia
As we approach the island of Moorea this morning, eight jungle-clad mountain peaks rise from a translucent lagoon. Just across the Sea of the Moon from its big sister, Tahiti, the Garden Island of Moorea forms a trident shape with a pair of large bays, Cook's and Opunohu. Moorea means “yellow lizard,” stemming from the legend of a big yellow lizard that opened two bays with its tail. Watch on deck as Orion
navigates the passage in Moorea’s barrier reef to anchor in Opunohu Bay, just as Captain James Cook did in 1777. Spend the day exploring turquoise lagoons, white-sand beaches, lush forests, seaside villages and ancient Polynesian sacred sites. Alongside an archaeologist, visit the Opunoho Valley, where more than 100 maraes
have been unearthed, the sacred stone platforms where Polynesians communicated with their gods and made important societal decisions. Look out over the island’s iridescent bays and verdant mountains from the famous Belvedere lookout, then stop by the Lycee Agricole d’Opunohu, an agricultural college where you can taste the tropical heritage of French Polynesia in fresh produce, homemade jams and icy sorbets.
Days 9 & 10: Tahiti / Disembark / Depart
On arrival in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia’s largest island, bid farewell to the Orion
and make a tour of the historic and cultural highlights of Tahiti. Visit Puna’auia, the area where the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin lived in the 1890s, and the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands with its collections of carved tiki
statues and historical artifacts. Explore Marae Arahurahu, the only fully restored ancient stone temple in all of Polynesia, then enjoy a seaside lunch at the Paul Gauguin Museum. Continue to Vaipahi Gardens with its archaeological relics and 75 plant species watered by Tahiti’s only freshwater lake, then visit the Grotto of Maraa
, a cool, water-filled cave also known as the “upside-down fern cave” due to the ferns growing from the ceiling. Once our tour concludes, there's time to relax in day rooms before an evening transfer to the airport for overnight flights home.