Day 1: Depart USA / Papeete, Tahiti
Board your independent flight to Papeete. Arrive in the late evening and transfer to our hotel.
Day 2: Papeete / Embark Caledonian Sky
Rest up during a morning at leisure followed by a tour of Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia’s largest island, Tahiti. We'll pass verdant papaya orchards as we drive along the idyllic coast, stopping en route to visit the renowned Paul Gauguin Museum to learn about the painter's life and work in Polynesia, and the Museum of Tahiti, which traces the islands’ cultural and natural history. This evening, embark the Caledonian Sky,
with dinner served aboard.
Day 3: Rangiroa, Tuamotu Islands
Though remote and sparsely populated, the far-flung Tuamotus are the world’s largest atoll chain. Atolls are ring-shaped coral reefs that encircle an interior lagoon, rising just high enough out of the water to constitute land. We step ashore on the largest of them this afternoon, Rangiroa, whose name means “vast sky” in the local language. Rangiroa is comprised of more than 400 motus—low-lying islets and sandbars—that sit atop a ring of coral through which some 100 channels flow. Its dazzling lagoon, the second largest in the world, is hailed as one of the world’s greatest dive destinations, with divers and snorkelers alike marveling at a stunning underwater world filled with a dense collection of tropical fish and colorful marine life. Bird lovers will want to watch for blue lorikeets, red-footed boobies and great frigatebirds. A beach walk leads to Tiputa village where we'll meet the local people who perform high-energy traditional dances for us.
Day 4: At Sea
Enjoy a glorious and relaxing day at sea as the Caledonian Sky
cruises northward toward the legendary Marquesas Islands. A slate of informative lectures is offered to enhance your knowledge of our destinations. You may also wish to visit the ship's library, perhaps spending time with a volume on early Polynesian maritime exploration. Or get some exercise in the gym on board, before returning to the aft sun deck to savor a meal or watch the sea and sky go by.
Days 5-7: Marquesas Islands
Considered one of the most beautiful island groups in the South Pacific, the Marquesas lie farther from a continental coast than any other islands in the world. We spend three days exploring this dazzling collection of islands whose breathtaking vertical peaks reach into the clouds, while cliffs and canyons draped in lush tropical vegetation descend to sea-sculpted bays. Unlike other Polynesian islands, the Marquesas have no surrounding reefs or placid lagoons. Tiny, rocky pinnacle islets that punctuate their deep bays are circled by dountless sooty, fairy, and bridled terns.
We go ashore by Zodiac on a variety of islands, greeted on some by dancers and drummers adorned in leis and tapa cloth, and welcomed to others by the blowing of large conch shells—the traditional pu
greeting. On walks we may see petroglyphs or tiki figures—representing deified ancestors—flanked by banyan trees, fragrant plumeria, blooming orchids and waterfalls plummeting in silvery ribbons from on high. Open-air craft markets display baskets, shell jewelry and wooden carvings. Birders will want to search for the endemic Nuku Hiva pigeon and Marquesan swiftlet. Though the islands lack fringing reefs, snorkelers and divers will discover many colorful fish against a backdrop of sheer walls and dramatic arches covered in soft corals.
Day 8: Puka Puka, Tuamotu Islands
Returning to the outer edge of the Tuamotus, we are welcomed to the idyllic isle of Puka Puka with delightful music and dancing. This small, isolated coral atoll was the first land sighted in the Pacific by Europeans, when Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew laid eyes on it in 1521. More than 400 years later, Thor Heyerdahl and the six-man crew aboard the raft Kon-Tiki
passed the island on July 30, 1947, the first land they had seen since sailing from Peru. We'll visit the small village where residents raise taro, bananas and coconut palms for copra
(dried coconut.) Birders can look for Pacific reef-heron while snorkelers and divers explore the fringing reef.
Day 9: Puka Rua, Tuamotu Islands
Yet another enticing destination in the Tuamotus beckons today as we land at Puka Rua. Coconut palms and breadfruit trees shade the string of islets that surrounds Puka Rua’s oval-shaped lagoon. Garland-bedecked dancers greet us in the tiny village whose 150 hospitable inhabitants earn a living selling copra.
We'll have a chance to observe the process of drying coconut, shop for souvenirs at a local craft market, and stroll along the tranquil shore of the lagoon watching crested terns circling overhead. Underwater wonders beckon, too, and there's time for diving or snorkeling in the coral-ringed lagoon this afternoon.
Day 10: Expedition Stop, Tuamotus
Today, conditions permitting, we will explore one of the many uninhabited Tuamotu islands, with a chance to revel in swimming, snorkeling or diving in a pristine tropical paradise. It's a rare experience indeed to be all by ourselves on a desert island, but here in the the very heart of the romantic South Pacific, we get to fulfill that dream.
Day 11: Mangareva, Gambier Islands
More than a thousand miles southeast of Tahiti, we reach the Gambier Islands. Mangareva, the largest island and our port of call, is home to most of the population. Its lagoons are famed for their pearl oysters, and the island is the center of the region's thriving pearl industry. Mangareva was the cradle of Catholicism in the South Pacific during the 19th century following the arrival of the first missionaries to the area, and hundreds of stone buildings from that era survive including churches, convents, schools and watch towers. A landmark in the main town of Rikitea is the neo-gothic St. Michael's Cathedral, dating from 1848 and ornately decorated with inlaid pearls. Stepping ashore, we'll stroll Rikitea's tidy streets lined with colorful tropical flowers, then ascend the slopes of Mt. Duff, the highest point in the island group, for nature walks. Christmas and tropical shearwaters are sought-after bird species here, which we'll keep an eye out for as we explore with our naturalist guides. This afternoon there's a chance to snorkel or dive in the large lagoon.
Day 12: Oeno, Pitcairn Islands
Rarely visited, lovely Oeno Island lies inside an atoll that is part of the Pitcairns, a small group of four islands that is a British Overseas Territory. The palm-studded island's maximum elevation is just 16 feet, and its powdery white-sand beaches invite strolling and lazing. Oeno has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA), principally for its colony of Murphy's Petrels, which, at some 12,500 pairs, is estimated to be the second largest colony of these birds in the world. It is also a haven for other nesting seabirds including boobies, white terns and frigatebirds.
Day 13: Pitcairn Island
Remote, rugged, enchanting and tiny—just two miles long and a mile across—Pitcairn Island was the fabled hideout of the HMS Bounty
mutineers. In 1790, Fletcher Christian and eight fellow crew members escaped British naval law by forging a new, 'free' settlement on this hidden, uninhabited volcanic outcrop, one of the most isolated islands in the world. Today, Pitcairn is occasionally visited by mariners and ships such as ours en route between Tahiti and Easter Island. We step ashore to visit with the roughly 50 hospitable inhabitants of Adamstown, who are the direct descendants of the nine mutineers and their 18 Polynesian companions. The anchor of the Bounty
rests beside the courthouse, and the ship’s Bible resides in the church. After our island visit, the warm turquoise waters beckon us for a swim, snorkel or dive. There may even be a chance for divers to investigate the remains of the Bounty
where it rests at the bottom of Bounty Bay.
Day 14: Henderson, Pitcairn Islands
The largest of the Pitcairn group, ancient Henderson is one of the world's least disturbed coral islands, surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs and pockmarked by caves and blowholes. Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its pristine ecosystem and noteworthy unique species, Henderson’s astounding natural selection has produced nine endemic flowering plants and four endemic species of land birds, including the Henderson Island crake and Stephen’s lorikeet. In the afternoon, we have another opportunity to snorkel or dive in the island waters, rich with diverse marine life.
Day 15: Ducie, Pitcairn Islands
This small, uninhabited atoll lies nearly 300 miles east of Pitcairn and is rarely visited due to its exceptionally remote location. Ducie was first discovered in 1606 by Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, then rediscovered by Edward Edwards, captain of the HMS Pandora
, who was sent by Britain in 1790 to capture the mutineers of HMS Bounty.
Barely rising above the ocean's surface, Ducie is rimmed with white sand beaches that surround a crystalline lagoon. As we walk along the shore, we'll witness a great variety of seabirds—tens of thousands nest here, including Murphy’s and Phoenix petrels, fairy terns, masked boobies, frigatebirds and red-tailed tropicbirds. Undersea exploration in the warm, clear waters brings us face to face with vivid schools of rainbow-hued fish.
Day 16 & 17: At Sea
After all our island landings and underwater forays of the past days, a chance to relax on deck and watch the horizon glide by during a day at sea is welcome. Our ongoing lecture series continues as we cruise toward Easter Island, alone in the Pacific 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile, and the most isolated place of human habitation on earth.
Days 18 & 19: Easter Island
We spend two full days exploring Easter Island, a World Heritage Site replete with wonder and mystery. Its evocative past presents many unsolved questions, such as who the first islanders were and how they got to this far-flung outpost in the middle of the ocean. Removed for centuries from the rest of the world, the people of Rapa Nui—as Easter Island is known to local residents— developed a distinctive culture whose most famous emblem is the moai
, great stone figures with imposing human faces carved of volcanic rock. Hundreds of these monoliths dot the island, some in towering rows, others toppled and broken. The island’s modern name was bestowed by Dutch seafarer Jacob Roggeveen, who made landfall on Easter Day in 1722.
We visit the ceremonial center of Ahu Vinapu where the stonework is reminiscent of the Inca civilization in Peru, contributing to the theory of contact between the islanders and South America. At Tahai we view the intriguing stone heads of the moai built on massive stone platforms, along with nearly 400 monolithic statues in various stages of completion at the volcanic tuff quarries. We'll explore the largest ceremonial site in Polynesia, Ahu Tongariki, where a 5-year archaeological restoration project was completed in 1996. Another stunning highlight is a drive to Rano Kau volcano to view the giant caldera, its vast floor dotted with lakes. And we'll see the ceremonial village of Orongo, dedicated to the fascinating “birdman” cult, which hosted an annual race to bring the first manutara
(sooty tern) egg from the islet of Motu Nui to Orongo. The site has numerous petroglyphs, mainly of tangata manu
Days 20 & 21: Easter Island / Disembark / Santiago, Chile / USA
After breakfast, disembark the Caledonian Sky
and enjoy a final short tour before heading to the airport for your afternoon flight from Easter Island to Santiago, Chile. Most USA-bound flights from Santiago depart late at night and arrive the following day.
Physical Rating: Moderate