Depart North America on your overnight flight to Santiago. On arrival, check into your hotel in the center of this city founded in 1541, which has been Chile’s capital since colonial times. Spend the day at leisure among Santiago’s hills and winding streets before joining your guides for an evening welcome reception.
Days 2–5: Easter Island / Embark Ship
Early on Day 2, we fly to Easter Island and check in for two nights at Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa overlooking a pristine bay within walking distance of the main village. From this island base, we'll explore the volcanic calderas, jagged lava fields and sweeping grasslands that are the backdrop for the colossal moai statues that Easter Island is famed for.
A World Heritage Site replete with wonder and mystery, Easter Island’s evocative past presents many unsolved questions, including who the first islanders were and how they got to this far-flung outpost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Removed for centuries from the rest of the world, the people of Rapa Nui—as Easter Island is known by local residents—developed a distinctive culture whose most famous emblem is the 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. You’ll be joined by an archaeologist to guide you through more ancient legacies of a long-lost culture as you visit not only the statues but also burial sites, quarries and ceremonial altars. At the end of your Easter Island exploration, embark the National Geographic Orion and set sail on a voyage across the farthest reaches of Oceania.
Days 6–10: At Sea / Pitcairn Islands
Crossing the South Pacific, enjoy two days at sea to take in the ocean air and hear from scientific and cultural experts who share their knowledge about the islands and atolls along our route. On our journey across the vast sea that Polynesians used to navigate by starlight, our first destination is a remote British Overseas Territory, the Pitcairn Islands.
As we approach Ducie Atoll, watch for frigatebirds and boobies trolling the reefs. This small, uninhabited isle is rarely visited due to its exceptionally remote location. Ducie was first discovered in 1606 by Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queiros. Barely rising above the ocean's surface, Ducie is rimmed with white sand beaches that surround a crystalline lagoon. Walking along the shore, you'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 you face to face with schools of rainbow-hued fish.
The next stop is uninhabited Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site virtually untouched by humans. The largest of the Pitcairn Islands, ancient Henderson is an uplifted atoll surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs and pockmarked by caves and blowholes. The island’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. Explore this pristine tropical environment on walks and Zodiac excursions.
Rugged, enchanting and tiny—just 2 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 world’s most isolated islands. Stepping ashore, you’ll visit with some of the roughly 50 inhabitants of Adamstown, direct descendants of the nine mutineers and their 18 Polynesian companions. Listen for their unusual Pitkern dialect—a combination of English “sailor speak” and Polynesian phrases. Visit the Bounty’s anchor beside the courthouse and the gravesite of the last surviving mutineer, John Adams.
Days 11 & 12: At Sea / Mangareva, French Polynesia
As the Orion makes it way west, enjoy a leisurely day at sea scanning the ocean for marine life with our naturalist guides, or relaxing on deck with a good book. Orion's next romantic port of call is Mangareva. Famous for its black pearls, this is the largest of the Gambier Islands. Following the arrival of the area’s first missionaries during the 19th century, Mangareva was the cradle of Catholicism in the South Pacific. 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. Stroll Rikitea's tidy streets lined with colorful tropical flowers and learn about local culture from the islanders. Watch for Christmas and tropical shearwaters as you hike with an expert naturalist. Or snorkel underwater to observe a brilliant display of coral and tropical fish.
Days 13–18: Tuamotu Archipelago
Over the next several days, the Orion weaves through the Tuamotus, a far-flung archipelago that stretches across a region of the South Pacific that is the size of Western Europe. Our exploration begins at Pukarua, where we are greeted with a traditional welcome by garland-bedecked dancers. They are among the 150 hospitable inhabitants of the island's sole village who earn a living selling copra, or coconut oil. Pukarua enjoys a scenic setting, with coconut palms and breadfruit trees shading the string of islets that surround its oval-shaped lagoon. Navigating reefs and islands as we cruise, the ship stops to explore an uninhabited atoll like Tahanea, a ring of coral filled with white sand spits and an azure lagoon teeming with fish. Revel in swimming and snorkeling in a pristine tropical paradise—an idyllic experience akin to being “stranded” alone on a desert island.
Finally, we arrive at Fakarava, one of French Polynesia’s largest atolls and the ancient capital of the Tuamotu region. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fakarava sustains rare bird and plant life and is home to 400 residents. Along with communities on six surrounding atolls, Fakarava’s people are actively engaged in conservation of their rich biodiversity, from research and education to monitoring. You'll enjoy a festive welcome with traditional dancers, learn about the local pearl industry, and beachcomb on the pristine stretches of sand. Snorkel protected reefs and admire the bounty of nature’s aquarium, or ride the current into the lagoon on a world-famous drift dive.
Days 19 & 20: Papeete, Tahiti / Disembark / Depart
Continuing our travel to Tahiti, we arrive in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia’s largest island. Here, we bid farewell to the Orion and make a short tour of this tropical island steeped in history and culture. You'll pass verdant papaya orchards as we drive along the coast, and explore some of the settings made famous by renowned painter Paul Gauguin, the French Post-Impressionist who lived and worked in Polynesia. Transfer to the airport this evening for overnight flights home.
Physical Rating: Easy
Note: This itinerary should serve as a guideline only: actual stops are determined by weather, wildlife activity, and a host of other factors in order to provide the best possible experience. This flexibility is what makes traveling on our nimble expedition ships so much more rewarding than on a large vessel with a locked-in voyage plan.