Depart North America on an overnight flight to Santiago. On arrival, check in to your hotel in the center of this city founded in 1541, which has been Chile’s capital since colonial times. Spend the day exploring Santiago on your own before joining your guides for a welcome reception this evening.
Days 2–5: Easter Island / Embark Ship
Early on Day 2, 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, explore the volcanic calderas, jagged lava fields and sweeping grasslands that are the backdrop for the colossal moai statues Easter Island is famous 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, which local residents call Rapa Nui. Hundreds of imposing stone monoliths dot the island, some in towering rows displaying carved human faces, others toppled and broken. The island’s modern name was bestowed by Dutch seafarer Jacob Roggeveen, who made landfall on Easter Day in 1722. An archaeologist joins us to interpret ancient legacies of a long-lost culture as we visit not only the statues but also burial sites, quarries and ceremonial altars. At the end of our 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 the Polynesians once navigated by starlight, our first destination is a remote British Overseas Territory, the Pitcairn Islands.
Barely rising above the ocean's surface, Ducie Atoll is rimmed with white sand beaches that surround a crystalline lagoon. Walking along the shore, we 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 reveals enormous schools of rainbow-hued fish.
Orion’s next stop is uninhabited Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site virtually untouched by humans. The largest of the Pitcairn Islands, Henderson is an uplifted atoll surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs and pockmarked by caves and blowholes. The island’s isolation 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. Ashore we 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 watchtowers. Look for Christmas and tropical shearwaters as you hike with an expert naturalist or snorkel through a brilliant display of coral and tropical fish.
Days 13–18: Tuamotu Archipelago
Over the next several days, Orion weaves through the Tuamotus, a far-flung archipelago spanning a section of the South Pacific the size of Western Europe. Navigating reefs and islands, the ship stops to explore uninhabited atolls such as Tahanea, a ring of coral filled with white sand spits and a turquoise lagoon teeming with fish.
Finally, we arrive at Fakarava, one of French Polynesia’s largest atolls and the ancient capital of the Tuamotus. 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. Enjoy a festive welcome from traditional dancers, learn about the local pearl industry, and beachcomb on stretches of white sand. You might also choose to snorkel protected reefs, or ride the current into the lagoon on a world-famous drift dive.
Days 19 & 20: Papeete, Tahiti / Disembark / Depart
Continuing to Tahiti, we arrive in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia’s largest island. Here, we disembark the Orion and take a short tour of this fabled tropical island. Driving along the coast past papaya orchards, explore some of the settings made famous by the 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.