Depart from North America for Papeete in the late afternoon and arrive late in the evening on the same day. Check into a hotel room on arrival with the remainder of the night on your own. Papeete, located on the island of Tahiti, is the capital of French Polynesia.
Day 2: Tahiti Island Tour / Embark Ship
Have breakfast at your leisure and spend some time enjoying the amenities of the resort as you adjust to island time. Meet your fellow travelers for lunch, followed by a tour of the fabled island of Tahiti before we embark ship later this afternoon. Tahiti is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. 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. Return to Papeete to board the National Geographic Orion and set sail this evening.
Day 3: Makatea
We make our first landing on Makatea, an uplifted coral atoll ringed by 260-foot-high cliffs that is one of the most unique landforms in the Pacific. Spend the day exploring partially submerged limestone caves and grottos with our ship’s expedition team and local guides, or search for endemic fruit doves and myriad seabirds, then snorkel among colorful fish on the nearby reef.
Days 4–8: At Sea / Tuamotu Archipelago
Over the next several days, the ship weaves through the Tuamotus, a far-flung archipelago spanning a section of the South Pacific the size of Western Europe. Our exploration begins at Fakarava, one of French Polynesia’s largest atolls and the ancient capital of the Tuamotus. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fakarava sustains rare plants and birdlife 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.
In true expedition mode, our itinerary in the Tuamotus is flexible, with our Captain and Expedition Leader determining our eastward route. Navigating reefs and islands, the ship stops to explore remote islets and uninhabited atolls such as Tahanea, a ring of coral filled with white sand spits and a turquoise lagoon teeming with fish.
Day 9: Mangareva
As the ship sails east, enjoy time at sea scanning the ocean for marine life with our naturalist guides or relaxing on deck with a good book. Our next 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 10–13: Pitcairn Islands / At Sea
Journeying across the vast sea the Polynesians once navigated by starlight, our next destination is a remote British Overseas Territory, the Pitcairn Islands. Just 2 miles long and a mile across, famed 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 uninhabited volcanic outcrop, one of the world’s most isolated islands. About 50 descendants of the nine mutineers and their Polynesian companions still live here today, and we visit with some of them when we go ashore. Listen for their unusual Pitkern dialect—a combination of English “sailor speak” and Polynesian phrases. Visit the gravesite of the last surviving mutineer, John Adams, and see the Bounty’s anchor, which was salvaged in 1957.
Continue to 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.
Our final stop in the Pitcairns is Ducie Atoll, barely rising above the ocean’s surface and rimmed with white sand beaches that surround a crystalline lagoon. Walking along the shore, 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. Exploring the reefs in the warm, clear waters reveals enormous schools of rainbow-hued fish. Diving is available for guests on the National Geographic Orion.
Days 14 & 15: At Sea
As Orion voyages across the eastern reaches of Oceania, head up to the bridge to watch for marine life and observe the expert navigational skills of our Captain and officers as they sail the ship through these remote waters. There’s plenty of time to relax with a massage in the wellness center, work out in the gym and browse the library. Each day, the ship’s naturalists offer talks that add depth and insight to your experience, as they share their scientific and cultural expertise. At night, head out on deck to watch the stars overhead, sparkling in some of the blackest night skies on the planet.
Days 16 & 17: Easter Island, Chile / Disembark
Orion arrives at Easter Island, where we disembark and check into the Hanga Roa Eco Village & Spa (or similar) for two nights. A World Heritage Site replete with wonder and mystery, Easter Island has an evocative past that 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. Over the next two days, explore volcanic calderas, jagged lava fields and sweeping grasslands to discover the colossal moai statues as well as burial sites, quarries and ceremonial altars. We’re joined by archaeologists who interpret the ancient legacies and mysteries of a long-lost culture.
Days 18 & 19: Fly to Santiago, Chile / Depart for Home
On Day 18, depart Easter Island by air for Santiago, Chile to meet overnight international flights home, arriving on Day 19.
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.