A voyage to the not-often-visited Austral Islands

By Seth Sherman
This article appears on page 40 of the February 2020 issue.
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Our little group, after a lesson on hat making.

Since I started reading International Travel News in the early 1990s, I had heard the occasional report that the ships supplying the various island groups in French Polynesia also carry tourists. With two weeks to spare before the end of the 2019 cyclone season, when I would rejoin my yacht in Raiatea, the timing was perfect for me to find out for myself.

French Polynesia consists of five distinct archipelagos. Everyone’s heard of the Society Islands, which include Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea, but there are also the Tuamotus, Gambiers, Marquesas and Australs, which are much less familiar. I had already spent time on many of those islands, but I’d never been to the Australs, the most remote and least visited group. So that was where I wanted to go in late May 2019.

Getting started

Each archipelago has its own supply ship; the one serving the Australs is called the Tuhaa Pae IV. Consulting my most trusted travel advisor, Google, I learned that there are two distinct itineraries available: one lasting six to nine days, which visits four of the five islands (Rimatara, Rurutu, Tubuai and Raivavae), and a longer itinerary, lasting 11 days, which adds Rapa to the route, the most southerly and most remote island of this already remote archipelago. Although the Rapa cruise occurs only once every two months, it was the one I wanted.

Writing to the email address provided on the website for the ship did not elicit a response, so I called their office (+689 40 41 36 16) and made contact with a woman named Manava, who provided me with a different email address (mtauira@snathp.com), which got the ball rolling. Manava wanted a copy of my passport as well as a completed questionnaire, which she sent.

At the time of my voyage, the price of the least expensive single cabin was $1,700, but it has since gone up to around $2,564. Credit card payment is not accepted, so it was agreed that I would pay in cash upon arrival.

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