South Pacific Cruises | TravelQuest International
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South Pacific Cruises

To embark on a South Pacific cruise with TravelQuest is to participate in a journey with a purpose. As a company specializing in solar eclipse travel, we voyage to specific locations where we can watch the Moon completely cover the Sun for a few exhilarating moments. Sometimes, the eclipse leads us to the South Pacific Ocean and the exotic islands of French Polynesia.

We often sail aboard the small luxury ship m/s Paul Gauguin, departing from Papeete, Tahiti. The Gauguin is designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of French Polynesia and deliver travelers to small ports inaccessible to larger cruise ships. Life onboard reflects the rich cultural heritage of the islands the vessel calls on, and a troupe of local Tahitians serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers.

At other times, on different ships, TravelQuest sails out of Australia into the waters of Indonesia and Malaysia and also explores, via wet landings, some of the more remote outposts in Papua New Guinea in our travel groups. We go where totality takes us, but the eclipse is only a small part of each cruise experience.

TravelQuest in the South Pacific

The Gauguin is based at Papeete in Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia and part of the chain known as the Society Islands. The island is mountainous, with numerous black-sand beaches, lagoons, and two extinct volcanoes. Its scenery and people were often painted by the French artist Paul Gauguin, who lived in Tahiti during the 1890s.

Our South Pacific cruise itinerary is dictated by the location of the solar eclipse’s path of totality across the Pacific Ocean. Still, we always incorporate at least part of the Gauguin’s usual itinerary, which takes us to a number of Society Islands. These include Huahine, possessing lush forests, wild landscapes, and quaint villages, and Raiatea, the most sacred island in the region, where cliffs and waterfalls descend from Mt. Temehani into verdant landscapes. Bora Bora’s jungle-clad peaks, hidden lagoons, and white sand beaches are dominated by the iconic volcanic peak of Mount Otemanu. It is often called one of the most beautiful islands in the world.

Taha’a is a quiet isle known as the “Vanilla Island” because of its numerous vanilla farms. Just offshore of Taha’a lies Motu Mahana, the cruise line’s private island retreat featuring white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and crystal-clear waters. The lagoon is perfect for swimming and snorkeling, and kayaks are available. Add a seaside barbecue of local specialties, drinks from the floating bar, and traditional Polynesian music and crafts, and this stop becomes a perfect Polynesian day.

Moorea, a very short sail from Tahiti, is often our final stop before the end of the cruise. With its blue lagoons and palm-lined beaches, dramatic peaks and lush valleys, Moorea is a scenically striking island. It’s thought to have inspired the mythical “Bali Hai” in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.

On two trips we pushed the Paul Gauguin to her limits by sailing far to the east of her normal itinerary. Our goal was Pitcairn Island, best known as the remote South Pacific island where, in 1790, mutineers from the HMAV Bounty found refuge after seizing the ship as it sailed from Tahiti. Even today, landing on Pitcairn is difficult, and sadly, we were thwarted on both sailings. But we hope there will be other opportunities to experience this unique island.

During our South Pacific cruise in 2020, we stop at several of the previously mentioned islands, but we also make landfall at three that we haven’t visited in many years: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, and Fakarava. Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa are the two largest islands in the Marquesas. This archipelago of some 15 volcanic isles in French Polynesia is located 900 miles (1,400 km) northeast of Tahiti. Unlike most of French Polynesian, the Marquesas lack protective barrier reefs. This means the island’s shorelines are exposed to the might of the Pacific Ocean and are indented with bays or end in abrupt cliffs that are pounded by the Pacific surf.

Beautiful Nuku Hiva is the second largest island in French Polynesia. It’s sometimes called “The Mystic Island” thanks to its verdant valleys, cascading waterfalls, and ancient ruins overlooking surreal blue bays. Taiohae, a charming seafront village and the administrative and economic center of the Marquesas, is an excellent place to find local hand-crafted goods. A short sail to the northwest is Hiva Oa, a realm of deep valleys, thick rainforests, and plateaus covered in exotic flora and lush vegetation. It’s also famous as the resting place of Paul Gauguin.

Fakarava is one of the largest Tuamotu Archipelago atolls, a French Polynesian chain of nearly 80 islands and atolls (plus innumerable reefs). Stretching in a long northwest–southeast arc just northeast of Tahiti, it is the largest atoll chain in the world. Fakarava is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to the many rare birds, plants, and crustaceans that dwell above and under the water. Here, the snorkeling and diving is superb.

The Society islands of French Polynesia are known for their magnificent, tree-lined beaches. (Photo by Paul Gauguin Cruises)
Snorkeling or diving in the many tranquil lagoons in French Polynesia is a swimmer’s delight. (Photo by Paul Gauguin Cruises)

What to Expect on a TravelQuest South Pacific Cruise

Perhaps seeing a total eclipse of the Sun is just the excuse needed to journey somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, but never managed to reach. A South Pacific cruise to totality offers an incredible combination of emotional experiences—the beauty of French Polynesia and the stunning sight of a total solar eclipse.

During our South Pacific cruise, we call on island paradise after island paradise. Old, extinct volcanoes create dramatic backgrounds for the many magnificent beaches lined with palm trees. An abundance of coral reefs surround the islands of French Polynesia, creating beautiful, tranquil lagoons ideal for snorkelers and divers. We explore these crystal lagoons and the jungle-covered peaks of remote Polynesian archipelagos, experiencing a spectacular taste of paradise right here on Earth.

Then there is the m/s Paul Gauguin itself; a small ship that is wonderfully luxurious. Designed to sail the shallow bays of Polynesia, the Gauguin can navigate small ports and lagoons that larger ships would never dare enter. Life onboard celebrates the warm, informal spirit of Polynesian culture while delivering five-star service, comfort, and luxury. Spacious suites and staterooms, an onboard watersports marina, a choice of dining venues, and a relaxing spa are among the vessel’s many amenities. And there are Les Gauguines, a troupe of Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers, adding a unique dimension to every cruise. With one crewmember for every 1.5 guests, the highest level of personal attention is assured.

Our cruises not only provide entertainment and an opportunity to relax and unwind, they also have a strong educational element. On board are experts knowledgeable in the regions through which we sail. With a rich program of shipboard lectures presented each day at sea, participants will discover the people, places, and history of Polynesia, and learn about the fascinating local land and marine flora and fauna.

TravelQuest sailings always include an astronomy component. Our onboard astronomers explain the science of eclipses and discuss the latest discoveries in astronomy—all at a level that is accessible to everyone. They’ve also seen numerous totalities and will help you get the best images of this mind-bending event.

At sea, the night skies are incredibly dark. From the decks of the Gauguin, our astronomers lead observing sessions of the spectacular southern sky. Away from pollution and city lights, we see the unspoiled splendor of our Milky Way galaxy, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and many other amazing celestial sights that can’t be seen from North American latitudes.

During every cruise, the Paul Gauguin calls on lush islands with magnificent beaches and backdrops of extinct volcanoes. (Photo by Paul Gauguin Cruises)
Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins are the Gauguin’s own troupe of Polynesian host/entertainers. (Photo by Paul Gauguin Cruises)
Fakarava is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its abundance of rare flora and fauna on land and sea. (Photo by Paul Gauguin Cruises)

Voyage With Us to Totality

Our cruises in the South Pacific are unlike any that you’ll experience. Of course, every Paul Gauguin sailing sees the ship visit a certain number of islands in French Polynesia on a regular basis. But on a TravelQuest cruise, we’ll sometimes drop anchor at islands rarely called on by the Gauguin, or by any other cruise ships for that matter. The Gauguin’s excellent shipboard experts and lecturers are augmented by our astronomers. They will help you discover the beautiful Southern Hemisphere sky and also prepare you for the cosmic highlight of the trip: a total solar eclipse.

Contact TravelQuest to learn more, and join us as we explore the wonders of French Polynesia and witness a total eclipse of the Sun.

A total solar eclipse seen from the Paul Gauguin in the South Pacific. The eclipse progresses from lower right to upper left; the background shows sunrise/sunset colors along the horizon during totality. (Photo by Rick Fienberg)

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Header image by Paul Gauguin Cruises