Why choose the Austral Islands?
The Austral Islands archipelago, or ‘Tuhaa Pae’ as it is known in Tahitian, are made up of seven islands: five high islands, Rimatara, Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae and Rapa, plus two uninhabited islands, Maria and Marotiri.
These five inhabited islands are the most southerly and least visited in French Polynesia. The legendary mixed cargo ship of the South Pacific, Aranui 5, offers a timeless voyage to discover the Austral archipelago.
This 11-day voyage, which alternates between sailing and stopovers, allows you to discover all the inhabited islands, the wealth of untamed nature, little-known archaeological sites and fascinating people who have managed to preserve their very special culture based on self-sufficiency and the preservation of their natural heritage. This is a unique journey to discover a collection of little-known islands.
What are the Austral Islands?
Discovered by Europeans in the 18th century, the Austral Islands are located 600 km south-west of Tahiti. The Austral archipelago is, as its name suggests, the southernmost of French Polynesia. The islands of this archipelago stretch for more than 1,300 km, forming an arc running from north-west to south-west, in the volcanic extension of the Cook Islands.
The archipelago is made up of seven islands:
– Maria and Marotiri, at the ends of the chain, are uninhabited.
– Rimatara, the smallest;
– Rurutu, the troglodyte island, is renowned for its limestone caves and orchards growing deep in the most impenetrable forest;
– Tubuai, the administrative centre of the archipelago, with its lagoon populated by pretty motus and its incredible kitesurfing spots;
– Raivavae, one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific according to all those who have visited it, is known for its large Tikis and magnificent crystal-clear lagoon;
– Rapa, the island without coconut trees, dotted with fortresses called ‘Pa’.
French Polynesia’s mixed cargo ship, Aranui 5, will allow you to go off the beaten track to discover the authenticity and beauty of the Austral Islands.
When should I travel to the Austral Islands?
Due to the Austral Islands’ geographical position on the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate in this region has a hot season similar to that of tropical regions (humidity and heavy rainfall) and a cold season similar to that of temperate regions.
The best time to visit this faraway land is between May and November. These are also the coolest months.
In 2024, Aranui 5 will be offering two cruises to the Austral Islands, one in March and the other in November.
In 2025, the Aranui will offer three cruises to the Austral Islands, in April, September (when humpback whales can be seen every year) and November.
Which islands to visit in the Austral Islands and how do I get there?
There’s no better way to discover the authentic and mysterious Austral archipelago than aboard Aranui 5, a small-scale mixed cargo ship.
Over the course of 11 days, this legendary South Pacific vessel will enable you to discover the natural treasures, archaeological sites, and hospitality of the five islands:
1) Rurutu, one of the two largest raised atolls in French Polynesia, is unique for its geological structure, which is surprising to visitors as ones does not expect to discover such landscapes in the South Pacific.
Basalt and limestone cliffs are dotted with caves where the original islanders once lived, a volcanic interior with lush tropical jungle, white sandy beaches, and magnificent bays, offer breathtaking panoramas.
The island is one of the memorable highlights for Aranui’s passengers thanks to the warm welcome of its inhabitants, where a traditional meal typical of Rurutu is served in the home of the village mayor, and also for its noteworthy craft heritage. Passengers also love its colourful and easily accessible landscapes, and the grandiose display of humpback whales who visit the waters surrounding the island from July to October.
2) Raivavae: Raivavae is often described as one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific.
Still far from the modern world and off the beaten tourist track, Raivavae is a small, unspoilt paradise, where old-fashioned tranquillity reigns in a landscape of outstanding beauty.
In the Australs archipelago, Raivavae is considered by many visitors to be the most beautiful lagoon in French Polynesia. The mountainous interior is dominated by Mount Hiro, and an immense cliff lines the entire north coast, opposite the main channel. The majority of the island’s 995 inhabitants live in five villages with their multicoloured houses.
3) Rapa: Rapa, Easter Island’s little sister in the southernmost group of the Austral Islands and is the most isolated place in the archipelago. Shaped like a crescent, with a coastline cut by 12 very deep bays, its climate is temperate. There are no coral reefs or coconut palms here, just non-tropical fruit and vegetables: apples, peaches, nectarines, etc.
Among the activities on offer during Aranui 5’s stopover in Rapa is a visit to Ahurei, the island’s main village, followed by a tour of the ancient fortresses, a visit to an agricultural production centre, a chance to discover the crafts and meet the villagers for a wood-fired ma’a.
4) Rimatara is a tiny round island, 4 km in diameter, lost in the middle of the ocean. A small circular volcanic plateau, it was the last island in the archipelago to be discovered in the 19th century by Captain Samuel Pinder Henry. It has preserved its ancient traditions, including its own dialect.
It is home to an endemic bird, the amazing and colourful Lori de Kuhl. After passing through purification smoke, an ancient welcoming tradition, passengers set off to discover the main villages of Amaru, Anapoto and Motuaura.
5) Tubuai is the most densely populated island in the Austral Islands. It is also the administrative and economic centre of the Austral Islands. Almost oval in shape, it is made up of two mountain ranges, the highest of which is Mount Taita, and is surrounded by a large turquoise lagoon with a few motus.
Here, diving enthusiasts will be surprised by the beauty and richness of the underwater life. Visitors can admire pretty beaches of white, pink, or ochre sand, mountains offering splendid panoramic views and large plateaux where taro, potatoes, oranges, and coffee are grown.
The day’s activities offered by Aranui include truck tours of the island’s cultural sites, the “PO TUI TUI” marae, Fort George, the first refuge of the Bounty mutineers from July to September 1789, and Bloody Bay, where the fighting between the islanders and the mutineers too place.
Things to do in the Austral Islands
The Austral Islands are a true paradise on earth for lovers of unspoilt nature and adventure. A natural landscape of great diversity offers transparent lagoons, deep bays, wild islets, spectacular cliffs, lush vegetation, coral sand beaches and small mountains.
During a cruise to the Austral Islands with Aranui 5, passengers can admire this raw and fascinating nature during the hikes offered on several islands or during free time on the archipelago’s wild beaches.
With its mild climate, the Austral Islands play host to humpback whales every year. They generally come between July to October to mate and give birth in the clear waters of the archipelago. This spectacle can be seen particularly in Rurutu and Tubuai. The mother whales swim gracefully with their calves, while the males captivate observers with their spellbinding songs. It’s a unique spectacle.
Travelling aboard Aranui 5 is much more than just discovering exotic landscapes. It’s an immersion in the culture, traditions, and lifestyles of the local population. At each port of call, passengers meet the people of the islands for a hike, a meal, a visit to the agricultural cooperative, a mass or just to chat during the musical entertainment.
The Australs are also renowned for their handicrafts: hats, baskets, bags, lampshades, mats… There are also tifaifai, multicoloured patchwork blankets, and woodcarving.
During their stopovers, passengers will visit numerous pre-European archaeological sites, notably on the islands of Tubuai, Raivavae and Rimatara. Most of them have been abandoned and blend in with the lush vegetation, but some are well-maintained and well worth a visit.
Why choose Aranui 5 to visit the Austral Islands?
Aranui, in Marquesan, means the “Great Road”. With this name, the boat is a veritable institution in French Polynesia.
Since its creation, the concept of cruising in Polynesia with Aranui has remained the same: entrusting Polynesians with the task of helping visitors discover a traditional and authentic Polynesia.
For 40 years, Aranui has been offering adventure-seeking travellers the most fascinating voyages on the planet. This mixed cargo and passenger vessel will take you to the Austral Islands, a fascinating and little-known land. Discover our itinerary in the Austral Islands for 2024!
With an optimal itinerary (five islands in 11 days), this voyage aboard Aranui 5 is the most beautiful and complete discovery of these remote islands. As well as discovering the islands, the boat offers 4-star comfort in its 103 cabins, full board and included excursions.
Throughout the voyage, passengers rub shoulders with the Polynesian crew in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, allowing them to immerse themselves fully in Polynesian culture.