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Trip Logs

French Polynesia to Easter Island Expedition Trip Log: October 27-November 9, 2023

Trip Logs

French Polynesia to Easter Island Expedition Trip Log: October 27-November 9, 2023

Photography by Michelle Valberg | October 31, 2023

October 27, 2023 | Papeete, Tahiti

Our epic adventure began in the bustling, coastal town of Papeete. Old friends and new acquaintances gathered for a delicious lunch. We then set off to visit historic Point Venus in Matavai Bay. Chosen by Captain Cook to observe the 1769 Transit of Venus, it was also the breadfruit nursery for the infamous 1788 Bounty and the backdrop for the Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty. From there, we travelled up to Belvédère du Tahara'a, appreciating panoramas of neighboring Mo’orea and bright blue blooms from the local jade vine.

As we wound our way through the island’s lush green hills, our local guide serenaded us with local songs and taught us about her home. Our final stop was the James Norman Hall Home, a museum preserving the author’s history. Rolling back through town, we made our way to port, where our luxury vessel ‘Le Boreal’ awaited. After a warm welcome from the crew and staff, we set sail and settled into our cabins.

After time to unpack and explore our luxurious floating home, we gathered in the theater to meet our Captain, Florian Richard; Cruise Director, Paul Carter; Expedition Leader, Matt Boyle; and our knowledgeable Expedition Team and lecturers. With a warm breeze and calm seas, our adventure was officially underway.

October 28, 2023 | Fakarava Atoll

Some started the day with a morning stretch and yoga on the outer deck, while others had a more leisurely morning of breakfast followed by a photography discussion by our onboard photo enrichment coach.

Before we knew it, our Captain announced our entry into the Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago, where an expanse of palm trees fringed a vast coral filled lagoon.

Upon anchoring, we collected our snorkel equipment and boarded our Zodiacs. Disembarking on the beach, locals welcomed us with a traditional dance and drumming performance, as well as a tiare flower. Some unexpected locals also welcomed us — a pair of tawny nurse sharks in the shallows. Despite growing up to 10 feet, these docile creatures often explore the coastal waters in search of small fish and crustaceans.

Some of us chose to relax on the palm-shaded sands, while others practiced the art of flower-weaving. Almost everyone tried out their snorkel gear — there was so much incredible marine life to be seen, including blue-green chromis and vivid clam.

As we sailed back out of the lagoon, cocktails in hand, we watched the sunset. As an incredible moon rose over the sea, we set of for our next picture-perfect island.

October 29, 2022 | Amanu Atoll

This morning, we explored the astronomy of the southern hemisphere with Commander Susan Kilrain —one of only three women to pilot the space shuttle. Our resident culture expert then offered an indigenous perspective on Polynesian history.

Although strong currents made our approach to remote Amanu atoll slower than planned, our expert Captain and crew brought us ashore in the late afternoon.

Met by local children, we were gifted with fragrant leis and woven palm frond hats. We then paid a heartwarming visit to Ikitake, a tiny village with a young French mayor who fostered a vibrant community in this remote land. After a greeting by its 130 residents, the village’s children performed traditional dances as the sun set behind the palm trees. Many of us even joined in.

Ending the immersive experience, our Captain was then invited up for a gift exchange, which he followed with a poignant thank you and message about the importance of authentic, meaningful travel.

October 30, 2023 | At Sea on the South Pacific Ocean

We spent an enriching day travelling the calm, deep blue sea. Our photo enrichment coach first shared useful tips and tricks on smartphone photography. Then, our culture expert discussed traditional songs and stories that illustrate the basics of celestial navigation. After learning how the waka (voyaging canoe) uses the movement of the stars to navigate, we sat down to a delicious lunch and headed to the pool to soak up some sunshine.

Later, our marine mammal expert talked about identifying and classifying marine mammals, including the elusive humpback whale. Finally, astronaut Susan Kilrain inspired us with details about her space shuttle journey.

This evening, we gathered around the pool for a welcome dinner, hosted by Captain Florian Richard. We raised a glass to the beautiful moments shared so far — and the epic adventures to come — as we continued our voyage across the Pacific.

October 31, 2023 | Mangareva Island

Departing the Tuamotu Archipelago, we continued to the Gambier Islands while our cultural expert lent insight into European history in French Polynesia.

As we approached Mangareva Island, clouds hung low over the land and fog filled the lagoon. However, the sky cleared briefly for a glimpse of Mount Duff’s majestic peak. The rain that followed made our Zodiac ride a bit more adventurous. Arriving at a dry landing, we were warmly welcomed with a drum and dance performance by villagers.

Since we were already wet, some of us then snorkeled at a nearby reef, seeing everything from moray eel to honeycomb grouper, cushion star and more mushroom coral than our naturalists had ever seen.

Back on land, we learned dance moves that are unique to the island. Then, we gained insight into local pearl farms, discovering how they seed pearls, as well as how craftspeople carve on mother-of-pearl. After perusing and purchasing black pearl pieces, we sampled regional fruit while our hearts were stolen by local children.

November 1, 2023 | At Sea on the South Pacific Ocean

We didn’t let a late night of dancing deter us — enjoying calm seas, we rose early for an on-deck stretch and yoga session.

A red-tailed tropicbird flew around our ship, offering an impromptu introduction to our ornithologist’s talk. During it, we learned the sooty tern can fly over the ocean for 10 years without stopping to rest. Next, our culture expert shared stories about his canoe journeys across the Pacific Ocean. We were spellbound as he detailed navigating from New Zealand to Easter Island with nothing but stars as his guide.

Continuing toward the Pitcairn Islands, we enjoyed an afternoon movie screening of The Bounty. The 1984 retelling of the infamous mutiny left us excited to meet offspring of the original mutineers. We then gained insight into the world of sharks, exploring their diversity and learning about the conservation efforts that are underway.

This evening’s cocktail hour was abuzz with excitement. With an early morning landing in Adamstown planned, some retired to bed, while others attended an entertaining show or joined our astronomer on deck to stargaze.

November 2, 2023 | Pitcairn Island, South Pacific Ocean

We arrived bright and early at Pitcairn Island. Settled in 1790 by nine mutineers and 18 Tahitian men and women, some of their descendants remain in isolated Adamstown to this day. Given an oceanic swell was rolling in, we could not enter the bay. Since Pitkerners are skilled at navigating the challenging waters, we instead invited nearly two dozen locals aboard ‘Le Boreal’ for the day.

We spent the morning mingling in the lounge as we circumnavigated the island, admiring curious frigate bird, white tern, Murphy’s petrel and humpback whale travelling, at rest and breaching. We even spotted a southern right whale mother and calf. With no records of the species near here, it was a truly exciting observation.

In the afternoon, some of our visitors sold handicrafts and honey. A talk about life on Pitcairn then followed.

The day ended with a cocktail party on the deck with our guests. They farewelled us with a beautiful song, once again boarding their long boat and returning to their island home.

November 3, 2023 | Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group, South Pacific Ocean

Travelling overnight from Pitcairn, we arrived at uninhabited Henderson Island in time to see the sun rise over the dense forest and palm tree-fringed shores of the raised coral atoll. Due to the strong surf, a landing was not possible. Our Expedition Team sprang into action, arranging a cruise along the beach instead as we learned about this strange, wild and wonderful place.

All-but-untouched by human presence, UNESCO-listed Henderson Island boasts 10 plants and four land birds endemic to the island. In addition to seeing courting tropicbird, we observed frigate attempting to steal food from white tern; inquisitive booby hovering over our Zodiacs; and the Henderson petrel, which is only found nesting here.

Inhospitable and with a curious history, the island has been home to a shipwrecked chimpanzee, as well as survivors of a sunken whale ship, the ‘Essex’ — the inspiration for Moby Dick. One of our naturalists spent three months living on the island, offering a window into her experience during an afternoon talk.

Considered among the world’s most remote, it was an unforgettable experience to gaze upon its shores and encounter its many avian residents.

November 4, 2023 | Ducie Island

Pristine Ducie Island is a tiny uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Islands. At just 1 1/2 square miles, low-lying and sparsely vegetated, this unassuming place is a seabird paradise. Over 90% of the world’s Murphy’s petrel nest here, along with white tern and red-tailed tropicbird. Needless to say, it was an impressive sight as a proliferation of winged wonders swarmed around our ship as we approached.

Embarking on an adventurous Zodiac cruise, we explored the island without impacting its shores, enjoyed close-up views of curious booby and petrel.

We then managed to find a quiet corner outside the reef, allowing snorkelers to experience a unique dive in the clearest water many of us had ever seen. Adapting to the strong currents, we did a drift snorkel, floating over deep blue water and immense coral beds. Among the fascinating visitors were white-tip reef shark and a very curious giant trevally.

Back aboard, we departed the Pitcairn Islands, joining our cultural expert for firsthand tales about traditional voyaging. We then took in unique views of the planet from space thanks to our onboard astronaut.

After dinner, we watched a documentary on Easter Island, readying us for our final destination. 

November 5, 2023 | At Sea to Easter Island

It was a restful morning at sea. Some of us joined an early yoga class, while others slept in. Our photo coach kicked off the day’s enrichment program with stories about — and impactful images from — her life as a wildlife photographer. We then partook in an informative, hands-on knot-tying session with members of our Expedition Team, followed by a talk about local land birds and plants, furthering our appreciation of the flora and fauna we’ve observed.

Many spent the afternoon soaking up sunshine by the pool, while others instead enjoyed a movement class with our wellness guide. This evening brought a change of pace — a re-trial of infamous British officer Captain Bligh, enacted by members of the Expedition Team. Featuring our Cruise Director as a convincing Captain Bligh, we served as the jury during the entertaining re-enactment.

A truly spectacular sunset had many of us gathered on the outer deck this evening, where we marveled at the purples and pinks as the sun sunk over the seemingly endless sea.

November 6, 2023 | At Sea to Easter Island

As we continued our peaceful journey toward Easter Island, we awoke to another time change and the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

After another popular morning stretch and yoga class, our Captain offered us a behind-the-scenes peek at our floating residence, from its engines to its galleys. The bridge remained open for visitors throughout the day.

Our cultural expert next gave a hands-on workshop on traditional Polynesian weaving techniques. Using palm-like pandanus from the Tahitian market, we crafted decorative bookmarks, honing a new skill. Our marine mammal expert then discussed the “angels of the sea,” humpback whales.

In the afternoon, we had the chance to attend a movement class; sit down to afternoon tea; and participate in a photography contest. In between were a couple of great lectures that lent more context to our stay. Among them was a meaningful talk on marine plastic pollution, which we had witnessed firsthand, and a touching, inspiring memoir from our resident astronaut. In the evening, we dressed up for our Captain’s gala party — a fine chance to celebrate the crew who helped make this voyage special. Over Champagne and cocktails, excitement only grew for our arrival at Easter Island.

November 7, 2023 | Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile

Some of us began the day early, spotting the Large Magellanic Cloud — a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way — and cross-shaped asterism Crux, the Southern Cross, alongside our resident astronaut.

Arriving at Hanga Roa on the southwest coast of Easter Island (Rapa Nui), we were met and escorted by residents in local boats. Disembarking, we enjoyed a welcome song and dance and made our way to Ahu Akivi, an ancient celestial observatory featuring seven moai of equal shape and size. Designed with astronomical precision, the moai face the exact point where the sun sets during the spring equinox. Meanwhile, the backs of the statues face the dawn on the autumn equinox.

After a performance by local dancers in traditional attire, we proceeded to Puna Pau, a small crater and prehistoric quarry. Here, reddish volcanic rock was used to make the cylindrical pukao (topknots) that adorn many moai. Appreciating views across the island and quarry, we then strolled through a handicraft market filled with souvenirs, including hand-carved sculptures.

In Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we visited the spectacular Tahai Ceremonial Complex. The archaeological site features three principal ahu: Ko Te Riku, Tahai and Vai Uri. Our guide shared the ancient history of these creations before surprising us with pisco sours atop a nearby hill. Sipping them, we reflected on this tiny island, steeped in history and culture.

This evening, we caught a breathtaking sunset aboard our ship while a local band performed. Ending the day on a lively note, we danced to DJ-spun tunes on the pool deck before retiring to bed.

November 8, 2023 | Easter Island

We spent a full day exploring the wonders of Easter Island alongside our friendly, knowledgeable guides. At Vaihu, we viewed the restored village and ancient settlement. Featuring a large, unrestored ahu — which supported eight statues that lie on the ground face down — it offered a glimpse at how the moai were left at the close of this chapter of history.

From there, we set off to see many restored moai, including Ahu Tongariki — the largest ahu on Easter Island. Here, monolithic statues were toppled during the island's civil wars. Then, in 1960, an earthquake in Chile triggered a tidal wave, which hit the coast of Tongariki. This sent its 15 Tongariki moai — some of which weigh 30 tons — hundreds of feet inland. Effectively destroyed, the giant ahu was restored in 1992.

We next visited Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater that served as a quarry for about 500 years. One of the most important sites on Easter Island, it supplied stone for most of the known monolithic statues. Today, it’s scattered with hundreds of partially buried moai.

Pausing for a leisurely lunch on Anakena’s white coral sand beach, some of us took a dip in the cool turquoise water. Others partook in takona (traditional body painting). After an engaging folklore show, we proceeded to the dormant Rano Kau volcano. Taking in views over the crater lake and the annual Birdman competition site, we learned about the ritual that determined the Tangata Manu. During the event, participants had to collect the season’s first sooty tern egg; swim back to Easter Island; climb a sea cliff; and ascend to Orongo, a clifftop village.

After exploring Orongo and marveling at the traditional buildings and petroglyphs firsthand, we returned to our vessel for a recap of our incomparable voyage.

November 9, 2023 | Easter Island

The sun rose beautifully over Easter Island, ushering in sunny weather and calm seas. We enjoyed a relaxing morning packing, sitting down to a leisurely breakfast, enjoying our ship’s amenities or strolling around Hanga Roa for last-minute souvenirs.

As a parting “gift,” we spotted several green sea turtles swimming in the nearby shallows. Observing them, we enjoyed pisco sours and empanadas on the outdoor deck. Later, we disembarked and headed to the airport for our onward flights, confident in the lifelong memories we made during this incredible journey.

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