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Tahiti to Easter Island

October 2003

OK, right off the bat we confess: this wasn't a cruise aboard Raven. But it was a cruise, albeit aboard a small, expedition-type cruise ship called Clipper Odyssey, and we did go to some pretty exotic places and had a great time. We hope this report will bring a little warmth to these dark winter days.

We had never taken an organized trip before, much less on a cruise ship, perish the thought. But this cruise, titled a little pretentiously "Beyond Rapa Nui II" and organized by a Seattle company named Zegrahm (click for their website), seemed like the place and time to give it a shot. Besides, it would take us to some South Pacific islands that are tough to reach in a sailboat, including Easter and Pitcairn.

This log update is going to be mostly a photo gallery, as the Zegrahm website has an excellent log (click here) of the full cruise. We'll just add a little of our own perspective.

Don't forget: Click on any photo to see it full size.

Clipper Odyssey and Zegrahm

After flying to Tahiti, we boarded the ship at the commercial dock in Papeete, to the music of a Tahitian dance troupe. This was a bit of warm nostalgia for us, since we spent a month there last year during Heiva (see the Tahiti and Moorea log). We rode on le truck, changed some money, and visited the wonderful market for a flower crown and a pareo for Signe. We felt like old hands when the tour took us on a round-the-island trip to familiar places.

Clipper Odyssey seemed huge compared to Raven, but next to the real cruise ship across the dock, it looked like a dinghy. Our cabin was on the top deck -- a disadvantage because of the extra motion at sea, it turned out later -- and had a tiny little terrace with just enough room for a couple of chairs. There were only 80 of us passengers and a crew of cheery and competent Filipinos who outnumbered us.

In addition, the ship carried several Zegrahm's organizers, leaders, and lecturers. We had a fish guy (easier to say than ichthyologist), a bird guy (there were some varsity birders, all sporting their "life lists" among the passengers), an oceans and reefs guy, an archeologist, and a literature guy who told tales and recited poems about the storied South Pacific. All the days were action-packed and, if there was a free hour, we would have a lecture on some pertinent subject.

Following is a very short version of a cruise that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Tahiti and Moorea

Even though this was a revisit for us, there's no getting around the beauty of the bays of Moorea. This is when Jan figured out how to shoot panoramic shots with our new digital camera, so brace yourself for a panoramic overload!

Austral Islands

We visited Tubuai, Raivavae, and Rapa in this group of islands, part of France Polynesia. They're several hundred miles south of Tahiti, more subtropical in climate, and far less used to tourists. They get a few yachts every year but never any cruise ships, so our arrival was the event of the year on each island. We received big receptions everywhere, with music, dancers, buffets of native delicacies, and flowered crowns or leis.

Rapa was the most rugged and remote island, and the whole island turned out to greet and entertain us. School was canceled for the day and locals and guests enjoyed a performance by the local dancers with the school teacher as an emcee. His only English was a loud, "Clap now!"

Rapa was the site of our most spectacular hike, up to one of the hilltop forts that date from the prehistoric wars on the island.


Mangareva is at the extreme southeast end of the Tuamotu chain -- you remember we visited Makemo and Fakarava in the Tuamotus last year -- but still has those wonderful pearl farms. Signe spread the word and everyone indulged a little. We even discovered a Catholic-run school that teaches teenagers from all over Polynesia to carve beautiful mother-of-pearl necklaces, bracelets, etc.

The island also had an immense cathedral, far beyond the needs of the island, built in the 19th century on the orders of a megalomaniac priest from France.



This is the remote island where the Bounty mutineers hid from the British Navy for thirty years, and where 41 of their descendents still live. It seems that half the population is named "Christian" and claims Fletcher Christian as an ancestor.

We were lucky enough to be taken ashore in the islanders' longboats on two successive days. The sea was rough, so boarding the longboats was no picnic, but the crew handled it with no mishaps. Pitcairn sees a dozen cruise ships a year, but the passengers never get to land, both because of the rough seas, and the number of people on those big ships would overwhelm the island. The entire population also came out to the ship for dinner and lunch. Tom Christian, the island patriarch, and his wife sat with us for dinner and a lesson in living on a totally isolated island.


Henderson and Ducie

These are two uninhabited islands, part of the Pitcairn group, that are well known to biologists for their unique bird life. Most birders would kill to visit these islands and put the Henderson island crake or reed warbler on their life lists. Landing in the Zodiacs over the reef and onto the beaches was no mean feat, but again our crew was magnificent in safely landing all 80 of us to explore ashore.



Easter Island

Yes, Easter was the highlight of our cruise and we even stayed an extra four days for an intensive tour. We are always most interested in the people of the islands, so the history and archeology of Easter we top on our list. The guide Zegrahm provided was Claudio Cristino, the Chilean archeologist who has spent 27 years excavating on Easter (it's a province of Chile). By the way, the Polynesian name for Easter is Rapa Nui.

It's not until you reach the volcano/quarry where the moai statues were carved that you realize there are hundreds and hundreds of these immense carvings, most never having reached their intended altars. There are quite a few half-finished figures still attached to the living rock.

One of the photos shows Claudio Cristino in front of his magnum opus, the restoration of the immense altar and statue at Tongariki. It's hard to convey with a photo the overwhelming impression this site makes on you. We marveled at the skill of Polynesians, first in navigating to this remote island, then in building the statues. Many of the altars still contain human bones, as Claudio shows in the photo.

All in all, a tremendously successful trip. We hope to do a few more of these Zegrahm voyages to exotic destinations.

Love . . . Signe & Jan

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This page was last updated on 04/13/04.

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