Amanu Atoll, South Seas Serenity

Our voyage to Pitcairn Island continues as Aranui 5 sets sail from Anaa for Amanu, another one of the far-flung 80 atolls spread out across the world’s largest archipelago, the Tuamotus, a vast expanse of mostly water that is roughly the size of Western Europe. Amanu’s flat coral islets form an Oceanic oval that stretches over a turquoise lagoon for about 20 miles, and the 413-foot cargo/cruiser anchors outside of the atoll. From Aranui’s hatchway passengers descend into a barge that, in a succession of trips, swiftly, safely carries us over tranquil water, past surf pounding in the distance through a pass to Hikitake Village. As we ride to another adventure, once again I rise and mimic John Wayne in a cowboy movie: “Let’s paddle up and move ’em out, Polynesians!”.

A reception committee of lei bearing, utterly disarmingly charming children, accompanied by adult musicians, await us at the concrete pier, welcoming us with the traditional greeting of “Kura Ora!” The barefoot Tuamotu tykes are clad in sarongs, grass skirts, leafy belts and flowery crowns as they greet and bestow leis upon we visitors from (way) beyond the reef, as the Amanu minstrels serenade us with ukuleles and guitars. One of these Tuamatuan troubadours is actually Amanu’s municipal (such that it is) leader – reportedly only 19 when he was elected, François Terokehau Takamoana became the youngest mayor in all of French Polynesia, as well as in the metropole, France.

Polynesian Entertainers

We stroll through the village of wooden houses with tin roofs and one traditional Polynesian style hut. Although it is quite sunny, the wind cools us with a pleasing breeze. Here and there locals sell handmade handicrafts skillfully composed largely of shells. At a white sand beach musicians sit beneath a white canopy and a troupe of dancers get ready to perform. Reading from a prepared text on his cellphone, Mayor Takamoana, who is about 30-years-old now, does something no other Islander does during the entire voyage. He regales us with Amanu’s origin myth, a saga of sex, jealousy and murder involving the ancient gods Tangaroa and Hina. The tale sounds more like Greek mythology than Genesis, and it impresses the assembled Aranui argonauts, who later wish that more Indigenous folklore was shared with them during the isle excursions.

Following his speech, the mayor – who is also Amanu’s nurse – rejoins the musicians and we are treated to about half an hour of customary Amanu dances, performed by children and then adolescents, the girls wearing coconut bras or halter tops, flowery necklaces and hats woven out of palm or pandanus fronds. The sweet youngsters are tres mignon, preternaturally adorable and nothing short of a sheer joy to behold. At the end of their Bali Hai ballet the graceful gyrating hoofers select members of the audience to dance with them on the sand. Compared to these ballerinas, Aranui’s shipmates prance awkwardly, but it’s all lighthearted and in good fun, with lots of laughter.

Polynesian Buffet

The classic Kanaka choreography has whet our appetites, and we swoop down upon the Polynesian buffet that awaits us spread out on picnic tables beneath an arched canvas canopy. Home Town and Golden Corral all-you-can-eat eateries have nothing on this lavish luau, which includes: Mussels, poisson cru (a sort of national Tahitian raw fish dish), steak, rice, et al, but my personal favorite is po’e, a delicious pudding made from mashed taro, bananas, pumpkin or breadfruit, lathered in coconut cream. Perched overlooking the channel, multi-colored waters of the lagoon and the Aranui floating atop a cerulean sea afar, the idyllic eye-candy view is likewise scrumptious. If the food is mouth-watering, the vista is eye-watering, exquisite enough to make one cry with tears of joy, to be lucky enough to be alive and behold such pure beauty.
After our festive feast we go on a village tour with Atanua and Deborah, our local guides, who then lead us to a beach at an isolated bay. There’s a strong current and it’s a bit rocky, but once swimmers get in, there’s some coral, fish plus giant clams enjoyed by a handful of passengers and crew.

It was not without regret that I left Amanu on the last barge back to the Aranui. The 200 souls there seem to enjoy a South Seas simplicity without the “blessings” of civilization and its discontents: Traffic, slums, high crime, pollution and so on. Amanu is a neighbor isle to Hao, which was a staging ground occupied by the French military for Paris’ nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls, both located hundreds of miles southeast in the Tuamotus. Fortunately, France ended its atomic “experiment” in 1996 – but who knows if the fallout of radiation, etc., lingers? Although I didn’t see any signs of it, I’m not a scientist and have no idea if Amanuans suffer from any aftereffects of Oceania’s scoundrel scourge: Nuclearism.

Amanu is roughly one third of the way to the Gambier Islands and the fourth day of our voyage is spent entirely out at sea, as the Hawaiian scholar Keao Nesmith presents a lecture in the deck 5 lounge about “Pitcairn’s Polynesian Heritage.” But before Aranui arrives at the remote home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian partners, we have another port-of-call – and a second test – awaiting us.

When you go:

French Polynesia:
Pitcairn Island:

Aranui: (800)972-7268
United Airlines: (800)864-8331

TIURAI TOURS: Vanessa Alvarez Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89513222
Mana Tang Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89527377

Hilton Hotel Tahiti: (689) 40 86 48 48; 1-800-HILTONS
Hilton San Francisco Union Square: (415)771-1400 1-800-HILTONS.
Beacon Grand, A Union Square Hotel: (866)377-9412.

Written by: Ed Rampell

 Ed Rampell picture Ed Rampell has traveled widely, to more than 100 Pacific Islands, Asia, Europe, Mexico and Africa. His travel writing and photography has appeared in: Islands, Action Asia, Travel Age West, Skin Inc, Porthole, Far East Traveler, Asian Diver, L.A. Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Business News, E — The Environmental Magazine, L.A. Reader, etc. Rampell is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Journal. Rampell was interviewed in Tahiti for the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours, and National Public Radio’s Savvy Traveler interviewed Rampell about the Marquesas Islands. Rampell acted as a consultant for, and appears as the most used on-camera interviewee, in the 2005 Australian-European co-production Hula Girls, which has been seen by millions of viewers on Dutch, German, French, Swiss, Australian, etc., television on the Avro and Arte networks. Rampell’s Polynesian daughter Marina is a singer in Australia.

For more ITKT travel stories about French Polynesia

For more ITKT travel stories about Oceania