So you want to take the Cargo Boats around French Polynesia? Cargo boat travel is possible but it is slightly difficult. Fortunately this post covers a few tricks I learned during my 2 months backpacking French Polynesia.
Before you even get to French Polynesia you should look up and try to contact cargo boat companies. With most of the cargo boats you have to book a ticket in person but at least this way you can find out their departure schedule, route and cost. Most cargo boats only run twice or less a month, meaning it can be costly to sit and wait 10-15 days for the next boat to arrive.
- Wild Tip: There are very few hostels in Papeete, most likely you will be staying at the Mahana Lodge and Maui is an excellent host. He is happy to help you call and talk with different boat companies.
The first and hardest part is finding a cargo boat from Tahiti to your destination. The shipping yard is located next to downtown Papeete. It is easily walk-able from the main marina. Just make sure to leave early in the morning to avoid the midday heat and don’t arrive around 12:00-1:00 pm, that is lunch time and the whole shipping yard shuts down.
- Wild Tip: After days of talking and searching, the Saint-Xavier Maris Stella was the only ship that was taking passengers to the Tuamotus. They wanted 7,000 XPF including food to their first stop of Rangiroa. It would take 2 full days to arrive and you could only reserve a spot in person. After quickly stopping through the various islands to unload the Saint-Xavier then returns to Papeete and wont be back to Rangiroa for 15-19 days. Either you spent less than 24 hours on each island stop or you decide to get dropped off and picked up 2 to 3 weeks later. If you want to visit more than one island while waiting for the cargo boat inter-island travel is up to you to find. Always make sure you book your return cargo boat ticket before it fills up.
- Wild Tip: If you are on a budget, I would personally say take the Saint-Xavier all the way to Fakarava and spend your days there. The other islands are not as budget friendly via camping and free activities.
- Wild Tip: The Taporo VII leaves Papeete for the Society Islands twice a week.
Finding space on a cargo boat is difficult. All cargo boat companies take on local travelers before foreign hitchhikers. They usually take 10 passengers or less. Boats fill up fast and are sometimes booked weeks in advance. Having to wait on Tahiti for another rotation or two will be end up being expensive.
- Wild Tip: If you do get a spot on a cargo boat your space should come with a shipping box to put your gear and food stuffs in. Even if you don’t want to pack and carry extra food and water you definitely should. Groceries are a lot cheaper on Tahiti, make sure to bring as much dry food as you can.
If you can’t find a cargo boat or you just missed a rotation in Papeete, and you are feeling adventurous. You could fly to your destination then try to find a ship back.
- Wild Tip: Due to increased tourism and proximity it is easier to find inter-island boats in the Society Island chain than any other archipelago.
If you prefer to sailboat hitchhike I believe Bar Taina is where sailors hang out. Make sure you check out the Papeete Marina, The Tahiti Yacht Club or Taina Marina to possibly find a boat that needs a helping hand. Odds are better if you are around during the official sailing season but even with high season I talked to a guy who spend over 3 weeks looking for a sailboat that needed help.
Cargo boats fill up fast so getting a spot is key. If you end up waiting for a boat make sure you get all of the information beforehand. I recommend taking the ferry to Moorea to wait there instead of staying in Papeete. Moorea is cheaper and there is more to do.
Make sure to check out the Destination French Polynesia page to read about my whole experience and learn other backpacking tips for this remote area!
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