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.
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.
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.
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.
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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