DAY 1-2: U.S./Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia/Embark
Arrive in Papeete and transfer to our hotel, the Intercontinental Tahiti. The next day, take a guided tour of French Polynesia’s capital city, including the the Museum de Tahiti and the Paul Gaugin Museum. Stroll the waterfront before boarding National Geographic Orion. (D)
DAY 3: Bora Bora, Society Islands
Jutting out from an aquamarine lagoon ringed with tiny islets, Bora Bora’s angular volcanic crags are a spectacular sight. Explore the island’s slopes and shores with the Expedition Team, or venture out to dive the island’s fringing reef. If you’re feeling energetic, you may choose to hike to the summit of Mt. Paihia, for unparalleled views. (B,L,D)
DAY 4-9: Tuamotu Archipelago/At Sea
On the northwestern edge of the Tuamotu Archipelago, natural forces have uplifted the atoll of Makatea, exposing a raw geology of coral and limestone cliffs, deep caves, and landscapes of riddled rock. Wander through the ruins of early 20th century phosphate mines, take a swim in an underground grotto, or join birders in search of the island’s endemic fruit dove. Then sail to Fakarava, one of the largest atolls in French Polynesia and part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. After a festive welcome with traditional dancers, learn about the island’s pearl industry, and see its historic sites, including a 19th-century church built out of coral. Snorkel among the protected reefs or ride the current into the lagoon on a world-famous drift-dive. Continue to Raroia, to meet the local community and hear the tale of the Kon-Tiki, a wooden raft built by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl who beached on the reef at the end of its epic journey. Navigate jewel-like reefs and islets during a day at sea on our way to Pukarua, where we’ll be greeted by traditional dances. Meet the friendly people of this remote atoll, and learn about their traditional lifestyle. (B,L,D)
DAY 10-11: Mangareva, Gambier Islands/At Sea
Famous for its black pearls, Mangareva is the largest of the Gambier Islands. Venture underwater to snorkel or dive, meet islanders to learn about their culture and the missionaries who made their home here, and go on a hike with our naturalists. Then spend a day at sea visiting the sauna or the gym, watching footage of the ocean with our undersea specialist, or relaxing on deck. (B,L,D)
DAY 12-16: Pitcairn Islands/At Sea
Many of the mutineers of the legendary Bounty made their home on Pitcairn Island in the late 18th century, and about 50 of their descendants still live here today. Visit this last remnant of the British Empire and learn about its place in 18th-century exploration. Meet the locals and hear a few words of the unusual Pitkern dialect a combination of English sailor speak, and Polynesian phrases. Visit the grave site of mutiny leader Fletcher Christian, and see the Bounty’s anchor, which was salvaged in 1957.
Our next stop is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Henderson Island, an uplifted atoll that is uninhabited and virtually untouched by humans. On hikes and Zodiac excursions, discover the island’s four endemic bird species, rich flora and fauna, and fascinating geology. Then spend a day on Ducie Atoll, watching for frigatebirds and boobies and snorkeling or diving among spectacular reefs. The Pitcairn Islands have been identified as one of the last unspoiled ocean environments on the planet by marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala as part of the Pristine Seas project. Set out on our final leg east, listening to talks by our experts as we sail two days towards Easter Island. (B,L,D)
DAY 17-20: Easter Island/Santiago, Chile/U.S.
Disembark on Easter Island and check into our hotel for two nights, Hotel Hangaroa. Explore volcanic calderas, jagged lava fields, and sweeping grasslands to discover the colossal moai statues, the astonishing legacy of a long-lost culture. Join archaeologists to examine these statues and discuss their meaning and creation; visit burial sites, quarries, and intricately carved ceremonial altars. Explore on our final morning of Dec. 21; fly to Santiago then on an overnight flight back to the U.S. (Days 17-18: B,L,D; Day 19: B,L)