Private Yacht Vacations: Siren Song of the South Pacific - Yachts International

Private Yacht Vacations: Siren Song of the South Pacific

More than a dozen yachts have announced plans to charter this season in Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Vanuatu and more—and the options for clients are expected to keep growing.
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More than a dozen yachts have announced plans to charter this season in Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Vanuatu and more—and the options for clients are expected to keep growing.

Yacht owners, long mired in the traditional charter itineraries of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, appear to have discovered the South Pacific en masse. While the islands of the South Pacific have been beautiful cruising grounds for centuries, and while a handful of yachts have offered charters in years past, no fewer than 14 crewed yachts have now announced plans to charter everywhere from Fiji to Vanuatu during the coming months. The number of options that charter clients have this season would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.


What’s causing this surge in charter choices? Allan Jouning, co-director of 37 South (which has operated in the South Pacific for 25 years) in Auckland, New Zealand, thinks the seeds of the boom actually date back a little more than a decade, to the year 2000. That’s the first time the America’s Cup was held in New Zealand and just the second time it was in that part of the world, following Royal Perth Yacht Club’s defense in Fremantle, Australia, in 1987.

Yachting trends changed quite a bit between the Cup’s first and second visits. In 1987, Perini Navi was just four years old and Feadship was specializing in builds less than 144 feet (44 meters). By 2003, when the Cup was sailed again in New Zealand, Nobiskrug had launched the 303-foot (92-meter) Tatoosh, while Lürssen had delivered the 414-foot (126-meter) Octopus.

In other words, between the first and last Down Under America’s Cups, the visiting yachts had grown exponentially and were able to get there a lot easier than in the past. And they didn’t full-reverse when the Cup festivities ended, either. They used New Zealand as a jumping-off point for the South Pacific, much like Fort Lauderdale is a staging area for the Bahamas. These first groups of larger yachts poked their bows into secluded bays everywhere from the Gambiers to the Tuamotus to Tonga.

“During the 2000s, captains discovered that the world is not flat, and when you go through the Panama Canal, you do not fall off the side of the world,” Jouning says. “The America’s Cup saw the start of large yachts visiting the area, and this was a catalyst for owners to explore the region.”

Those owners and their captains liked what they saw, including the potential for charter business—if only they could figure out the paperwork. It is only in recent years, after much effort by the industry, that the tax and legal structure has become organized for charter in the South Pacific. According to 37 South, Fiji and French Polynesia now have charter licenses with a flat tax of about 12 percent, a rate similar to VAT in Europe. During the past few years, this legal structure has become kindling for what is now an explosion in the number of charter yachts visiting.

And the more captains visit, the more word spreads about how great the region is for cruising and charter.

“We recently had a Caribbean-based captain on a charter yacht in the Tuamotus, in French Polynesia,” Jouning recalls. “That captain said, ‘This one pass to this atoll has more colorful coral in it than the whole of the Caribbean.’ ”

Christelle Holler at Tahiti Private Expeditions is seeing the same trends. Her company offers scuba and snorkeling services to private and charter yachts across the South Pacific. She saw 60 yachts in the region during 2012 compared with no more than 40 during any single preceding year. And she agrees that the yachts coming now are much larger, with an average increase of 30 feet (9 meters) LOA between 2011 and 2012 alone. The average-size yacht that her company serves today, she says, is about 164 feet (50 meters).

“In Tahiti, the promotion we worked on over the past few years with the press and brokerage companies has resulted in professionals and owners being more aware of what is beyond the Panama Canal,” Holler says. “Tahiti and her islands are 118 islands spread over a territory as wide as Western Europe, and navigation conditions are excellent. More and more guests on superyachts are interested in diving and in marine conservation, and the South Pacific offers amazing underwater exploration.”

Going forward, both Jouning and Holler say they see no signs of interest in the South Pacific slowing. In fact, Jouning says, the trip to get there is now almost routine—and staying there is becoming more common, too, which should mean even more charter options for clients in the years to come.

“From leaving Panama, the route is to stop in Galápagos for an owner’s cruise,” he says. “From there, Tahiti is 3,000 miles. From Tahiti head west to Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomons, then normally after a season across the Pacific the yachts will head south to New Zealand for their maintenance programs and an owner or charter season in the New Zealand summer. Yachts are larger and faster, and the idea of taking a boat through the Pacific is much less of an undertaking than it was 10 years ago.”

Charter Yachts Now Accepting South Pacific Bookings

More than a dozen sizable, crewed yachts are available for charter during the coming months in the South Pacific. Here they are, by size:

240ft. Hanseatic Marine Dragonfly throughout the South Pacific.
Contact: burgessyachts.com or any charter broker

229ft. Exploration yacht Sherakhan throughout the South Pacific.
Contact: ycoyacht.com or any charter broker

223ft. Feadship Lady Christine in French Polynesia and Fiji.
Contact: ycoyacht.com or any charter broker

173ft. Alloy sailing yacht Drumbeat in Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and French Polynesia.
Contact: yacht-zoo.com or any charter broker

145ft. Pendennis Hemisphere throughout the South Pacific.
Contact: burgessyachts.com or any charter broker

138ft. Alu Marine sailing yacht Douce France in Raja Ampat, Palau and French Polynesia.
Contact: oceanindependence.com or any charter broker

138ft. Gulf Craft De Lisle III in French Polynesia.
Contact: ypigroup.com or any charter broker

122ft. Kha Shing Masteka 2 in Fiji.
Contact: 37southyachtcharter.com or any charter broker

121ft. Yachting Developments sailing yacht Bliss in Fiji.
Contact: oceanindependence.com or any charter broker

114ft. Sunreef sailing catamaran Che in Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Palau.
Contact: sunreef-charter.com or any charter broker

108ft. Sermons Askari in French Polynesia.

Contact: fraseryachts.com or any charter broker

95ft. Jemison expedition motoryacht Pacific HQ in Tonga.
Contact: 37southyachtcharter.com or any charter broker

90ft. Power catamaran Ultimate Lady in the Society Islands and Gambiers.
Contact: charterworld.com or any charter broker

82ft. Swan sailing yacht Nikata throughout the South Pacific.
Contact: bcrlogemann.com or any charter broker