The Marquesas Islands… an evocative name for any traveller with a spirit of adventure and a passion for unspoilt nature, culture and ancestral legends.
This group of a dozen small islands, located 1,400 km from Papeete, and for a long time isolated from the rest of French Polynesia, has retained its identity. In remote valleys, the population still lives at the rhythm of the day’s fishing, hunting (wild pig and goat), farming (copra and taro) and handicrafts: sculpture on Ua Huka, bone jewellery on Tahuata, tapa cloth on Fatu Hiva, stone carving on Ua Pou and seed jewellery on Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva. Tattoos, the ancestral tribal art, are common and very popular with international visitors.
Bearing witness to a past civilization, invaluable archaeological sites, from the most intimate to the most grandiose, are scattered across the islands. Quite a number are even surrounded by abundant nature, with some intimidating features. High cliffs, sharp drops, thick vegetation, strong currents of an unpredictable sea… the local population has learnt to take advantage of this environment from the end of the world and adapt perfectly to it.
The Marquesas Islands are now accessible with at least one flight daily to Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva. However, they are a “reward”: visitors need to travel 3½ to 6 hours to reach them and try to uncover their secrets…
Nuku Hiva, the largest
The 90-minute transfer from the airport in the north of the island, in the aptly named Terre Déserte (boiling hot, it has to be said!), to the “capital of the Marquesas Islands” Taiohae, is a real excursion, giving you an excellent overview of the variety of landscapes on the island. After the desert, your head is soon in the clouds of Mount Tekao (1,200 m), followed by the farmland of Toovi Plateau, before you reach lush nature with stunning views, where horses, cows and goats graze freely.
Not to be missed:
– The majestic peaks of basalt dominating Hatiheu Bay
– The exceptional archaeological site of the entire village of Kamuihei and its giant banyan trees
– Hikokua, the ceremonial site, including sacrifices, is sure to move you
– The beautiful white sandy beach of Anaho and its vast coconut plantation, which can be reached by a short walk through the forest
– At the foot of mountains containing burial tombs, Hakaui Valley, where time seems to have stood still, leads to a viewpoint of the 350-m Vaipo Waterfall… only a phone booth reminds us of the present
– Taipivai Valley, which was made famous by Herman Melville and his book Typee (1846). Here lush nature jealously guards the treasures of another time (stone tikis, rock carvings of birds and turtles, platforms of ancient dwellings, temples and so on)
– Aakapa Valley, where you can bathe in two spectacular waterfalls
Explore the other hidden corners of this island and its exceptional panoramic views with our 4-hour quad tours, accessible to everyone, or with the 6-hour one for more experienced and adventurous travellers. Available in our 2013 selection of excursions (these tours are not included in our Marquesas Islands packages).
In terms of accommodation, the 3-star Keikahanui Lodge overlooking Taiohae Bay offers comfort, a swimming pool and fine dining to “chic” globetrotters.
Lower down the hill, the recently built Pension He’e Tai Inn, a new addition to our selection, has 8 bright and spacious guestrooms spread over two floors, a bar-restaurant and a small Marquesas museum-art gallery.
Finally, Pension Mave Mai has an excellent location (close to the harbour with its handicrafts market and snacks – small local restaurants -) and is aimed at independent travellers.
Hiva Oa, the island with large tikis
This island, which is smaller and with a gentler landscape, is best known to Westerners as the adopted home of the painter Paul Gauguin and singer Jacques Brel, is also home to major archaeological sites.
– Stretching over nearly three hectares, Tohua Upeke in Taaoa Valley, the ceremonial centre with over 1,000 platforms of dwellings, temples and a huge altar, perfectly illustrates the social organization of the Marquesas society
– Te Iipona in the village of Puamau, which was restored in 1991, is an exceptional site. Five large stone tikis stand guard, with the tallest, Takaii, named after a major warrior chief reputed for his strength, measuring 2.47 m. Also visible on-site is Makii Tau’a Pepe, the only horizontal tiki known in French Polynesia. According to legends, this is the ancient god of fertility and women who touch him will fall pregnant in the year
– The only smiling tiki: controversy continues to rage over the authenticity of Utukua, whose sculpted smile is hidden away in the tropical forest and is in excellent condition.
These sites, which are already included in our Marquesas Islands packages, can now be visited as part of a new full-day tour focused on the archaeological, culinary and cultural discovery of the Marquesas civilization.
Another day trip: depart by boat to Tahuata, island lost far away, known for its talented artisans, masters in the art of carving bone of goats, pigs and even swordfish.
As for accommodation, the 3-star Hanakee Lodge, whose design mirrors that of its twin on Nuku Hiva, offers exceptional views of the island and cliffs from its bungalows and swimming pool, as well as high standards of comfort.
Just opposite, on the other side of Takauhu Bay, Félie & Gaby from Temetiu Village reserve a warm welcome for you in floral splendour. The small swimming pool with wonderful panoramic views is a real treat after a busy day of excursions.
The exuberant Tania brings a relaxed and friendly atmosphere to Pension Kanahau. If you’re good, Vito the matriarch will share stories about her friend Brel!
At the entrance to the village of Atuona, we find Jojo & Gigi’s Pension Relais Moehau. Clean and functional rooms, attentive service, a restaurant and bar where, in addition to local specialties, are served the only pizzas on the Marquesas Islands!
Let’s not forget to mention the one and only passenger-cargo ship Aranui III, which travels to the remote Marquesas Islands every three weeks with visitors and merchandise on board. This is an excellent opportunity to see the Marquesas Islands and meet local people during the organized shore excursions. Various cabin categories are available.
So whether it is Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa, from the most incredible archaeological sites to Jacques Brel’s airplane Jojo, Gauguin’s grave or the impressive variety of natural attractions on these unspoilt islands, another world opens up to travellers, a world where culture, nature and men come together: Te Henua’Enana or the Land of Men.