Further from a continental landmass than any other islands on earth, the Marquesas lie in the Pacific Ocean about 1.400 km (870 mi) north-east of Tahiti. Due to their remoteness, these lush and rugged islands are almost entirely unspoiled. The wild, steep cliffs and valleys lead up to high central ridges, and sharp volcanic pinnacles pierce the skyline. This uncompromising landscape is, however, softened by the wonderful rampant vegetation, including colourful bougainvillea, orchids, lilies, ginger and jasmine. The wildlife is extraordinarily rich and varied, with 80 per cent of birds, half the native plants and insects, and many of the numerous marine species unique to the Marquesas.
The administrative capital of the southern group, Hiva Oa is perhaps the best known of the Marquesas. Paul Gauguin spent the last years of his life here and some of his paintings are on display in the museum. There are many archaeological sites on Hiva Oa, including characterful and fascinating rock carvings and tombs. Separated from Hiva Oa by a narrow channel only a few kilometres wide, Tahuata is the smallest inhabited island of the Marquesas. The first Europeans disembarked on the white sand here in 1595, but still today there are few visitors to this paradise.
The most populated island of the Marquesas, Ua Pou is said to be both young and old as its rocks and geographical features were formed in two different volcanic periods. The largest settlement is Hakahau, the centre of which is its Catholic church built from wood and stone.
At the far south of the island group, Fatu Iva is the most isolated and possibly the most beautiful island. There are around 500 inhabitants living in the valleys here, and they rely on small cargo ships to bring provisions. This makes it a relaxing place to explore, miles from the modem world. The inhabitants specialize in the making of tapa, a beaten bark cloth used for drawing on.
Ua Huka, in the northern Marquesas, is less fertile than its neighbouring islands and the vast tracts of scrubby land are grazed by wild goats and horses. The island’s inhabitants live mainly on the south coast, in the villages of Vaipaee, Hane and Hokatu, each of which boasts a handicrafts centre. Also worth a visit are the arboretum and two interesting museums on the island.
Wherever in the Marquesas you choose to visit, you will discover an island paradise rich in both wildlife and cultural treasures.
When to go: April to May, or September to October.
How to get there: Fly from Papeete or Rangiroa to Nuku Hiva, or take a cruise ship or freighter from Papeete, calling at all six of the inhabited Marquesas.
Highlights: Surfing – the size and quality of the ocean waves make these islands a hot spot for surfing.
Relax on the beautiful deserted white sand beaches to get your breath back.
The archeological remains – Oipona, on the island of Hiva Oa, is one of the most impressive sites presided over by a 7-foot stone tiki (statue) called Takaii, two large paepae (stone platforms), eighteen stone sculptures and two carved boulders. Another important site is the Taaoa Valley.
You should know: The islands are busiest in July and August so book accommodation in advance for these months.