The Islands of the Marquesas
Imagine seeing rays of sunshine filter through the clouds over sharp mountain peaks, creating a scene you’ve only experienced in a photo or painting. Luscious islands emerge from the Pacific Ocean, a land of history and legends, each one more fascinating and unforgettable than the last. Welcome to the magnificent Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are an archipelago located 932 miles (1,500 km) northeast of Tahiti and spread out over 12 islands, of which only six are inhabited.
Many call Nuku Hiva the “Mysterious Island.” The largest archipelago among the Marquesas Islands, Nuku Hiva offers a lush landscape consisting of spectacular waterfalls and dramatic cliffs descending into the Pacific Ocean. The landscape is frequented with ancient ruins, majestic statues and places of worship constructed by the unique Marquesas culture.
Extraordinary landscapes, an incredible archeological history, great stories, and a rich culture alongside a friendly population are all waiting to be discovered.
Journeying to the untouched island of Nuku Hiva will transport you back in time. In these faraway islands, you can visit enchanting waterfalls, get to know the Marquesans’ culture or be enthralled with the natural beauty of stunning black sand beaches.
Much was painted and written about these islands, including works from Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Herman Melville, and post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. It is a place of reflection and discovery.
Those brave enough to scuba dive in the open oceans off of the Marquesan island of Nuku Hiva will find an exciting treasure. Because Nuku Hiva is geographically isolated, the largest of the Marquesas Islands is home to myriad species that have flourished in amazing biodiversity. Along the coast, swimmers and divers can experience manta rays, eagle rays, various species of sharks, jackfish, tuna, swordfish and many more. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to see some of the hundreds of dolphins who make their home near the shores!
Today, this island, Hiva Oa, is commonly referred to as the “Garden of the Marquesas” thanks to its fertile and lush land. The island could be referred to as rugged, and if you’re lucky, you could stumble along one of the many archaeological sites that remain tucked away, even after hundreds of years. Although its coasts are lined with beaches and diving cliffs, Hiva Oa feels remote and secluded. There are areas where visitors cannot see any signs of civilization, perfect for a hike away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The island of Hiva Oa is worth visiting to see the various archaeological sites there, like me’ae in Puama’u, home of the largest tiki statue in The Islands of Tahiti. There you can find “Takaii” (8 feet / 2.4 meters), a unique, happy-looking statue, hidden among the thick trees. Ta’a’oa is home to a huge cult area, featuring lithic structures and tiki statues that blend in with the primitive nature around them. Ancient petroglyphs can be found in the surrounding area at Tahueto. Travelers can see giant banyan and breadfruit trees, as well as towering coconut and papaya trees.
French artist, Paul Gauguin, journeyed to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in the 1900s in search of solitude and inner peace. Travelers to the island may visit the small museum dedicated to the painter and his home. While he lived in the Marquesas Islands, Gauguin painted some of his most famous artwork, sourcing his inspiration from the islanders’ everyday life, as well as legends and old religious traditions representing imaginary scenes. Visitors will find his grave on the island’s Calvaire Cemetery, facing Taaoa’s Bay.
Towering behind the village of Atuona are the island’s two highest peaks, Mount Temetiu, 4,186 ft. above sea level, and Mount Fe’ani, 3,366 ft. above sea level! Many famous writers, musicians and artists of various kinds have sought solitude in the hills of this island.
Fatu Hiva symbolizes the roof of Gods’ house: a small but stunning island. Arriving by sea, you’re greeted by intricate landscapes and pristine vegetation. Fatu Hiva will mesmerize visitors. Streams cut through valleys and cliffs drop into the sea, making views from any angle on the island nothing short of dramatic. In 1937, the explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl and his wife, in quest of a genuine return to nature, set foot on the island to live like at the dawn of the new world. He later wrote a book about his experiences, titled after the island. Not much has changed since then. Today, most local people live around the village of Omoa, a beautiful harbor, where they make traditional and renowned tapa out of tree bark. The area of Hana Vave is sheltered within an amazing bay: the Bay of the Virgins, probably one of the most beautiful bays on Earth, especially at dusk when the light blazes through the volcanic peaks, turning the landscape into an unreal and unforgettable scene.
Tahuata symbolizes “sunrise” or “the enlightening home” at God’s house, and it is also the smallest of the inhabited islands of Marquesas. Despite its small size, Tahuata is known for having been visited by the famous British explorer, Captain James Cook, in the 1700’s. The only access to this remote island is by sea from Hiva Oa. The island offers charming discoveries to the privileged traveler. From its fertile valleys to its crystal-clear bays, Tahuata is an exquisite haven of peace, and a place of history and creativity. Most inhabitants make a living out of their remarkable fine artwork, such as carved bone and rosewood – or miro (the Portia tree) carving. Mono’i, or sacred oil, is made following the scents of traditions and secrets, like an invitation to a mesmerizing perfume beautifully named “love potion” by the islanders. The creation of these perfumes is an art that spans thousands of years and is unique to these islands.
Ua Huka presents more untouched beauty and is renowned for its dry soil and landscapes. Wild horses gallop as far as the eye can see around this desert-colored land. Goats climb up on the island’s high plains. Peaceful and mystical, Ua Huka invites the traveler to discover a secluded universe, where the island’s ancestors are not just a part of the past but still very much part of the islanders’ everyday life.
Ua Pou is the third largest of the 12 islands. Huge basaltic columns reach to the sky and hold the names of legendary warriors: Poutetaunui and Poumaka. The highest of these pillars, and the highest point in all the Marquesas Islands is Mount Oave. In 1888, these pillars inspired poet Robert Louis Stevenson, who referred to them as “volcanic arrows looking like a church bell tower.” They proudly overlook the bay of Hakahau Village, the main village on the island.