The Marquesas Islands remain one of the last bastions of the ancient Polynesian culture, a land before time. The Islands are set three hours away from the Tahiti, by plane.Their isolation plays a great part in their charm, making them one of the most intact islands in the world, and the home to a proudly indigenous people with their very own language, dissimilar to Tahitian, and originating from the ancient Maohi language. For centuries, their history has been a source of inspiration for many, and they appear in great works of art like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Herman Melville’s Typee, and works of artist Paul Gauguin and poet Jacques Brel. More recently, the fourth season of the popular reality show Survivor was filmed on the Marquesas Islands.
There are 15 islands in the Marquesas group, but not all of them are inhabited, and there are only two designated for tourism: Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. Nuku Hiva, the largest island, looks exactly like a mysterious ancient island should – dense forestation weaved through with fresh-water rivers and cascading waterfalls, spotted with archeological sites, and rising into the sky with its many peaks, the tallest of which is Tekao. Hiva Oa is as wild as the former, but it is better known for its most famous inhabitants, Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel, both of them buried on the island.
There is much to do on the islands, especially for the adventurous spirit. Organized archaeological trips around the Marquesas Islands will take you to the spiritual heart of Polynesian history, by a 4×4 or on horseback, as you wish. There are many temples and tiki around Nuku Hiva, specifically in Taipivai Valley. To the north, you can find Hatiheu village and numerous ruins and petroglyphs. A restored site in Taaoa Valley, Hiva Oa is vast enough to provide material for a day-trip.
Hiking opportunities on the Marquesas are plentiful, since the islands are mostly unpaved, and all cross-island travel is a little rustic. However, 3 hikes are not to be missed, and these are the three hour Hakahau – Hakahetau trek, ending with a refreshing plunge at the Hakahetau waterfall. Ua Huka island is remote, but there are several good trails around its now extinct volcano. The trail between the villages Hokatu and Hane, also on Ua Huka, is worth the walk.
The Marquesas Islands were once a cultural center in ancient Polynesia. Today, this leaves us with several spectacular historic sites worth visiting. The best preserved is Iipona on Hiva Oa, a pulsating composition of flora and stone. This well visited site is strewn with tikis of all sizes, depicting central figures in Tahitian history and mythology. Kamuihei, Tahakia, and Teiipoka are another set of historic sights, this time on Nuku Hiva. The valley surrounding these sites is full of petroglyphs and tohua, and every nook and cranny exudes mana. On a more modern basis, Calvaire Cemetery is the resting place of Jacques Brel and Paul Gauguin, and it is located in Hiva Oa.
If you are interested in lounging about on white sands, the Marquesas have you covered. The beaches are nothing like the touristy beaches of Bora Bora, but they have their own sentimental charm. A diver’s palate is taken care of as well, with well-equipped commercial diving companies such as SubAtuona and the Centre Plongée Marquises.