The Marquesas Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean

Marquesas Islands

The Marquesas Islands are an archipelago of volcanic origin in Polynesia in the central Pacific. It belongs to the French overseas community of French Polynesia. The highest point of the archipelago is Oawe Peak, which is 1,230 m above sea level.

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General Information

The Marquesas Islands archipelago, one of the most inaccessible parts of the planet, is located 1371 km northeast of Tahiti, the distance to the nearest mainland is 4800 km (to Mexico). They are divided into 2 groups: the northern ones (which include Eiao, Hatu (Hatutaa), Motu-One, located around the largest island of the group Nuku-Hiva: Motu-Iti (Hatu-Iti), Wah-Pu, Motu-Oa[en], Wah-Huka) and the southern (Fatu-Huku, Tahuata, Mojo-Tani (Motone), Terihi, Fatu-Hiva, Motu-Nao (Tomasse Rock), located around the largest island of the Hiva-Oa group). The Marquesas Islands, with an area of 1,049 km², are the largest archipelago in French Polynesia, discovered by Spanish navigators on their way to Manila. The second largest island in French Polynesia is Nuku Hiva, second only to Tahiti. With the exception of Motu-One, all the islands are of volcanic origin.

In contrast to the widespread image of lush tropical vegetation with which the very name “Polynesia” is so tightly associated in culture, the Marquesas Islands are rarely arid. Although located in the tropical belt, the islands represent the first notable exception to the prevailing easterly winds, originating in the unusually dry (in atmospheric terms) Humboldt Current. Because of this, the islands are often prone to drought, and usually only those with relatively high elevations (above about 750 meters above sea level) have sufficient precipitation. This has led to constant fluctuations in the water supply, which has played a crucial role in maintaining human life in some areas of the various islands of the archipelago. This is especially noticeable in the historically sparsely populated Hua Huca (maximum altitude of 857 meters) and the periodic impossibility of life on Eiao (maximum altitude of 576 meters). It is believed that the Marquesas Islands were formed from magma emanating from the center of an inland volcano.

The largest islands of the archipelago

Nuku Hiva Island

Nuku Hiva is a stunningly beautiful island of 330 square kilometers and is the largest of all the islands of the Marquesas Archipelago. The island is home to 2,100 inhabitants. Some of the islanders are engaged in community service: they work in state enterprises, give their energy and time to the Catholic Church or the community, some work in schools; the rest of the population works for themselves – these people high in the mountains cutting copra trees, fishing, cattle breeding, many are talented craftsmen. Rites and various ceremonies from ancient times have remained an integral part of island life and are worth seeing.

Tayohae is a beautiful seaside village. It is the administrative, economic, educational and health center of the Marquesas Archipelago. Here are the French and territorial administrations, government buildings, gendarmerie, post office, central hospital, town hall, Air Tahiti office, banks, schools, shopping centers, small stores and stalls.

Sundays and holidays here are as busy as weekdays: islanders in their jeeps drive back and forth along the road along the waterfront, calling out to their friends and acquaintances, and, stopping to chat, join in the ball game that takes place under the flowering blossom tree in front of the town hall. Nearby, women, nestled comfortably in the shade, play bingo for money.

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From Muake Hill, 864 meters high, you can see a beautiful panorama of Tayohae Bay. Visiting the Cathedral of Our Lady, you can see the beautiful and majestic statues created by sculptors from every island in the Marquesas Archipelago. Most of the local sculptors’ workshops are not far from the village.

Hakawi Valley is on the South Shore, 15 km from Tayohae. Enjoy a refreshing dip in the pool of Ahui Falls, one of the highest cascades in the world – its height reaches 350 m.

Taipiwai Valley, made famous by Herman Melville, is located 16 km from Tayohae. You can get there by boat or through the high plateau of Toivi. The Taipiwai Valley is one of the largest and most fertile on Nuku Hiva: numerous waterfalls, a long river and the best preserved archaeological sites, including several tiki – stone sculptures of ancient gods.

The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson was most fond of Hathiheu Cove, which is on the north shore. At the very top of the overgrown mountains bordering the bay is a statue of the Virgin Mary (300 m above sea level). In the valley are the Naniuhi “tahua,” the name given to the gathering place of the pre-Christian islanders. Here you can see the platform once used for ritual dances, ceremonial stones, as well as petroglyphs carved on boulders.

A paradise of golden sand, the beautiful Anaho Cove is as if made for swimming. It is one of the most wonderful places on the islands of the Marquesas Archipelago. At most half a dozen families live in the valley of the bay. Anaho has what must be the smallest Catholic church in the entire Archipelago.

Hiva Oa.

Above the continually rumbling Pacific waves, the steep cliffs of the island of Hiva Oa shelter their summit in a haze of rain clouds. The largest and most fertile island in the Southern Group of the Marquesas Archipelago, Hiva Oa boasts picturesque valleys, lush plateaus, and dense forests.

Located 1,184 kilometers northeast of Tahiti, the town of Atuona is the administrative center of the southern part of the Archipelago. The town, framed by cliffs, has a cove with the strange name “Traitor’s Cove,” which secures the anchorage of ships. Atuona is a favorite port of a variety of yachts and ships carrying copra.

The village of Atuona has a gendarmerie, a small hospital, a post office, banks, a weather station, an Air Tahiti office, numerous guesthouses, restaurants and bars, shopping centers and stores, telephone and television. There is also a boarding school (through a Catholic mission) and a Protestant church.

Behind the village, a path winding up the cliff finally leads to the Calvary Cemetery. Here you can see two rather simply decorated graves of people who chose the Marquesas Archipelago as their final home, where they found peace. These people are the French painter Paul Gauguin and the Belgian singer Jacques Briel.

A must-see is the village of Poimaou, where Gauguin’s descendants live. And nearby in the mountains, towering over the village, lurks, hidden by fog, the temple of Oiropa “pa’e pa’e”, not far from it – several carved stones “tiki”, including the largest in all of French Polynesia – Takaii, the height of 8 feet.

The villages of Hanaiapa, Eiaone and Punaei are very picturesque, with stunning carved petroglyphs on the rocks. The village of Ta’aoa is famous for the temple “me’ae” as well as the beach with black sand. And the sites of Nahoe and Hanamenu are home to excellent coves.

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Oua Pau.

The island of Oua Pau, which can be translated as “poles”, is located 50 km south of Nuku Hiva, in the northern group of the Marquesas Archipelago, and covers an area of about 108 square kilometers. A powerful volcanic ridge extends across the island from north to south, reaching its maximum height at Mount Potainui (1235 m). Its heavily rugged coastline steeply falls into the sea, only in the bays can find suitable areas for mooring ships, and they are very small. Only on the northern coast are a few good anchorages like the beautiful bays of Vaiehu or Hakahau.

In the southwest of the island lies Hohoi Bay, widely known for its beautiful shores and “flower stones,” which are boulders naturally decorated with floral motifs (well visible only when the surface of the stones is wet). At Hakao Hoka and Hakahau, in the southeast of the island, an entire complex of “paepae,” stone sidewalks and walls was found. The recently built Catholic church on the road to Hohoi is decorated with colorful sculptures by local artists. But the island’s main attraction is the bay of Oua Pau, where you can see huge basalt columns rising into the sky.

Oua Huca

The name of the island of Ua Huka (Ua Uka), lying 50 km east of Nuku Hiva, can be translated as “supply of the gods”. The island is a vast plateau (the total area of the island is 85 square kilometers), surrounded by desert zones, rising to a height of 855 m above sea level. More horses and wild goats live here than people, and the lack of water makes life very difficult for the inhabitants of the three small villages hiding in the folds of rock near the small bays along the southern coast. But its name, Oua Huqa, is clearly not given by chance, and once the place was a bustling forest and home to more than 8,000 inhabitants, so many archaeological sites and mysterious structures of the peoples of the sea have survived to this day.

The main settlement on the island, the village of Vaipae, is proud of its Archaeological Museum, which includes an extensive collection of various household items, weapons, jewelry and tools found during excavations on the island. You can also find the only tree nursery in French Polynesia (the local authorities are very persistent in restoring the island’s flora), an extensive archaeological site in Hane Bay with three “tiki” in excellent condition, the Communal Museum in the village Hokatuis (created by the locals themselves, the items decorating it are mostly family heirlooms) and even a Botanical Garden!

The most beautiful shores of Oua Hua Hua can argue with the best beaches of the entire island group. Among the best of the best are the white sandy beach of Manihina, Hatuana beach lying on the east coast, and the relatively small but very beautiful Motu Papa beach. There are dozens of hiking and horseback riding trails in the Vaikivi area leading to the petroglyph-strewn rocks, and in Meiaut (Hana) there are three “tikis” under 3 meters high.


The origin of the name Tahuata (Tauata) can be found in the Polynesian word for “dawn,” but locals more commonly refer to it as “the island of birds.” The island is located 4 km south of Hiwa Oa and is separated from it by a wide strait with strong currents. The area of Tahuat is about 60 sq. km and the highest point is 1050 m. There are 3 times fewer inhabitants here than in Khiva Oa, and they are scattered over 4 villages, each in a valley opening to the sea with a small bay. There is no port here, so all cargo and people are transported ashore in the usual fishing boats, on which the locals may be out to sea again in half an hour.

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The main village of Vaitahu Island, is very proud of its history. Here you can find a monumental Catholic church with stone walls and magnificent stained-glass windows (the church was built directly funded by the Vatican, opened in 1988) and three memorials to the arrival of the Spanish in 1595, in memory of the victims of the clashes between local residents and French forces in 1838, and in memory of the landing of the group of Admiral Dupeti Tuar in 1842. It is also worth seeing the old stone road from the village of Hapatoni to the church by the sea, or an excursion on horseback, or by boat, to Hanamoenoa Bay, famous for its beautiful beach.

Fatu Hiva.

The southernmost island of the Marquesas Islands, Fatu Hiva lies 30 km south of Hiva Oa, and covers an area of 83 square kilometers with a maximum altitude of 960 m. The island’s name can be translated as “nine parts of the roof,” but it is more commonly referred to as the “Garden of Eden” it is the wettest, most lush, and most traditional of the islands in the group. Many fruit trees thrive on the slopes of the island because of the abundant rainfall and smooth weather, and the tapa grown here is exported to many countries in the region. The island is home to many of French Polynesia’s finest artisans. Here they weave colored fabrics from plant fibers, carve in wood and stone, and even cook dishes to special recipes.

Virgin Bay is world famous for its amazingly beautiful basalt peaks. In Omoa you can see the ancient wooden buildings, which were built in the Marquesas Islands long before the arrival of the Europeans, as well as the rock with petroglyphs at the exit of the village, a forest of breadfruit trees between Omoa and Hanawawa, and many ancient ruins, scattered in abundance across the island. The famous Norwegian traveler Thor Heyerdahl lived on Fatu Hiva from 1937-1938, and wrote a book about his experiences, whose title is still the unofficial motto of the island “Fatu Hiva, a return to nature”.

How to get there

Air Tahiti flight from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva (3.5 hours), then a charter helicopter to Hiva Oa (35 minutes). Flights are operated on a weekly basis.

There are also ships between the islands of the archipelago. It is best to plan your trip in advance so that the transfer can be arranged from the hotel. It is worth bearing in mind that the transfer can be done by boat, horse or jeep.

Marquesas Islands

The Marquesas Islands is a volcanic archipelago located in Polynesia, the peak of Oawe is considered to be the highest point of 1230 m.

These islands are considered the most inaccessible place on Earth. Despite the fact that Polynesia has always been the epitome of dense vegetation, the Marquesas Islands are very arid. And that’s with the fact that they are in the tropical belt. The only exception to the rule. It’s all about the easterly winds, which originate in the driest currents.

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Rains are extremely rare here and only at high altitudes. Such a climate greatly affects the water supply system of the areas. It is very noticeable by the sparsely populated parts of the islands and the almost impossible life on Eiao.

Scientists officially believe that the islands were formed from volcanic rock.

The largest islands of the archipelago:

Niku Hiva Island.

This is a magnificent island with an area of 330 square meters. Of the whole system of islands, it is the largest. More than a million inhabitants live here. They live an ordinary life, work in public office, attend the Catholic Church. Some are engaged in fishing, raising livestock, growing plants.

Life on the island flows according to ancient traditions, and ceremonies and ancestral rites are still held. They are an amazing sight to see. On the island there is a small village of Tayohae. It is the cultural center of the entire archipelago. Here is located the post office, administrative buildings, hospital, small town hall, banks, schools and other elements of infrastructure.

Weekends are recognized as a holiday, when the entire local population drives their cars along the coast from one neighbor to another. There are outdoor games for men and bingo games for women under the shade of trees.

The huge hill of Muake offers a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. Tourists will be interested in the Cathedral of Our Lady, which contains statues and sculptures from each of the islands of the archipelago.

Another attraction of the island is the Hakaui Valley. Here you can plunge into the warm waters of one of the highest waterfalls at a height of 350 meters.

Taipiwai Valley is famous for its enchanting landscapes with numerous waterfalls, forests, rivers. It is the most fertile place on the island, rich in archaeological finds. Stone statues of local Gods called Tiki have been found here.

The famous writer Robert Stevenson (Treasure Island) loved to visit the place Hatikheu. It is located on the very shore of the sea and has a very picturesque view. During the excavations here were found gathering places of pre-Christian inhabitants of the island, slabs for ritual dances and mysterious petroglyphs on the huge stones.

And finally, a piece of paradise – the bay of Anaho. Only a few families live in the bay. These places are just made for a beach holiday.

Hiwa Oa

Hiva Oa is the most fertile of the islands. It is washed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The island is famous for its dense forests, hills, and valleys. Here is the administrative center of the southern part of the islands, which is called Atuona.

The city is known as “Traitor’s Cove.” It provides protection of coastal areas and is a berth for yachts and ships.

Atuona is provided with all the infrastructure necessary for human life. There are schools, banks, stores and even a boarding school established with money raised by Catholics. The most famous attraction of these places is the Calvary Cemetery.

Here you will see only 2 graves, where Paul Gauguin and Jacques Briel are buried. The descendants of the painter Gauguin still live on this island. There are also found tiki on Hiva Oa. One of them has a record height of 8 feet. Petroglyphs carved on the rocks have been found in neighboring villages.

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This place is famous for its beaches with the purest black sand.

The island of Oua Pau.

The name of the island translates as “Pillars”. The area of the island is 108 sq. km.

The entire territory of Oua Pau is crossed by a volcanic ridge. The coastline of the ridge is not suitable for recreation, but some bays ennobled, making them convenient berths for ships.

The south of the island is famous for its Hohoi Bay. There you will see the magnificent “flower stones. They are called “flower stones” because they are painted with natural colors in a pattern resembling a variety of flowers. The pattern is best seen when the stones are wet.

But the most famous attraction are the columns of basalt in the bay of Oua Pau.

In some parts of the island, “paepae” have been found. – entire complexes of walls and numerous bridges.

The island of Ua Huca

The island is located 50 kilometers from the Nuku Hiva and is translated as “supply of the Gods. It is a vast desert plain and the only living people here are goats and sheep. Life is very difficult for humans here because of the lack of water. But then why does the island have such a “fertile name”?

There is an assumption that once lived here more than 8000 people, and around you could hear the splash of water and the rustle of leaves. Numerous archaeological artifacts have been found to confirm this.

Despite the complexity of life, there is one single settlement on the island, Vaipaea. It boasts a museum of archaeological finds. It contains luxury items, clothing, tools and many other items found during excavations on the island.

The local authorities have started a nursery for plants, restoring the flora of the island.

Oua Huka is famous for the best beaches in the entire archipelago. They are covered with white soft sand and attract many tourists. Not far from the beaches erected paths for horseback riding.

Tahuata Island

The name of the island translates as “dawn”, but the population nicknamed it “the island of birds. It is located near Khiva Oa and is separated by strong currents from the other islands. The area is 60 kilometers.

There are no landscaped harbors here, all the ships dock directly on shore.

The island has four settlements, one of which has a rich history. Here you will find an old Catholic church with wonderful architecture and three monuments to the Spaniards who arrived in 1595 and the victims of the skirmish between the French and the local population.

We also suggest a horseback riding tour or a boat ride to admire the beauty of the island.

Fatu Hiva Island

Fatu Hiva is located in the south of the Marquesas Islands. The people did not nickname it the “Garden of Eden” for nothing. It is the most fertile and the richest in greenery. The fruit grown here is exported to most countries in the world. The settlement is home to some of the best craftsmen in all of Polynesia.

The basalt peaks and numerous petroglyphs are worth a visit.

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