Marquesas Islands

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia French Polynesia Marquesas Islands

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Introduction

The Marquesas Islands are located in the north of French Polynesia and from a group of volcanic islands. These islands are one of the best places in the world to get a way from it all and are among the most beautiful islands anywhere in the world. Their waters are great for snorkelling and diving as well, but there are many more attractions including the rainforests and mountains. Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva are the largest islands where most people live, but with only about 9,000 inhabitants you have the place almost to yourself.

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Geography

The Marquesas Islands group is one of the most remote in the world, lying about 1,371 kilometres northeast of Tahiti and about 4,800 kilometres away from the west coast of Mexico, the nearest continental land mass. They fall naturally into two geographical divisions: the northern group, consisting of Eiao, Hatutu (Hatutaa), Motu One, and the islands centered on the large island of Nuku Hiva: Motu Iti (Hatu Iti), Ua Pou, Motu Oa and Ua Huka, and the southern group of Fatu Uku, Tahuata, Moho Tani (Motane), Terihi, Fatu Hiva and Motu Nao (Thomasset Rock), clustered around the main island of Hiva ʻOa. With a combined land area of 1,049 square kilometres, the Marquesas are among the largest island groups of French Polynesia originally discovered by Spanish galleons fleets en route to Manila, Nuku Hiva being the second largest island in the entire territory, after Tahiti. With the exception of Motu One, all the islands of the Marquesas are of volcanic origin.

In contrast to the tendency to associate Polynesia with lush tropical vegetation, the Marquesas are remarkably dry islands. Though the islands lie within the tropics, they are the first major break in the prevailing easterly winds that spawn from the extraordinarily dry (from an atmospheric perspective) Humboldt Current. Because of this, the islands are subject to frequent drought conditions, and only those that reach highest into the clouds (generally, above about 750 metres above sea level) have reliable precipitation. This has led to historical fluctuations in water supply, which have played a crucial role in the sustainability of human populations in certain sections of the various islands throughout the archipelago. This is especially evident in the low historical population of Ua Huka (maximum elevation 857 metres) and the intermittent inhabitability of Eiao (maximum elevation 576 metres). The Marquesas Islands are thought to have formed by a center of upwelling magma called the Marquesas hotspot.

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Regions

Northern Marquesas

  • Nuku Hiva - Mystic Island. The largest island in the Marquesas is known for towering spire-like peaks; secluded, lush valleys; ancient religious sites; fjord-like bays; and waterfalls so high that most of the falling water evaporates as it descends.
  • Inhabited Islands - Ua Pou with 2,000 people, Ua Huka (570).
  • Uninhabited - Eiao, Hatutu, Motu Iti, Motu Oa, Motu One,

Southern Marquesas

  • Hiva Oa - Paul Gauguin's island. This majestic and historic island is known for its wild, untamed landscape, giant stone tiki, endless and unearthly vistas, and as the final resting place of poet Jacques Brel and artist Paul Gauguin.
  • Inhabited Islands - Fatu Hiva (590), Tahuata (670).
  • Uninhabited - Fatu Huku, Mohotani, Motu Nao, Terihi.

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Sights and Activities

  • Tomb of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.
  • Ancient and sacred sites with petroglyphs.
  • Taaoa Valley Archeological Sites.
  • Puamau Stone Sculptures & Tiki.

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Weather

Temperatures in the Marquesas are stable year around, but precipitation is highly variable. Precipitation is much greater on the north and east (windward) parts of the islands than on the western (leeward) parts. Average annual precipitation can vary from more than 2,500 mm on windward shores and mountains to a low as 510 mm in the "desert" region of Nuku Hiva. Droughts, sometimes lasting several years, are frequent and seem to be associated with the El Niño phenomena. The statistics from the weather station at Atuona on Hiva ʻOa is representative of the average sea-level climate of the Marquesas. Illustrating the variability of precipitation, the highest annual rainfall recorded in Atuona is 3,760 mm; the lowest is 560 mm.

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Getting There

By Plane

Operating seven days a week, Air Tahiti provides to Nuku Hiva with a 3.5 hr flight from Tahiti. Weekly service is also offered to Nuku Hiva from Bora Bora and Rangiroa. On some days there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Hiva Oa.

By Boat

The Aranui III is a mixed passenger/cargo vessel that operates between Tahiti and the Marquesas. On its 14-day voyages once or twice a month it visits atolls of Tuamotus and 6 inhabited islands of Marquesas.

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Getting Around

Flights connect Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa with several weekly 35-minute flights. Several inter-island vessels are in operation, however they are seldom used by visitors. Always an adventure, travel to and from the airport should be scheduled by your preferred travel professional or by your hotel. Depending on road conditions and the location of your hotel, airport transfers can either be by boat, horse, 4x4 truck.

The Aranui 3, and several inter-island vessels offer service between the primary islands.

Travel around the islands requires planning as well. Although 4x4 rental vehicles are available, it is advisable to hire a guide to negotiate the steep, rugged, and unfamiliar roads occasionally used by herds of wild horses. Around the islands, motorboat rentals offer an enjoyable way to explore the dramatic bays and shoreline.

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Eat

There are restaurants on Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. The best dining is found at the restaurants at the Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Pearl Lodge and at the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge which features a sweeping panoramic view from every table. These restaurants have creative French dishes influenced by Marquesan fare. An impressive international wine list compliments the ambience while the views overlooking the mountains and bays.

Traditional Marquesan cuisine can also be enjoyed on Nuku Hiva in the villages of Taiohae, Taipivai, and Hatiheu, and on Hiva Oa in Atuona and Puamau.

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Sleep

Most accommodation is on the islands of Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.

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This is version 3. Last edited at 12:57 on Jul 14, 17 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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