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Marquesas Islands vacations

A vacation in the Marquesas Islands is best for those who seek adventure off the beaten track. Some 750 miles northeast of Tahiti, the Marquesas raise their breathtaking peaks from a reef-less ocean; thus the waves pound the shores directly and there are few natural beaches here.

Getting to and around the Marquesas is a unique experience. Operating seven days a week, Air Tahiti provides service to Nuku Hiva with a flight from Papeete. Weekly service is also offered to Nuku Hiva from Bora Bora and Rangiroa. Continuing flights and helicopter charters connect Nuku Hiva to Hiva Oa with several weekly 35-minute flights.

Perhaps the most distinctive way to see the Marquesas is aboard the new Aranui 3 freighter/passenger ship. This working cargo ship is the lifeline to the outside world for the inhabitants of these remote islands. Passengers observe the exchange of supplies, copra, dried coconut, and fruit in addition to exploring each of the islands on guided excursions. The 16-day voyage begins in Papeete and includes 17 ports-of-call in the Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands.

It can often seem that the Marquesas, or Henua Enata meaning “Land of Men”, are lost at the end of the earth. Of the 12 islands in the group, only two, Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, have international standard resorts: the Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Pearl Lodge and the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge, respectively. Even now, some of the islands in the group remain virtually untouched since the era of European exploration. Their isolation has created both an immense pride among its’ people, and a fascinating culture.

The lilting Marquesan dialect is unique to Tahiti, and can be traced directly to the ancient Polynesian tongue of Maohi. In addition to the language, the songs and rhythmic haka dances, traditional arts of tattoo, sculpture, tapa making, and distinctive cuisine are matters of pride for the Marquesan people. Most of the island’s inhabitants reside in inland valleys on the slopes of the central mountain.

Sightseeing around the islands requires careful planning. Although 4×4 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. Replete with winding trails, and with each turn unveiling another majestic view, the Marquesas offer visitors the spectacle of nature at the dawn of time.

Nuku Hiva, often called the Mystic Island, is the largest in the Marquesas.  The island, known for its 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, was formed by two volcanoes resting on top of each another. In 1842, it was the first island to be spied from a whaler by Herman Melville, who wrote that it was “a country that no description could fit the beauty.”

Hiva Oa was the final home of French painter Paul Gauguin, and is so known as Paul Gauguin’s Island. This majestic and historic island is known for its wild, untamed landscape, giant stone tiki, and its endless and unearthly vistas.

The island’s main town of Atuona is the administrative center for the southern Marquesas. A path up the cliffs behind the village leads to Calvary Cemetery. Here are the simple graves of two men who chose the Marquesas as their final home and resting place: Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel. Other sightseeing highlights include a visit to Puamau Village, where Gauguin’s descendants live. In the steamy jungle above this village is the Oipona Me’ae temple and the 8-ft.-tall tiki Takaii, the largest stone tiki in Polynesia. Several other stone carvings adorn this quiet spot. Visit the very picturesque village of Hanaiapa; the petroglyphs carved in stone in Eiaone and Punai; the Me’ae temple and black sand beach of Taaoa and the scenic bays of Nahoe and Hanamenu.

The Paul Gauguin Cultural Center opened on Hiva Oa in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of Gauguin’s death. Located on land bought by Gauguin, the center’s exhibition of reproductions leads the visitor through three sections themed around quotes attributed to the artist: “escaping to reach art”, “the right to dare anything in art”, and “becoming part of a primitive culture.”?

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