The Marquesas: Islands of The Land of Men

View from Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas Islands

Posted by on 01 Nov 2019 , in Islands

Looming misty mountains, sharp jagged peaks, and waterfalls higher than skyscrapers—nature took its sweet time moulding and sculpting the Marquesas Islands. Known locally as Enua Enata (The Land of Men), the remote islands are replete with powerful silhouettes and jaw-dropping scenery that inspired the fascinating legends woven so perfectly with the archipelago’s history that the line between fact and fiction is blurred. Artists also sought refuge in the Marquesas, and there experienced sights and sounds that inspired some of their masterpieces. Take a trip to the Land of Men, and see for yourself how such inimitable, sublime beauty brought about some of the best artistic works the world has ever seen.

Twelve islands make up the Marquesas archipelago but only six are inhabited. You can fly your way to and from most of the islands, or savour the best the Marquesas has to offer by cruise ship. Whichever way you choose, here’s a rundown of what to expect in each of the six Marquesan island.


The largest of the archipelago’s six inhabited islands, Nuku Hiva is something that would fit well in an Indiana Jones movie. It’s a change of scene from the Society Island’s calm lagoons framed by reefs. Majestic rocky shores, calm pristine bays, lush valleys and spectacular waterfalls make up Nuku Hiva, and just one look at its spectacular basalt peaks and dramatic sheer cliffs dropping off into the rough and vast ocean is enough for anyone to want to come back.

Nuku Hiva is located 1400 kilometres from the island of Tahiti and flight to the island takes about three and half hours. Another lovely option is to hop aboard the Aranui 5, a new custom-built passenger/cargo vessel that sails from Tahiti to the Marquesas, Tuamotu and Society Islands on a 14-day cruise.


There’s no way Hiva Oa can be mentioned without a nod to the French painter Paul Gauguin and the Belgian singer and poet Jacques Brel, as the island is their final resting place. Their graves on the side of the Cavalry cemetery are a pilgrimage for many visitors to this remote island, and there are also two small but informative museums dedicated to the famous artists. Art lovers, don’t miss the Gauguin Museum as it displays copies of Gauguin’s works and several items related to the painter’s life in the island at the start of the 20th century.

What really pulls in travellers to Hiva Oa though is the island’s wild, untamed landscape and breathtaking scenery. The flora and fauna in Hiva Oa is as varied, magnificent and exotic as in the other Marquesan islands.


Grand basalt peaks and deep emerald valleys await visitors in Ua Pou, one of the most unique and enticing islands in the Marquesas. Four towering basalt peaks reach above the surrounding mountains and seem to anchor the island, with the highest being Mount Oave at 1,230 metres above sea level. Drop by at the quaint village of Hakahau and do check out the unique church that beautifully combines modern Christianity with ancient Polynesian tradition. Then, take a short walk behind the small port and feast your eyes on stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks and the bay below. If you’re lucky, you might also chance upon a local artist market on your visit where you can purchase authentic locally-made paintings, jewellery and wood, stone and bone carvings.


Ua Huka’s high mountain peaks will surely get your attention as you approach the island, but it is its vast open spaces that will make you think of mana and self-discovery. Wild horses roam Ua Huka’s stark plateau landscape, first brought in from Chile in 1856 and are now abundant enough to be strongly associated with the island. They in fact even outnumber the island’s residents! If you have time, try hiking through the Ua Huka’s verdant valleys where you’ll probably stumble upon some petroglyphs or archaeological sites, or climb up one its sky-piercing peaks for one-of-a-kind views across the Pacific Ocean. The best woodcarvers in the Marquesas also live in Ua Huka, so if you’d like to bring home some tikis, spears, bowls, and intriguing artefacts, you’re in the right island.


The smallest island in the Marquesas and only accessible from Hiva Oa, Tahuata retains its air of isolation despite its proximity to Hiva Oa. This tropical paradise is the site of the first French settlement and home to the famous bone carvers who create amazing carvings out of cattle bone, horse bone and even swordfish rostrums. You’ll also find a huge church in the island’s tiny village, made by the Vatican and decorated with some of the most intricate Marquesan carvings.


Fatu Hiva is a remote island among remote islands. It is cut off from the world and can only be reached by boat, so if you’re planning to REALLY go off the grid, Fatu Hiva is one destination you’ll want to consider. It is also the lushest, wettest and most untouched island in the Marquesas, perfect for those who seek natural beauty in its rawest form.

Despite its isolation, Fatu Hiva is one of the hearts of Marquesan crafts. Try walking the small village of Omoa and your eyes will definitely be caught by Tapa cloths bearing Marquesan designs painted with dyes made from mulberry, breadfruit and banyan bark. Manoi oil, a perfumed coconut oil scented with tiare blossoms and sandalwood and one of the well-known products from French Polynesia, is also common in Fatu Hiva.

For a taste of adventure, conquer the incredibly windy and steep road to Hanavave located in the Bay of the Virgins, one of the most stunning bays on earth. You can either tackle the road in a 4WD, on horseback or by foot! It stretches for 16 kilometres and is filled to the brim with majestic waterfalls and towering cliffs!

For more information on the Marquesas archipelago and other islands in French Polynesia, enquire or call us at 1300 858 305. Our team of Tahiti travel specialists is always standing by to offer expert advice for a memorable and unique vacation.

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