It’s a land where poisson cru (marinated raw fish) is served at almost every meal; the elaborate tattoos on the men’s bodies tell the story of their family’s history and culture; and all one needs for an alarm clock is the rooster’s crowing sounds before the break of dawn. For guests who have already been to Tahiti’s more popular tourist destinations—Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora—the Marquesas Islands offer quite a few out-of-the-box experiences that will have them become one with the local culture.
A 3-hour flight from Papeete and home to about 3,000 residents, the island of Nuku Hiva offers a pristine and largely uninhabited landscape where wild horses roam free, and verdant green valleys embrace teal-blue waters. While staying at the only major hotel on the island, Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Pearl Lodge, we explored small villages, archaeological sites and stunning bays.
- The villages of Taiohae and Koueva, where we stopped for some local handicrafts (the jewelry made with the local berries are stunning), and then walked up a hill to the archaeological site of Tiki Tuhiva. From there, recommend a stop at Saint Joseph Church, located a short distance from the archaeological site.
- Visit local mountainside villages such as Typeevai Village, home to about 400 residents. Visitors should take a peek inside the village’s small church, a replica of the Lourdes church and cave in France (Catholicism is big on the island and each village has its own place of worship).
- After a stop at the local market for handicrafts, head to Hooumi Bay, where travelers will have optimum views of the surrounding mountains and the opportunity to dip their feet in the inviting water.
- Then it’s a detour to Hatiheu Bay, home to around 250 people—in ancient times the valley area housed about 100,000 people. There are 12 archaeological sites in this valley alone; at one of the sites, travelers will learn that the bones of the dead from the high society were hung on a still-living 500-year-old banyan tree so the other tribes wouldn’t steal their bones to make weapons. Just a short drive down the road is the Hikokua archaeological site, the area for the low society, which lived near the bay. The villagers were buried here—the graves are still visible—and the tribe used their bones as material to make everyday items.
- For lunch we stopped at an outdoor restaurant for a picnic-style sit-down with food provided by the hotel. After lunch, we had some time for a stroll along the black-sand pebbled beach.
Hop on a small plane and take a 20-minute flight from Nuku Hiva, and one finds themselves on the island of Hiva Oa, which our guide referred to as “the doors of Paradise.”
“This place is a true garden of Eden,” adds Nicholas Panza, v.p. of North & Central America for Air Tahiti Nui.
While in Hiva Oa we stayed at Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge, the island’s only major hotel accommodation and the place to book excursions, including to:
- The Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, which also houses the Jacques Brel Cultural Center. Here, one can view painter Gauguin’s masterpieces and learn about musician Brel’s passion for aviation, plus read song lyrics and excerpts from his correspondence while listening to his music. There’s also the option to visit their graves at the local cemetery.
- Go on the hunt for the Smiling Tiki (tikis are a large or small wooden or stone carving in humanoid form). For our exploration, we hiked through the bush along an unmarked path. The Smiling Tiki is known as the Goddess of Fertility because she has her hands placed on her belly and a tattoo under her mouth, a symbol of fertility for the local Marquesan women. This tiki is about 1,800 years old, and its location is believed to have been an ancient temple site. This was one of my absolute favorite tikis, as it was small and charming, and hard to find (in fact, clients should use the assistance of a guide to go in search of this particular tiki).
- The Upeke site, the biggest archaeological site in the French Polynesian Islands. The biggest tiki to be found here is the god of wind, and the site is said to be from 1,600 years before Christ.
- We made our way through various local villages—Motuua, Nahoe, and Eiaone, with only 25 residents—and then our guide dropped us off on the side of the road near Motuua so we could capture the stunning vistas. When we met up with him, he was playing the ukulele, and so we spent a few minutes basking in the surroundings as he serenaded us with local songs.
- Get ready to disconnect as large areas of Hiva Oa are uninhabited, and your clients are more likely to see wild horses, boars and bulls than another vehicle. One afternoon, after a 4-hour drive traversing the island, we stopped at Chez Marie-Antoinette, an alfresco dining spot located at a local’s home, where we were served a hyper local lunch of goat cooked in coconut milk, wild boar with onions and peppers, and poisson cru, plus fries and white rice. And for dessert, dried bananas, coconut bread pudding and guava in coconut milk.
- The archeological site of Me’ae Ipona, where there’s a large rock monument known as the god for stress relief; it’s said that the tiki will use its energy to relieve the stress of those guests who make a wish and are believers. At this site, there is also a tiki representing fertility, another for power, and one that’s the god of wind. This village is home to more than 50 tikis, making it the richest area for tikis on the island.
Who’s the Ideal Client?
Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge’s general manager Jean Jacques told us over dinner that the average American stay is about three nights, sometimes a 7-night package that includes visiting other islands. He adds that this destination is ideal for those clients looking for an off-the-beaten-track vacation, and that the average age of visitors is about 70 years old. “Few clients are looking for adventure, most are looking for culture,” he says. With all the local lessons we had during our trip about the cannabalist society of the early-1900s, the meaning and beliefs behind the tikis, plus the visits to the local Catholic churches, we would agree that Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva are both destinations for those clients who want a true cultural immersion in the local way of life.
The Islands of Tahiti: tahititiareagent.com
Tahiti Tourisme offers WiFi across the islands to all travelers via a portable
WiFi device they can pick up at the airport and take with them everywhere.
Visit tahitiwifi.com for more information.
What’s In it For Travel Advisors?
Sign up for the Tahiti Tiare Program to become an expert on The Islands of Tahiti. When you become a Certified Tahiti Specialist you will receive a certificate that identifies you as a Tahiti resource to clients, a Certified Tahiti Specialist logo for use in your advertising and collateral materials, sales and marketing tools for your use to create personalized fliers from templates, wedding guides, vacation guides, travel planners, postcards and more. You’ll also get listed on tahitirourisme.com, where consumers will have the ability to look up travel advisors based on their location, ideal for consumer leads. Consumers can custom-design their trip on the site using Trip Planner and then request a quote, which is sent to a Certified Tahiti Specialist. There are also exclusive opportunities such as access to FAMs, seminars, and events, as well as special rates and offers.