At a distance of 1,500 km from the island of Tahiti, in the northernmost corner of French Polynesia, Nuku Hiva invites its visitors to immerse themselves in the soul of the Marquesas Islands. With its 330 km2 that make it the largest in size of the islands of this archipelago, but also one of the largest islands in the entire French Polynesia, it is the ideal place for such an initiation. Like all Marquesan Islands, Nuku Hiva is the result of volcanic activity of a scale unimaginable today. Millions of years ago, volcanoes arose from the depths of the ocean reaching up to thousands of meters above the sea. Then, when volcanic activity faded away, erosion and subsidence phenomena shaped the current and so special scenery. These phenomena are relatively new in terms of geological time, in the case of the Marquesas and Nuku Hiva, even if in this domain, we think in terms of millions of years before our era. Such tumultuous "youth" explains the beauty and grandeur of the scenery of the island marked by steep cliffs, valleys that looks like they were carved with an ax, mountains, punctuated by waterfalls and gigantic walls of dark rocks created by the collapse of craters of extinct volcanoes. A world apart in the middle of the south Pacific, so different from the other islands in French Polynesia. This particular genesis and the isolation of the Marquesas

Islands – an isolation all relative today in this era of commercial aviation - has contributed to the creation of wildlife, including undersea, and a unique flora with high levels of endemism. Scientific programs and research little by little reveal all the riches and the visitor can discover the many aspects of Nuku Hiva through hiking and excursions. Around the year 1,000, the archipelago was populated by Polynesian people, coming from the west, during their great migration thrust, and their conquest of the South Pacific islands. There, they developed a highly structured and hierarchical civilization, which brought the arts to a high degree of sophistication, such as tattooing and sculpture. From there, Marquesans left further north, and crossed the equator to populate the Hawaiian Islands as is probably fairly now recognized by strong linguistic similarities between Hawaiian and Marquesan languages.

Much Remain to Discover As witnesses of this civilization, are archaeological sites – among the most beautiful in the archipelago – that are abundant on the island. The main ones are Paek, in the Taipivai

Nuku Hiva at a glance

Coordinates: Latitude: 8° 52' South, Longitude: 140°06' West Maximum altitude: Mount Tekao (1,224 m) Surface: 387 km2 Distance from Tahiti: 1,500 km Northeast

Population: 2,600 inhabitants

AIR TAHITI FLIGHTS 1 daily flight

PRACTICAL INFORMATION • Main town: Taihoae (banks, post offices, vehicle rentals, shops, health care services) • Tourist lodging accommodations: 1 hotel and 5 “pensions” or family owned small hotels

• Untouched and magnificent scenery with waterfalls, canyons, plateaus, steep cliffs volcanic peaks and deep bays, which nestle some of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago

• Many archeological sites

• A living and dynamic culture: language, traditions, arts and crafts, sculpture, tattooing

• Many possible activities

• Excursions by boat, in 4x4, on foot or on horseback


© philippe BACCheT

valley, and Hikokua and Kamuihei, near Hatiheu. Nestled within lush vegetation that gives them a special aura, they reveal for those who discover them, the riches and complexity attained by the marquesan culture and social organization in ancient times, including the creation of ti'i, the anthropomorphic representations of deities and gods. Much remain to be discovered and to highlight, as in many places tropical vegetation has covered these remains with a shroud of oblivion. Yet, on the island, we can see here and there, the dark stones of pa'e pa'e, basalts foundations of ancient houses. Marquesas enthusiasts and archaeologists are now working hard to revive all these structures. After a brief contact with European navigators in the middle of the sixteenth century, the marquesas Islands and their inhabitants saw Europeans landing in greater numbers on their shores in the late 18th century, upsetting the delicate environmental, social and cultural balance. This shock led to a terrible drop in population. An entire society came close to disappearing in this culture shock. It was not until the early twentieth century, and more specifically, in the 1950’s that we saw the rebirth of the Marquesan society. A story that helps to understand the

fierce defense of their identity, expressed today through the Festival of Arts of the Marquesas, whose last edition was held, with great fervor, in december 2011 in Nuku Hiva, this is the living testimony of a fight for identity that has even grown more in the early 1980s. Today, the 2,600 Islanders are spread over several small towns, whose main ones are on the south coast, Taipivai and Taihoae, living centers of the island with its sheltered bay suitable for ships to anchor. On the north coast, Hatiheu, a charming and friendly small town, is the ideal place from which to explore this part of a coastline of great beauty. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing, enjoying particularly rich water, from agriculture and tourism. Proud of their identity and of their unique environment, they take pleasure in making you discover them with simplicity and friendliness. A true journey in Marquesan land is so different, while you travel in French Polynesia. Something that won’t deceive you: when you land at the Nuku Hiva airport on “Terre Déserte”, you must reset your watch to Marquesan time, a time difference of half an hour with Tahiti.


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