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Marquesas Islands

Thursday, March 19, 2009
Kelly Landry and the Getaway crew visited Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas group of 12. Breathtakingly beautiful, it has towering spire-like peaks, secluded and lush valleys, ancient religious sites and waterfalls so high most of the water evaporates as it descends.

Some of the islands remain virtually untouched since European exploration. Inhabitants are immensely proud of their home and they have a fascinating culture, not to mention an abundance of natural wonders. The islands are the farthest from any continent in the world and lie 900-1200km south of the equator and their remoteness makes them more mysterious.

Waterfalls cascade down sheer volcanic cliffs and mountains disappear into the clouds. The spirits of the ancient Ma'ohi are believed to still live there.

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva (Mystic Island) is one of two primary islands. The other is Hiva Oa (Paul Gaugin's Island). One road crosses Nuku Hiva and it takes in some pretty big mountains, so the best way to get around is on horseback. The horses you will see everywhere on the islands are descendents of animals aboard a 1500s Spanish shipwreck.

It's cheap to saddle up for a day, but if that's not your thing, you can rent a four-wheel drive to explore the many ruins. It's a good idea to have a guide with you as the history is fascinating.

Marie-Noelle is a local ethnologist and her knowledge is excellent. She says the Hikokua site is one of the best she has ever seen. The rear wall of the Mouria House was built with basalt blocks weighing up to two tonnes. They moved them by using wood pilings, slipping and sliding them to their final position — without the help of animals.

The 800-year-old stone tohua, or meeting place, was used until missionaries arrived in 1842 when it was abandoned for European-style buildings. It had many uses — a place for dancing, sport and training for war.

Until a little over a century ago, cannibalism existed and you can see where prisoners were held. Human sacrifice was considered the best way to please the gods — far better than sending breadfruit or turtles.

On Nuku Hiva's northern shore is Hatiheu. The tiny town is where Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write Treasure Island. It sits in a secluded bay, surrounded by sharply spired peaks and is full of interesting archaeological sites.

When hunger sets it you can't go past Chez Yvonne. It is so popular you need to book. Right on the waterfront at Taiohae, Yvonne's is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Sunday. They serve a selection of pizzas, lobster shrimp and pig baked in an underground oven. Food is prepared in the local or French way. Yvonne is one busy lady — apart from running possibly Marquesas best restaurant, she is also the town mayor!

Pearl Lodge

On the south side of the island, Pearl Lodge is the only hotel around. Its five-star cabins inject a bit of luxury into town, and once a week, locals gather to do their traditional dance in the bar.

Six bay-view family suites, six mountain-view and eight premium ocean-view bungalows are perched on a hillside, each with the touch of a local artist and sculptor. All have outdoor terrace, air-conditioning, television, mini-bar and safe.

The restaurant and bar have a spectacular outlook, perfect for breakfast and lunch in the open air and dinner by moonlight.

Tattoos

In the Marquesas, tattoos have a deep cultural meaning. Matutiki is one of the best traditional ink artists and he is of the belief that tattoos actually originated in the Marquesas to identify tribes. Designs are exquisite so if you always wanted to have a picture somewhere on your body, now is your chance! If you don't fancy anything quite that permanent, there is plenty of desirable artwork on the Marquesas more suitable for walls.

Location

Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas, 1400km northeast of Tahiti and a 30-minute flight north-east of Papeete in Tahiti.

Cost

Travel Tahiti Connection has seven-night packages including return economy airfares flying Air Tahiti Nui, one night in Tahiti at the Manava Suite Resort at each end of your visit, five nights at the Nuku Hiva Keikahanui Pearl Lodge in a Bay View bungalow, transfers and domestic flights. They start at $3899 per person twin-share.

Air Tahiti Nui flies three times a week to Papeete.

Packages from:

  • Sydney $3899
  • Melbourne and
  • Brisbane $4090
  • Perth $4665

Valid for travel between April 1 and May 31, 2009 and November 1 and December 31, 2009. Prices are based on twin share.

Prices correct at March 19, 2009.

For further information

Air Tahiti Nui
Air Tahiti Nui
Ph: 1300 732 415
www.airtahitinui.com.au

Keikahanui Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge
53-98742 Taiohae
Nuka Hiva
French Polynesia
Ph: +689 92 07 10
Fax: +689 92 07 11
www.pearlresorts.com
keikahanui@mail.pf

Chez Yvonne
Hatiheu Village
BP 199-98742 Taiohae
Nuku Hiva
French Polynesia
Ph: +689 92 02 97
Fax: +689 92 01 28
hinakonui@mail.pf

Travel Tahiti Connection
Ph: 1300 858 305
www.tahititravel.com.au

Tahiti Tourisme
Suite 3, Level 8, 25 Bligh Street
Sydney 2000
Ph: 1300 655 563 or (02) 9233 4920
Fax: (02) 9233 4906
www.tahitinow.com.au
info@tahiti-tourisme.com.au

Visas: Australians may stay in French Polynesia for up to three months without a visa.

Electricity: Electricity is 110 or 220V/60Hz, depending on the island. A voltage of 220V is the most common. Plugs are circular with two female and one male point, the same as France.

Time zone: GMT -10 hours.

Currency: Pacific franc.

International dialling code: +689.

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