Welcome to one of the most memorable vacations you’ll ever take. The beauty of Hiva Oa can be found in the contrasts of its magnificent landscapes. Located in the South Pacific, adventurous travelers will find an ethereal environment containing indigo waters against coastal cliffs and volcanic rock. In this distant island, those who are seeking a rich cultural experience paired with unsurpassed wild nature will never want to leave!
Because of its incomparable beauty, locals once believed Hiva Oa was the birthplace of the gods. Flying in, you’ll be impressed, too. With an area of 123 square miles (320 square kilometers), it is the second largest of the Marquesas Islands after Nuku Hiva. In fact, its unique natural beauty and lush vegetation inspired the 19th-century French painter, Paul Gauguin, to create some of his best works. “Everything in the landscape blinded me, dazzled me,” he once wrote.
Hiva Oa is in the Marquesa Archipelago, one of the five island groups that make up The Islands of Tahiti. The main village, Atuona, is nested at the end of Taaao Bay and is overlooked by the island’s highest points, Mount Temetiu (4,186 ft.) and Mount Fe’ani (3,366 ft.).
Historical Treasures on Hiva Oa Island
History buffs should also visit the petroglyphs, where the curious “fish men” are depicted. A place of mystery, a half-day hike will bring you “Les Petroglyphes de Tehueto,” a 2-3-hour hiking trail near Atuona, in the Faakua Valley. Enormous basaltic blocks clearly distinguish anthropomorphic representations caught in an ancient dance, their arms outstretched. This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world!
Archeological sites, such as me’ae in Puama’u, are often visited for their famous tiki statues. The tallest one, “Takaii”, stands at an impressive eight feet (two meters). The lithic structures and tiki statues are all set amongst a lush landscape of coconut palms and giant banyan trees.
Takaii, a carved stone tiki, represents a warrior leader renowned for his strength. It is the largest tiki in the Marquesas Islands and in French Polynesia. The Takaii archaeological site is found at the Iipona, near the village of Puamau, on the island of Hiva Oa.
Home to Gaugin and Brel
While visiting Hiva Oa, be sure to stop by the Jacques Brel Museum, a memorial to the Belgian-born songwriter, poet and singer Jacques Brel who chose the Pacific Ocean island as his home in the latter years of his life. Of course, a must-do is the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, complete with a reproduction of Paul Gauguin’s infamous Maison du Jouir, or “House of Bliss” as well as an impressive collection of his works showcasing, in stark contrast, the muted and dreary tones of his life in pre-20th century Europe with the brilliantly colorful and sensual imagery created upon his arrival in French Polynesia.
In his letters from here, Gauguin wrote: “Life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one’s will.” Nestled amongst thick vegetation, the gallery is a living memorial to his vivid and eccentric life as an artist, and nearby, you can even pay your respects at his simple burial site inside Calvary Cemetery.
A century later, it is still possible to experience the land of Hiva Oa much as Gauguin did. You’ll discover the same warm and welcoming expressions on the faces of the local people and be entranced by the rich and wild landscape.
Getting to Hiva Oa in French Polynesia
There are two main ways of getting to Hiva Oa. Many visitors come to the Marquesas via cruise ships such as the Paul Gauguin or the Aranui. You can also fly direct from Faa’a International Airport, located in Tahiti’s capital, Papeete.
The main hotel on the island is the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge. It is located close to the small village of Atuona. A shuttle is available to take guests to the village for the attractions as well as shopping for Marquesan crafts such as carved tiki and bowls, bone and feather jewelry, as well as wonderful Marquesan honey.
Tips for Visiting Hiva Oa
Be sure to try some local food specialties, including wild goat and pig dishes, breadfruit and poisson cru. But don’t become a meal yourself! Be prepared for lots of mosquitos by bringing plenty of insect repellent and wearing long, loose pants and sleeves. Also, be wary of the nono, a type of fly that does not respond to DEET. Try using local monoi oil to deter the insects.
With just a couple thousand inhabitants, Hiva Oa is truly a place you can find an escape. But it’s also a great base for visiting other gorgeous getaways, such as nearby Tahuata and Fatu Hiva.