I learned recently through a podcast that Antarctica gets four times the number of visitors as The Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are among the least visited places in the world, and we are so happy to be among the lucky few. It’s remote and difficult to get to: it took us a month, but intrepid visitors to this archipelago are in for a treat. We recently spent a week in Hiva Oa, the second biggest island in the Marquesas. With our friends on Pelican, we rented a car and spent some time touring around Hiva Oa.
About Hiva Oa
The main anchorage is in a snug harbor with a dock full of fishing boats and dark muddy water. Called Atuona after the nearby town, this anchorage is great for provisioning and as a base for touring Hiva Oa.
Both the gas station with attached market and the boatyard are very handy for us cruisers, and a short walk over a hill into town offers more shopping. Atuona has two supermarkets, two ATMs, a pharmacy, customs, and a decent hardware store. It’s one of the best cruiser provisioning spots since Tahiti and Moorea!
We can’t spend all our time fixing up and stocking our boat, although it sometimes feels like it! We had a lot of fun touring Hiva Oa.
Calvary cemetery in Atuona is one of the top tourist sights in The Marquesas. Weird, right? The reason it’s on all the tours is this cemetery is the final resting place of not one, but two famous Europeans.
Alongside all the probably perfectly nice dead Marquesans buried in this spot above town overlooking the sea are the graves of both Paul Gaugin and Jacques Brel.
Gaugin lived in French Polynesia for a decade, living and painting in Tahiti and ending in The Marquesas. He died in Hiva Oa, so he is buried here. We found his grave.
We didn’t find the gravesite of the Belgian Brel, but his body is buried here as well. I learned that he came to Hiva Oa on an around-the-world sailing trip in the 1970s, which he started after a lung surgery operation. Brel sailed from The Azores across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, to Panama, through the Canal, and across the Pacific. When he made it to Hiva Oa, he left the boat and bought a house. We will not be doing that, but we enjoyed our time touring around Hiva Oa, despite missing Brel’s grave.
A great thing about driving around Hiva Oa, when you have a willing and able driver, is that it’s difficult to get lost. There is one road out of town which branches to two roads, and that’s it. We rented the car for one day, so we had to decide which one to take.
We drove from the dock at our anchorage, through Atuona town, north to the middle of the island, and then east to the tikis, with stops along the way for views, goats, and more.
The road is in great shape, recently built by the government, and was not busy when we were there in mid January. There weren’t always viewpoints to pull over, but we stopped at all of them.
One of the highlights of touring around Hiva Oa was the stunning scenery. Like the rest of The Marquesas, Hiva Oa is mountainous and offers gorgeous views. Props to our friend Bryan for doing all the driving on the loopy switchbacks through the mountains and along the coast, while we enjoyed the views.
A rental car cost us about $100, and an island tour to the places we went would have been $110 per person (we saw the tour group a couple of times that day). I am sure those people learned more than we did, but we got to use the car to provision.
Hiva Oa’s Archaeological Site
Hiva Oa is home to the largest archaeological site in The Marquesas, which is why we went east on our drive. This is one of the top tourist sites in Hiva Oa, and we saw two other people while we were there. Remember, more people visit Antarctica than all of The Marquesas. It was beautiful, lush, and green, and featured all of the things we expect from the Marquesas sites. As we learned on visits to smaller sites, the different levels of the maraes denote the importance of whoever lived or worshipped there. The higher terraces were for the holy men and rulers.
The site featured multiple platforms, some reconstructed edifices, and, of course, tikis.
This cute tiki statue is hidden away off a trail and off another one off the main road, but it’s worth getting lost to visit. I like to pretend it’s the influence for minions characters in Disney movies, but it could be the reverse, or not at all. It’s a super cute tiki statue in the middle of nowhere in Hiva Oa, but we stopped to take fun photos and you should too if you ever come.
After days on the hot boat doing boat chores, there is nothing better for a liveaboard then a good pool day at a resort. We haven’t done that since we were in Tahiti. A resort near the anchorage, Hanakee Lodge, offers a sailors pass with free pick up at the dock, lunch, wifi, and a day relaxing at the pool. Drinks and towels are extra. We bought drinks and brought our own towels. Since it’s not busy season, we had the pool to ourselves! Definitely recommend to cruisers in Hiva Oa.
The Marquesas are known for their fruit, and we got lucky in Hiva Oa. When we paid for the archaeological site at the nearby snack spot, the lady gave us a map and pointed out where to pick pamplemousse. She asked if we were on boats and when told yes, told us we could pick the fresh fruit. And we did!
We picked a few bagfuls of the sweet pamplemousse, having some for breakfast and even squeezing some juice. If the gin here weren’t so expensive we’d have a lot more gin and grapefruit juices. Whoever said you can’t have it all was right, but French Polynesia comes pretty close.
We had a lot of fun touring around Hiva Oa and would love to hear your thoughts about this island and The Marquesas in general. Share in the comments.