World renowned Western artists and scientists were drawn to this, the Marquesas’s second largest island and former administrative center for the archipelago. French post-impressionist Paul Gaugin fell in love with the Hiva Oa toward the end of the 19th century, before his art was fully appreciated. Marquesan life represented the idyllic natural life he’d been seeking most of his adult life, simpler and more ‘authentic’ than Tahiti. Already ill when he permanently moved to Atuona, he died a few years after his arrival. His resting place overlooks the bay. Beloved Belgian singer and philanthropist, Jacques Brel, unintentionally arrived and died similarly. When diagnosed with lung cancer, he found in Hiva Oa the peace and tranquillity he craved. With his Guadeloupean mistress, actress Maddly Bamy, he lived aboard his 62-foot steel schooner before cancer overcame him. He rests interred adjacent to Gaugin in Calvary Cemetery. Today, separate museums celebrate the lives of these legendary artists.
To the north, Kon Tiki was born of a chance experience Thor Heyerdahl had while exploring the coasts of Hiva Oa. Recognizing the resemblance of Pua Mau’s stone tiki to stone carvings of pre-Columbian Peru, Heyerdahl hypothesized that the islands were populated by Incan peoples of South America drifting west in rafts, discounting the popular notion of Southeast Asians sailing double-hulled canoes east. Kon-Tiki was his Academy Award winning effort to support his hypothesis, an idea largely rejected by today’s science. Pua Mau’s large stone tiki statues are easily accessible.
Polynesian navigators discovered this remote archipelago a thousand years ago. Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas Islands and the chain’s administrative center. Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jacques Cousteau, and the producers of the American television series, “Survivor” are among its more celebrated visitors.
Nuku Hiva boasts several soft-bottom anchorages. To the north, picturesque Anaho Bay remains the archetypal vision of a lost tropical paradise. Neighboring Hatiheu hosts a restored Marquesan village replete with ancient petroglyphs and sacred banyan tree. To the south, Vaipo falls is Southeastern Pacific’s tallest waterfall with a single drop of 350m (1150ft). To the west, no anchorages, but a grand canyon leading to the sea. And at center, the higher elevation plateau with cooler temperatures, dubbed ‘Little New Zealand’ by the locals with its rolling hills, grazing cattle and horses, surrounded by pine forests.
Ua Pou’s exotic crown of basalt spires transport one’s imagination to otherworldly realms, . . . how such natural beauty is possible? Just hours by boat from the much larger Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, the third most populous of the six inhabited Marquesas Islands, offers a simpler, quieter, slightly more authentic Marquesan lifestyle experience. Traditional artisans can be seen working their various crafts. Musicians fill the sweet scented air with music and song. To the remote southeast, in Hohoi Bay, beachcombers scour the shoreline for rare stones mystically embedded with ‘flowers’ of stone. To the southwest, Hakatao is a quaint fishing village. Hakahetau to the northwest is the epicenter of the Marquesan cultural renaissance. From this village in the 1980’s, the resurrection of Marquesan language, music, dance, and crafts was born, culminating in the bi-annual Marquesan Arts Festival, hosted on a different island each time.