Once upon a time in a far far land located in the South Pacific Ocean, a French explorer named Melanie Martins discovered the Marquesas Islands onboard of the Aranui 5.

How great does it sounds right? Well that’s not a legend but a real story.

In fact, after my adventure in the Society Islands (the most famous archipelago of the French Polynesia), Diogo and I embarked on the Aranui 5 in order to discover the Marquesas Islands – a remote archipelago of the French Polynesia receiving no more than 5000 tourists a year (same than North Korea)!

Aranui – meaning “Great Highway” in Polynesian – has been operating this route since the end of the World War II.

The first was an old PT-boat bought by the Wong family of Tahiti for copra trading. As each vessel came to the end of operability, the Wongs put another freighter into service.

The latest one is the Aranui 5 who can carry around 200 guests on a 16 days journey.

Aranui 5 also do 2 Port of Calls in the Tuamotu Islands which are Fakarava (half day) and Rangiroa (half day) and in Bora Bora (Society Islands), however their main destination (and attraction) is the Marquesas Archipelago where they cover a total of 6 Islands: Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Fatu Hiva, Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou and Ua Huka.


Hiva Oa is just like chasing a fairytale. Its beauty seemed unreal. I tried to wake up, but actually I was already awake, this was real.

The stunning mountains views from our balcony by the early sunlight was a pure bliss.

We visited twice Hiva Oa.

The first time, we visited me’ae Iipona in Puamau which has the largest tiki in the Marquesas: Takaii who stands 8 feet tall (2.43m).

It’s the most incredible archeological site to see these ancient, human-like religious stone sculptures outside of Easter Island.

The second time we came to Hiva Oa, we visited the small village of Atuona which was the final home of Paul Gauguin, who died there in 1903 and is buried at the Calvary Cemetery overlooking the town.
The Belgian singer Jacques Brel is also buried there.
In 2003, the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center was completed.Atuona was the capital of all the Marquesas Islands but it has been recently replaced by Taiohae (on Nuku Hiva).


The small Island of Tahuata is located at just 3km from Hiva Oa (pretty close neighbour…) and was the first Marquesa island discovered by Europeans explorers back in 1595.

We first visited the small (and main) village of Vaitahu and its church Sainte Mère de Dieu, then we walked around 25 minutes in order to get to the nearest isolated bay with black sand and warm waters.

Diogo, Richard, and I had the beach by ourself and we couldn’t be happier!


Fatu Hiva was beyond magical. It felt like an abandoned, legendary and mystical island. An Island that only some of the luckiest explorers could actually anchor on.

In fact, Fatu Hiva is the most isolated island of the Marquesas Archipelago and only has 587 inhabitants.

There is no airport here or proper port, so the only way to get to Fatu Hiva is by boat and get anchored a bit further.


Hatihe'u bay, Nuku HivaHatihe'u bay, Nuku Hiva

 Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the Marquesas and was formed by an ancient volcano in which a more recent cone emerged.

The Southern portion of both cones have eroded, leaving that coast with high, wave-washed cliffs and deep bays, each more majestic or mysterious than the other.

Nuku Hiva is mainly famous for:

  1. Its 3 sacred archeological site: Kamuihei, Tahakia & Teiipoka;
  2. The city of Taioha’e (located in the Taioha’e bay) which is the administrative capital and largest town of the Marquesas;
  3. Its spectacular waterfalls such as the Vaipo Cascade that can be seen by helicopter or on foot from Hakaui; and
  4. Taipivai – the valley immortalized in Typee, a novel written by American Herman Melville and published in 1846.

We also stopped twice in Nuku Hiva.

The first time we went to explore the sacred and ancient archeological site (or tohua in Polynesia) of Tahakia – which was recently restored and where we assisted to a local dancing show under a big Banyan tree.

After that we went to have lunch at the restaurant “Chez Yvonne” owned by the mayor Yvonne Katupa located in the Hatiheu bay (pictured above).

During our second visit to the Island, we visited the Taioha’e valley and its famous Notre Dame Cathedral (as you can see above).

There is actually a dirt road on the right leading up to a helicopter pad from which sightseeing flights depart. A twenty-minute flight costs about $150 per person, with a six-passenger load.

Although expensive, this is a very special way to view the villages, mountains and waterfalls. You can arrange tours at Heli-Inter Marquises.


During our stay in Ua Pou, Diogo and I did some pretty intense hiking to the top of the Hakahau cross where we had amazing views to the Hakahau bay.

We then walked up to the private bay of Anahoa with stunningly clean black sand and warm waters.

A pure bliss to have an entire bay just for us!


Ua Huka was the 6th and last Island we visited in the Marquesas Archipelago.

Actually if you are standing at the Hakahau cross on Ua Pou on a clear day, you can see Ua Huka on the horizon.

Ua Huka is the smallest of the inhabited Islands in the northern group with only 584 residents living between Vaipaee and Hane.

The so-called “invisible bay” of Vaipaee is a long slit in the seaward cliffs, which opens to a shallow inner harbor.

We had the opportunity to see the Aranui 5 executing a tricky about-face in the narrow passage; bow and stern almost touch the opposing cliffs as the vessel spins on its mix. It was spectacular to watch!

We started our journey by visiting the Vaipee Community botanical garden, followed by the Ua Huka Museum. 

Many are woodcarvers, and you’ll find handicraft shops with excellent items at reasonable cost in the village.

There is also many free horses to ride.

We left Ua Huka during the golden hour when a wonderful pinkish sunset emerged in the sky.


I loved to discover the Marquesas Islands! The Polynesian culture has always fascinated me a lot and can’t wait to come back to this part of the world again!

Have you ever been to the Marquesas Islands? Are you planning to go? Let me know your thoughts and questions below!


Photography: Melanie Martins & Diogo Novo
Onboard with: Aranui 5

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