Marquesas Islands

  - darkometer rating:  2 -
A very remote group of islands, part of French Polynesia in the tropical Pacific, located to the north-east of Tahiti. While the latter is famous for its South Seas beach paradise appeal, the Marquesas are a lot rougher in character. They are of volcanic origin and quite mountainous with steep cliffs and demanding peaks for climbers.
The islands have a dark history of cannibalism – which used to be practised with gusto (if that's an appropriate word in this context) by the permanently warring indigenous tribes that also fended off colonizers for much longer than elsewhere in the world. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that France managed to take hold of the islands and defeat and disarm the local warriors.
The Marquesas, in particular the island of Hiva Oa, are also famous for two celebrities who settled here in the 20th century: the French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel. Both are buried on the island, almost next to each other.
Gauguin had resettled from an earlier voluntary exile on Tahiti when this became too Europeanized for his taste. He lived with an under-aged local girl in openly practised sin, but even that instillation of youth didn't save him from death in 1903.
Jacques Brel came to the Marquesas in the mid-1970s, after he had been diagnosed with and operated on for lung cancer (he was a chain-smoker, so it wasn't a surprise). He died in 1978 while undergoing further treatment in France, but his body was returned to Hiva Oa and buried close to Gauguin's grave.
Both artists are honoured locally with small museums, and the private plane Jacques Brel used (also to get medical supplies to the island population, who were appropriately grateful to him for this) is also a museum piece these days.
All these sights are near the infrastructure hub of Hiva Oa, Atuona. Inland are sites related to the island's dark cannibalistic cultural history (including a grim sculpture of a woman suffering from the complications of childbirth!).
In 1946, the tsunami that also destroyed much of Hilo on Hawaii (see under Volcanoes National Park), rolled as far as the Marquesas, where the waves still reached a height of 6 to 7 metres (20 to 22 feet) and washed far inland. But this did not leave any sights as such for the dark tourist to search out.
The volcanoes that once created the Marquesas are dormant too, though there are said to be a few fumaroles and mud vents to be seen that give an indication of volcanic activity not yet having gone away completely …
Arguably, the island(s) destination isn't particularly dark overall, but it does cover, apart from the famous graves (and natural disaster associations), the aspect of cannibalism. As this is otherwise not covered on this website, I decided to grant the Marquesas their own little entry here anyway.
Getting to the islands is not easy, though there is an airstrip near Atuona where small planes coming in from Papeete, Tahiti, can land. Otherwise it's by supply ship, which isn't really a touristy way of getting there. More so cruise ships, which sometimes anchor in the islands' bay (and can take visitors on shore by boat). There is one hotel on Hiva Oa (also near Atuona) and a couple of more basic guest houses.
Getting to this far-away location is inevitably a major cost factor, and the islands aren't necessarily cheap to holiday on either. To get around outside Atuona and to/from the airstrip a 4x4 jeep is required. All this is racking up the costs, and even without international flights, even packages of a few days to a short week can quickly add up to around 2000 USD plus. International flights to Papeete are quickest and cheapest from Auckland, New Zealand, though there are also direct flights from e.g. Sydney, Australia, Los Angeles in the USA or Tokyo in Japan. The international French Polynesian carrier is called Tahiti Nui, the principal domestic one simply Air Tahiti, which also flies to Atuona.
Location: remote – Hiva Oa is almost 900 miles (1500 km) from Tahiti, on the north-eastern end of French Polynesia. Other distances, just for illustration: it's about 2300 miles (3700 km) from Hawaii, 3000 miles (4700 km) from Fiji, 3500 miles (5500 km) from New Zealand, ca. 4000 miles (6500 km) from the South American land mass and over 6000 miles (almost 10,000 km) from Japan.
Google maps locator: [-9.8006,-139.0383]


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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