Marquesas Islands Stories and Tips

A Day in Fatu Hiva - A South Pacific Wonder

Omoa, Fatu Hiva from Aranui 3 Photo, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

Fatu Hiva: Being the most remote and southern island in the Marquesas Islands, the only way to get here is on the Aranui 3, unless you own a yacht. It is not an island you want to miss, as the locals are so friendly and the landscape so dramatic. This comma-shaped island is only 3.5 miles wide and 9 miles long and formed by two extinct volcanoes. Approximately750 people live on the island in only two towns on the island’s west end.

Omoa: After sailing from Hiva Oa overnight, we arose the next morning anchored several meters off shore near the township of Omoa, Fatu Hiva. Using the whaleboats, Omoa was one of the roughest trips to shore, as the coast was rough and the get-off point is located among the rocks. It was fascinating watching the crew strategically wait for the heavy swell to shift while coordinating the lifting of the chained cargo from a flat boat to shore using a small Caterpillar. It often took three or four times to actually get the cargo ashore.

Once on land, we walked about 10 easy minutes along the coast to the town center, admiring the dramatic shoreline within a small bay surrounded by shell of an old volcanic crater. Upon arriving at the center, we went to a small handicrafts market geared towards the passengers of the Aranui 3, who arrive every 3 weeks. This was one of the best locations in the Marquesas to buy crafts, as their artwork is superb. Here is one of the better places to buy quality tapa cloths, a Marquesas custom of stripping the bark from a variety of trees, then pound, soften, and roll out prior to an artist applying a local dyed pattern. In addition, they are known for the wood carvings and shell jewelry.

What made this so special was the serene, gorgeous setting and absolutely wonderful locals who greeted us very kindly. The Aranui crew pointed out that these people have more of the traditional Marquesan way of life than the other islands, again due to their isolation.

Vanavave: Upon returning to the ship from Omoa and having lunch, we embarked along the western Fatu Hiva shoreline and enjoyed the dramatic crevices and cliffs indenting the island. Timing is everything, as we are in the later parts of the afternoon, as the sun is shining along the coast and casting wonderful shadows. In only 30 minutes we came to Vanavave.

Originally, due to tall pillars or basalt spires among a plantation of coconut tress, the early explorers called this location "Baie des Verges" or Bay of the Phalli (rather obvious reasons!). The missionaries followed and promptly added one letter to the name: "Baie des Vierges," or Bay of Virgins, therefore resulting in the more common, but inappropriate name.

After taking quite a few pictures, we set ashore and walked easily towards the inland valley through town, which lasted only about 15 minutes one way. Amongst the simple homes along the single cement road were beautiful gardens full of hibiscus, red ginger, jasmine, and gardenias. Several more basalt pillars rose around the village, which offered constant dramatic vistas. The very friendly locals provided some entertainment with dances, and as in most spots, offered their artwork.

After getting back to the Aranui, timing was such that my wife and I were offered a unique trip on the whaleboat around Vanavave Bay to watch the sun reflect on the island as it was setting. (We were lucky that a professional photographer was onboard for a magazine and requested this). I think I have said this enough, but the beauty was breathtaking, and for more than 45 minutes, we lazily circled the bay and watched as the island changed colors from yellow to pink to red. Wow!

We spent one day on the island of Fatu Hiva, but we will never forget the people, scenery, and adventure.

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