The Marquesas are islands which are high in altitude and of volcanic origin. Most are made of a central mountain range, over 3,300 ft high, giving them a very pronounced topography. Basalt peaks dominate the sharp edged valleys, covered in tropical, exuberant greenery. Along the shoreline, some breathtakingly high cliffs follow one another, beaten by the swell of the ocean, as well as some wide bays. These wild islands, exposed to cold currents coming up from the Antarctic, do not have any corals reefs.
The flora and fauna on the Marquesas Islands is abundant and diverse. Various species of coconut trees dominate the coastal scenery while tall and dense vegetation covers the inland mountains. Large trees like the Tamanu and a few species of shrubs grow alongside a profusion of exotic fruit and flowers. Bougainvilleas are the most popular flowers and are very widespread on the Polynesian Islands. The hibiscus, the frangipani and the tiara (a very fragrant flower and the emblem of Tahiti) also grow here.
As for the fauna, it is quite minimal compared to the flora. The Marquesas Islands are home to many species of insects and birds, like the cuckoo bird, which has a large population on these islands that have stayed mostly untouched. You will also find different types of geckos here. Plus, the Marquesas Islands have an ecosystem that is unique in the world. At least 14% of the fish here are endemic. Researchers recently submitted an application to UNESCO to list the islands as a World Heritage Site.
Hiva Oa is intimately tied to the memory of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel who both stayed on the island. Atuona, the administrative centre of the island, invites you to go on a pilgrimage following in the steps of these great artists who had both been positively seduced by the beauty of the Marquesas.
The Marquesas are rich in many archaeological remains dating from 1100 to 1400 AD. A pae pae is a paved area used for meetings and important gatherings, and the tohua is a vast paved place in which festivals and events took place. The marae, an ancestral place of worship (either for the family or the whole tribal community), was often placed on a pae pae:, there would be an altar (ahu), a priest's hut and a few statues, next to which stood a sacred banyan tree. The most important maraes had several terraces, on hillsides that were dedicated to sacrifices and ritual cannibal feasts.