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French Polynesia

Journey to one of the most remote places on earth – the Marquesas Islands

This far-flung journey to French Polynesia will leave a lasting – and possibly permanent –impression.

Words by Jeannine Williamson

 The Marquesas archipelago, comprising tiny dots on a map of the South Pacific, is one of the most remote places on earth.

The 12 islands – six of them inhabited and with a population of just over 9,000 in total – lie 932 miles northeast of Tahiti and 3,000 miles from Mexico. What adds to the allure of Marquesas is that each island is different, and they even have their own dialects.

The scenery in the archipelago is breathtakingly beautiful, with the azure blue sea set against a backdrop of lush green foliage, waterfalls and jagged emerald peaks created by volcanos.

Recently the islands were in the spotlight when they were visited by actor and presenter Martin Clunes in the ITV series Islands of the Pacific. He memorably met a local horseman who tames wild horses by riding them in the sea.

These small and tough animals are the direct descendants of horses transported from Chile to Ua Huka in 1856. Today they outnumber the locals and on a tour of the island you will probably spot some of them grazing on grassland by the shoreline and eating the sweet windfalls from surrounding mango trees.

There is just one way to get to the Marquesas which is a thrilling adventure in itself. Throughout the year just two vessels provide the villagers with a lifeline; transporting food, household goods, building materials, cars, boats, bikes and even livestock to the local communities.

One of them is a dedicated cargo freighter and the other is, Aranui 5, which is unlike any ship you’ve seen. It looks as if it has been made from two ships that have been cut in half and stuck together. One section is a cargo deck with cranes and a cavernous hold and on the other side is a cruise ship that carries up to 254 passengers.

The imposing Takaii statues can be 9ft tall and islanders believe  they come alive at night to protect them from the the spirits of the dead who wander the islands

Aranui 5 mostly sails at night to allow maximum time on the islands to load and unload goods. This means that passengers, who are often greeted by lithe grass-skirted dancers, drummers and musicians blowing natural horns made from conch shells, have plenty of time to explore on insightful tours that are included in the fare, wander around independently or laze on deserted beaches.

One of the most remarkable sights is on the island of Hiva Oa where a group of tiki statues – human-like stone religious sculptures and the largest outside Chile’s Easter Island – stand in a leafy clearing. The imposing Takaii is the tallest at 9ft and your guide will tell you how islanders believe the spirits of the dead wander the site and the protective tikis come alive at night.

Tattoos originated in French Polynesia and virtually everyone you meet will have traditional body art, made up of intricate geometric patterns, which all have symbolic and personal meanings, and only use black ink.

There’s even a tattoo studio on Aranui 5 and many passengers return home with a lasting impression of this incredible journey to the exotic and isolated Marquesas.

Published 04.22.22