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Hiva Oa

10 Awesome Things to do on Hiva Oa

June 1, 2023 No Comments

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Hiva Oa has long been an island for muses. Maybe it’s the saturation of colors, the way clouds seem to linger atop its emerald peaks, or the ancient history it holds. With flights from Papeete, it’s one of the most accessible islands in the Marquesas. But don’t be fooled, you still won’t find many tourists no matter when you visit.

Step back in time and visit ancient archeological sites, lush jungle trails, smiling tikis, and the gravesite of both famous (and infamous) artists. These are the best things to do on Hiva Oa.

Discover everything you need to know about visiting the Marquesas in the guidebook, Moon French Polynesia.

Visit the sacred Te I’ipona

I’ipona is known to be the largest archeological site in all of French Polynesia. There are five large tiki, with no two quite alike. The largest ancient tiki in French Polynesia, Tiki Takaii, stands just over 8 feet tall. Tiki Maki Tara Pepe, a tiki lying on its belly, is thought to depict a dolphin or woman. Three other main tiki are found within the reserve, all protected from the elements with a thatch roof.

Hiva Oa
Hiva Oa
Hiva Oa

I white knuckled the steering wheel of our 4WD. Tears welled in my eyes.

Hannah, I’m scared! This road is freaking me out.”

“You’re doing great!” She offered.

We’d decided to venture out to I’ipona on our own. The only problem? The road connecting the main town of Atuona to I’ipona is steep, windy, and narrow. Unless you love driving, I recommend booking a tour through your accommodation to visit this hallowed ground.

Hiva Oa

Search for the Smiling Tiki

It’s not the easiest archeological site on Hiva Oa to find, but it’s certainly worth trying.

Between the airport and Atuona, you’ll find a sign saying “Tiki Souriant” — Smiling Tiki. From here, you’ll walk along a dirt road until you find a turn-off (poorly marked) between two coconut palms that’ll lead you to the Smiling Tiki. It’s about 4 feet tall, and has a cheeky smile. Its hands rest upon its belly.

Hiva Oa

Stroll through the art market at Atuona

The town of Atuona is one of my favorites in all of French Polynesia. Venture to the tiki adorned town square and pop into the Art Market. Sculptures made from wood, stone, and bone are found, often depicting ocean animals. There are also beautiful Polynesian motif paintings and prints made onto dried bark cloth, called tapa. If you’re searching for gifts, there are oils, soaps, jewelry, and other easily-packed items.

Hiva Oa

Witness views of Atuona from the Calvary Cemetery

On the hill behind Atuona, you’ll find the Calvary Cemetery — a must-visit if you’re keen to soak in the colors of the island from above.

Hiva Oa

Most tourists come to see the graves of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.

I’ve never fully understood while Paul Gauguin still receives such reverence after it’s been widely known he was a sex pest who forced three teenage girls to marry him, infecting them with syphilis before finally dying at age 54 from the same disease. Why isn’t Paul Gauguin Cruises looked at the same way as having a Harvey Weinstein Cruise line?

For more insight into Paul Gauguin, there’s the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center where replica paintings are found.

Center Jacques Brel is where Jojo, the Belgian singer’s plane, is hosted nearby.

Hike to Hanatekuua Beach

For a rewarding hike, head to Hanatekuua Beach on the northern coast of Hia Oa. Park at the village of Hanaiapa and hike the 11 kilometer out-and-back trail to a secluded cookie crumb bay lined with palm trees. Mid-trek, you’ll find a point with panoramic views of Hanaiapa Bay. On a calm day, Hanatekuua Beach is idyllic for swimming and snorkeling–though visibility rarely tends to be crystal clear.

Hiva Oa

Go scuba diving with Marquises Diving

Hiva Oa is not generally known as being a haven for scuba divers, but if you’re keen to peek at what’s underwater, take a dive with Marquises Diving.

The channel between Hiva Oa and the neighboring island of Tahuata is where two established dive sites are found. Most dives embark to Kui Point, a reef that occasionally sees manta rays cruise by. The other site, Le Rabot, is a better fit for experienced divers who are keen to explore deepwater caves, ancient stone anchors encrusted with corals, and macro life hidden between rock crags.

Visit the beach in Ta’aoa

Six kilometers south of Atuona is Ta’aoa, at the base of 1,200 meter tall Mount Temetiu. The eastern wall of this dormant volcano has long collapsed forming what is now the beach of Traitor’s Bay. There’s a picnic bench near the water, and an archeological site following the inland road behind the beach.

Have dinner at Relais Moehau

Located on top of a hill, the Relais Moehau is an eight-room family run hotel with panoramic views of Atuona Bay. It also happens to be one of the few hotels in Hiva Oa that serves dinner, including wood fired pizzas.

Hiva Oa

Swim at the black sand beach of Atuona

Atuona has a volcanic black sand beach in front of town, a popular spot to linger around just before the sun goes down. On calm days (the water here is often rough), throw on your bathing suit and enjoy floating over the dark blue water below.

An affordable picnic idea? Head to the grocery store in town and stroll down to Atuona’s town beach for a meal with world class views.

Take a day trip to the island of Tahuata

Just 2.5 miles south of Hiva Oa is its little island neighbor of Tahuata. Book a full day tour with Pifa Excursion, a tour company led by a pair of charismatic (and musically talented) brothers. Your tour will likely stop at Tahuata, where there are ancient ceremonial sites (called marae), an art market, and churches to admire.

Where to stay on Hiva Oa

Hanakee Lodge

Perhaps the most luxurious accommodation on Hiva Oa, Hanakee Lodge has 14 bungalows each decorated with a Polynesian flair. Each has air conditioning, a TV, safe, and coffee station. The best of the bunch have ocean views. A large infinity pool overlooks Autona Bay, and their restaurant has a decent variety of options for a remote island in the Marquesas!

Temetiu Village

Sleep surrounded by fruit trees at Temetiu Village, a lush retreat a few minutes away from Atuona by car (a 15 minute walk on foot). Each bungalow has a spacious terrace, spotty wifi access, a fan, safe, and mosquito net. All guests have access to a pool and lounge area.

Pension Areke Chez Kayser

Around a 15-minute walk away from the town of Atuona is Pension Areke Chez Kayser, a peaceful pension with simple but clean rooms. Each room a fan, spotty internet access, and ensuite bathroom. All guests can hang by the pool. The hosts are happy to arrange all meals onsite for an added cost.

Read more French Polynesia articles


Chantae Reden

Chantae is the Coconut in Chief at Tropical Go. She is the author of Moon Bali & Lombok and lives in Suva, Fiji. She is a freediver, scuba diver, and surfer who loves surfing without a wetsuit. Her drink of choice is a margarita.

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