The Marquesas fall naturally into two geographical divisions: the northern group centered around the large island of Nuka Hiva and the southern group of Tahuata, Moho Tani and Fatu Hiva, clustered around the main island of Hiva Oa. With a combined area of some 807 square miles, the Marquesas are among the largest island groups of French Polynesia and were formerly a major center of east Polynesian civilization.
The land of men
Landfall is made after the long ocean passage on the island of Hiva Oa where customs and immigration can be cleared. There is time to relax and reprovision before cruising the islands until the Final Prizegiving on the island of Nuka Hiva around 70 miles to the northwest.
The early Polynesians were an adventurous seafaring people with highly developed navigation skills. They colonized previously unsettled islands by making very long canoe voyages, in some cases against the prevailing winds and tides. Polynesian navigators steered by the sun and the stars, and by careful observations of cloud reflections and bird flight patterns, were able to determine the existence and location of islands.
Famous French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel spent the last years of their lives in the Marquesas, and are buried there. Brel composed a famous song, Les Marquises, about the Marquesas Islands, his last home.
The French still maintain a presence in the Marquesas, although there is little left to govern. Dreams of a thriving commercial and trading center proved illusionary, and although the local birth-rate is gradually increasing, the current population numbers are impacted by out-migration to Tahiti and France.
The Marquesas is the gateway to the rest of the islands and crews will notice the dramatic changes between the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia:
Marquesas, Tuamoto, Society, Austral & Gambier