Ua Pou’s skyline is as impressive as Manhattan’s, though it was formed by Mother Nature and not humankind. This off-the-beaten-track destination is heaven for Polynesian culture enthusiasts and hikers alike. In this 4 days in Ua Pou itinerary, we’ll see how to plan the perfect visit to one of the best-kept secrets in French Polynesia.
About This Ua Pou Itinerary
It was only on my second visit to the Marquesas Islands that I finally made it to Ua Pou, having previously visited Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. I spent four nights in Ua Pou on a six-week tour of four archipelagos in French Polynesia, my fifth visit to the South Pacific’s ultimate destination. This Ua Pou itinerary is based on my experience and extensive research.
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Ua Pou Travel Guide Video
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4 Days In Ua Pou Map
All points of interest mentioned in this Ua Pou itinerary can be found on this map. Simply click on the image to open in Google My Maps.
Where to Stay in Ua Pou
There are no resorts or lodges in low-key Ua Pou so pensions are the way to go. If there’s space at Pension Pukuee, do not hesitate and book. This is the best pension on the island, ideally located on a hillside overlooking the main village of Hakahau, its bay, and the famous pinnacles (pitons). Bungalows are well kept and there’s a dorm room in the back for budget travelers. A bar, swimming pool, jacuzzi, and delicious communal meals will keep you pampered and Jerome Simmoneau, the owner, will keep you busy exploring the island with his expert advice and superb guided tours and hikes.
Day 1: Hakahau Village and/or Hike
Flying into Ua Pou from Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa is an experience on its own. The brief but scenic flight culminates in the most challenging landing for pilots operating in French Polynesia. Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself.
After catching your first glimpse of the island’s famous skyline, your pension hosts will pick you up in the 4x4s for the short trip to the pension. If you’re staying in Hakahau, there’s plenty to do on this day.
Pro tip: if you prefer hiking, do that first and leave the village tour for later in the day or for the following mornings. You can also explore the village and only climb to the viewpoint in “the cross” (see Hakahau to Hakamoui hike).
Hakahau means “valley of peace” and it is the main village in Ua Pou. It’s a proper village with all the amenities of a small town. You’ll find here grocery shops, a bakery, post office, ATM, restaurants, etc.
Check out its crafts center, the best place in the Marquesas Islands for buying authentic souvenirs. Nearly 50 local artists from around the island sell their crafts here, including flower stone sculptures that are unique to Ua Pou. Just outside the center, locals often sell food to go and next door is the local library which also sells books about the Marquesas.
Walk further up the road and step into the main Catholic church. Take note of the intricate woodwork and the opening in the roof, strategically positioned to offer worshippers a view of the pinnacles on a clear day.
After lunch in the village, it’s time to hit the beach. Hakahau’s beach is safe for swimming and features a long and curving sandy shore. If you’re lucky, you could spot sea turtles patrolling the waters and maybe even a few coral heads. Locals flock to this beach after school is out and on weekends.
Hakahau to Hakamoui Hike
If you prefer to explore Ua Pou on foot, embark on this relatively easy hike (2-3 hours | 8 km one way). You can also finish this hike at “the cross” and head back.
The hike begins in the back of Pension Pukuee and heads down to lonely Anahoa Bay. From there, it’s back to the main path and a short walk to “the cross”, from where the best views of the village and its surroundings can be enjoyed.
From the cross, continue to Hakamoui and keep your eyes peeled for wild horses and cattle. The trail ends at Hakamoui Bay, also known as “the king’s valley” as it was the seat of the last chief to rule the island. From here, head back to the main village along the paved road or hitch a ride from a passing car. On the way, you can stop on the side of the road to see the only tiki statue in Ua Pou (pea pea Ode Heatu).
Day 2: Hakahau to Hakatao
This road trip along the island’s southeast coast can be done on your own with a rented 4WD or on a guided tour with Jerome from Pension Pukuee (recommended). This is the drier side of the island and the best area to see some of the ancient sites that were discovered in Ua Pou.
Start the trip with a visit to “the king’s valley” in Hakamoui. Enjoy the overlook from the main road or continue to the beach. The next stop is at Belvedere Ua Pou Pata, a beautiful lookout with a stone ledge known as the “divorce rock”, though nobody knows why.
From there, it’s a relatively long but enjoyable drive with many sharp bends until you reach Hohoi. This tranquil village is home to the most famous sculpture on the island, Jean Kautai. You can arrange to visit his workshop and see him in action or stop for lunch in the village.
The main attraction, however, is the beach just outside the village. Known as “flower stone beach”, this wild and untamed beach is where you might find Ua Pou’s famous flower stone. Local artists scour the upper valley where slabs of this rock can be found. Around the beach are a few pea pea that were used by fishermen and even a 100-year-old tiki. This is also a good picnic spot.
A short drive brings you to Tohua Mauia, the largest and most impressive archeological site in Ua Pou. Restored for the 2019 Marquesas Arts Festival, this was the home of the Tavaka tribe. Up to 1,500 are thought to have once resided in this valley. Various festivities used to take place here, including the first tattoo for a boy or a girl, funerals, and even public consummation after a marriage ceremony. The most impressive feature of this site is the 100-meter long pea pea (stone platform). Some platforms are decorated with sculptures made by modern-day artists.
After another long stretch of driving, this time via groves of endless coconut palms, you reach the end of the road in the village of Hakatao, the southernmost village on the island. From the beach, take a short path up the ridge to a special viewpoint from where you can see Cathedral Rock (Motu Takaae), a pinnacle rising 240 meters straight out of the water.
If you have not done so on yesterday’s optional hike, stop on the way back at pea pea Ode Heatu to see the only tiki statue in Ua Pou (or at least the most impressive one).
Day 3: Hakahau to Hakamaii
On this day, it’s time to explore the island’s lush west coast. Like yesterday, you can join a guided tour or rent a 4WD and explore at your own pace.
As you round the corner after rising from the valley that houses the small airport, the bright blue colors of Shark Bay are strikingly out of place in what is still a very arid section of the island. Don’t be alarmed by its name, Shark Bay (Hakanai Bay) is safe for swimming though you might see a few sharks hanging around.
Pro Tip: from Shark Bay, head straight to the furthest stop and work your way back. That way, there will be plenty of time for lunch and for the waterfall hike (it’s also better for photography).
From Shark Bay, we’ll drive to the end of the road in the village of Hakamaii. The drive is challenging but so beautiful, that you need to factor in many stops along the way.
Hakamaii is another sleepy hamlet that belongs to only 150 residents who live life at a slow pace. Either stop for a peaceful rest at the shaded waterfront or ask for directions and hike to a lovely lookout.
From Hakamaii, we technically head back but there’s still so much to see and do. The stretch of road from Hakamaii to Hakahetau offers more chances to stop and admire the view, this time with stretches of unobstructed views of Ua Pou’s iconic basalt chimneys.
In Hakahetau, you can stop for lunch at Snack Ti’ Piero, where you can order a la carte or go for a tasting menu that includes way more dishes than you can handle (2,000 XPF). The village also has a nice lookout and an ancient archaeological site (Tetahuna).
Now it’s time for the highlight of the day, the short hike to Vaiea Waterfall (Cascade Vaiea). Ask for directions in the village, but basically, you can head inland via a dirt road until you see a sign on your right. Park the car and pick up the short trail to this magical spot.
If there’s more time in the day and you like chocolate, head back to your car and drive (or walk) to the end of the dirt road. This is Manfred Drechsler’s palace. Known as “the chocolate man”, Ua Pou is the last place you would expect to find a chocolate maker but the self-sufficient German ex-pat, who lives almost completely off the grid, grows his own cocoa and turns it into delicious bars in a variety of flavors.
To wrap up this magical road trip, pause on the roadside to admire the sunset just after rising out of the valley that houses the airport. This is one of the best spots in Ua Pou for sunset viewing. Now it’s time to head back to your pension and freshen up before dinner.
Day 4: Poumaka Peak Hike
You’ve already seen Ua Pou’s famous basalt pinnacles from a distance so it’s only fitting that on your last day on the island, you get to see them from up close. The hike to Poumaka is the best hike in Ua Pou, and one of the best hikes in French Polynesia. It must be done with a guide (contact Jerome from Pension Pukuee | 9-kilometer loop | 4-5 hours).
The hike begins somewhere in the rainforest outside the village of Hakahetau, where wild tropical vegetation dominated by ferns and banyan trees mixes with vanilla, orange, and coffee.
You then begin the sharp ascent of 600 meters in altitude to the ridgeline from where the closest views of the magnificent pinnacles can be enjoyed (certain sections are rope-assisted). The view from up here is spectacular even on a bad day. Poumaka is not the highest peak on the island, but being able to get so close to nature’s marvel is a moving experience.
From the ridgeline, the descent takes you through a maze of massive pandanus trees before connecting with the “chocolate man’s” estate and the path that heads to Cascade Vaiea. After a refreshing dip in the waterfall, you’ll either head back to your pension or stop for lunch in the village (highly recommended).
There’s an easier version of this hike called “the crossing”. It basically takes you from one valley to the next, from Hakahau to Hakatehau. It’s only slightly shorter and you still gain as much elevation, but the grade is easier so the hike is not as challenging. This hike should also be done with a guide.
This 4 days in Ua Pou itinerary should give you a pretty good idea of how to plan your visit to Ua Pou. For a detailed travel guide on Ua Pou and an itinerary for a wider visit to the Marquesas Islands, I recommend going over the following resources.
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