Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia Eiaone Bay

5 Days In Hiva Oa

5 Days In Hiva Oa

Last updated on April 28th, 2022

The island that made Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel stay for eternity, will win your heart from the moment you touch down in one of its deep valleys. Hiva Oa really feels like the end of the line, simple and beautiful as life should be. Saddle up on horseback, put on your hiking shoes or put that 4X4 into first gear – there are so many surprises just waiting for you to discover. I first visited Hiva Oa while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands in 2016 and have since returned for a second visit. Here’s a sample 5 days in Hiva Oa itinerary to help you plan your own adventure in paradise.

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5 Days in Hiva Oa Itinerary Map:

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5 Days In Hiva Oa Itinerary Map
Quick Finds

Where To Stay In Hiva Oa?

All accommodations in Hiva Oa are located in the main village of Atuona or just outside, in the hills overlooking neighboring Tahauku Bay. Your pension stay will most likely be on a half-board basis (breakfast and dinner included) but, if this is not the case, dinner options are available in the village or at the Hanakee Lodge. It’s best to book well in advance if you have your heart set on a particular spot. 

For a luxury stay, the Hanakee Lodge is currently the only option in Hiva Oa. This high-end lodge operates tours around the island and neighboring Tahuata for its guests. Apart from the majestic views, rooms are modern and there’s a restaurant on site. The lodge also hosts cultural shows on certain nights so inquire before if planning to dine there as outside guests. 

Hanakee Lodge Hiva Oa French Polynesia

In the pension category, I stayed twice at Pension Kanahau. The pension is owned and operated by Tania Amaru, my unofficial “Queen of Hiva Oa”. I call her that because she’s the friendliest host you’ll ever meet. Tania takes excellent care of her guests though she stopped serving dinner recently, except on special occasions (this may have changed by now). 

Tania Amaru Pension Kanahau Hiva Oa French Polynesia

Bungalows are spread throughout the garden and some are equipped with a kitchen. Breakfasts are generous and include a large selection of homemade jams and baked goods. This property is set to undergo renovations in the short term. If you stay here, be sure to say hello to Tania from Avi (from Israel). 

View above Pension Kanahau Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia
Pension Kanahau Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - interior

Other solid pension options include Pension Josephine, Relais Moehau, Villa Enata, and Pension Temetiu Village. You might also find a few options on Airbnb and Booking.com.

Day 1: Exploring Atuona

Hiva Oa’s only town is another beautiful South Pacific settlement that belongs in a Hollywood movie about paradise. Though its black sand beach is too rough for swimming, the cradling mountains provide the feeling of being in a much sweatier version of Switzerland. Nothing and everything is happening in Atuona at the same time. Tropically scented flowers provide the town’s aroma, and the trees explode with fruit – just pick whatever you want.

Atuona Village Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Gauguin & Brel Museums

Start your tour with a visit to the Paul Gauguin museum in the center of town. The famous post-impressionist French painter lived his final years in Atuona, and the museum offers the chance to learn about his turbulent life in French Polynesia. Though you won’t find here any original works, it’s still kind of a must for any art enthusiast. In the back of the museum, a replica of the artist’s home stands in the garden, complete with a super realistic statue of the man in action.

paul gauguin museum Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Fast forward almost 80 years, the legendary Belgian poet/singer/actor Jacques Brel settled in Atuona in search of a life away from the spotlight. Though arriving on his private yacht, he purchased a plane and name it Jojo. Adorned by locals, Brel was really immersed in village life, even using Jojo to perform medical evacuations to Tahiti, more than 3 hours away. The Jacques Brel museum sits in a large hangar just behind the Gauguin museum, and you can learn about his life while strolling around Jojo.

Jojo airplane jacques brel museum Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Church & Shopping

We’ll revisit the two celebrities in a bit, but now it’s on to check out the town’s Catholic church. It’s a charming open-air whitewashed house of worship, reminiscent of an old Mexican church. Behind it is a local school with a couple of impressive-looking trees.

catholic church Atuona hiva oa marquesas islands

A few steps away is the Tohua Pepeu, a restored ancient complex that’s used these days for the Marquesan Arts Festival. Behind the complex is the local arts & crafts center, a great place to buy exquisite Marquesan art if you haven’t already done so (prices are quite steep, cash only, see the Hiva Oa Travel Guide for a secret shopping tip).

Fae Artisanal atuona arts market hiva oa
Marquesan basalt stone tools in artist market Hiva Oa French Polynesia
Marquesas Islands Paul Guaguin painting pareo - Hiva Oa French Polynesia

Calvary Cemetery

To burn the calories, head up the hill to the Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire). This cemetery not only has amazing views, but it’s also the final resting place for locals, missionaries, Brel and Gauguin.

It’s Hiva Oa’s version of the celebrity cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris, with Gauguin and Brel’s graves adorned with flowers and notes from fans who made the pilgrimage.

Jacques Brel grave - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia
Paul Gauguin grave - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia
Calvary Cemetery - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

If you want to walk a bit further, it’s another 15 minutes to the large cross for even better views!

view of Atuona from Calvary cemetery - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

With your pilgrimage complete, it’s back down to Atuona to buy a small snack, head back to your pension or relax on by the black sand beach to the sounds of the crashing waves. Welcome to paradise!

Night sky Milky Way Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 2: Day Trip To Tahuata Island

Lying a few kilometers off the coast of Hiva Oa, Tahuata is the smallest inhabited island in the Marquesas archipelago. If you want to visit the island (and I highly recommend), you’ll do so on a day trip from Atuona. Since tours don’t go out every day, I recommend booking in advance.

I met my guide Pifa O’Connor bright and early for the departure (Facebook Page | approx 10,000 XPF per person). Pifa is actually half Irish believe it or not. His great-great-grandfather escaped the Irish famine and the rest is history. If Pifa is not available, try getting touch with Hiva Oa Aventures.

Pifa tour guide Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The trip starts with a 40-minute scenic boat ride, accompanied by manta rays as you leave the port. The voyage offers fantastic views of Hiva Oa’s rugged coastline and Tahuata’s more gently sloping hills.

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - remote beach

Hapatoni Village

Your first stop will be at Hapatoni Village, home to about 100 residents. ‘Main street’ is actually known as the ancient royal road, commissioned by a former queen and lined with tamanu, noni, and other fruit-bearing trees.

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - copra drying

You’ll probably bump into a local artist along the royal road, carving something beautiful out of sandalwood, rosewood, or even animal bone. Pifa will then take you to the local artisan market that’s likely open just for you. Though the merchandise on sale is incredibly beautiful and authentic, I found the prices to be quite expensive (better to buy in Nuku Hiva).

Tahuata Day Trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia Hapatoni village artist

After a bit of window shopping, head inland to check out the ancient temple. There’s a large stone that seems perfect for laying down on, and that’s exactly what it was used for. Except whoever laid down here, never got back up… at least not with their head.

Tahuata Island temple hiva oa marquesas

Before leaving Hapatoni, don’t forget to check out the charming Catholic church, complete with impressive stained glass windows that wouldn’t shame the best Parisian churches.

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - hapatoni church

Lunch In Hanamoenoa Bay

It’s back on the boat and a quick trip to beautiful Hanamoenoa Bay. Wave hello to the yachties anchored at its entrance and somehow swap over to a tiny rowboat that’ll take you to the beach. I promise it’s all worth it.

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - row boat

As Pifa and the crew prepare a BBQ lunch, go for a stroll along the beach and a dip in the waters. The views don’t get better than this folks!

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - beach

The relaxing ambiance is just perfect, as you’ll definitely require a nap after Pifa’s incredible BBQ lunch. Grilled tuna, sashimi, poisson cru, and even brownies! After lunch, find a comfy spot and recharge your batteries as Pifa serenades you with traditional classics on his ukelele.  

tahuata island day trip from hiva oa - marquesas island french polynesia - picnic lunch

Back To Town

Back in Hiva Oa, you’ll return to the port just in time to watch the local fishermen busy at work. They’re actually out to catch small fish. Those will be sold in bulk to the yachties, who will use them as bait for catching the big fish out in the ocean.

Locals fishing Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 3: Horseback Riding & Taaoa Bay

You don’t have to venture too far from Atuona on this day and this can also be an optional day if you only have 3 or 4 days to spend in Hiva Oa.

Horseback Riding With Paco

After breakfast with a view in Pension Kanahau, go for some horseback riding with Paco from Hamau Ranch, one of the premier horsemen in French Polynesia. Horseback riding in the Marquesas Islands is a great way to explore the countryside.

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Paco horse expert guide - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Paco will lead you through the thick rainforest, climbing to beautiful panoramic views of Atuona and the valley (4 hours, free transfers, 7,000F).

Horseback riding Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia rainforest

SCUBA DIVING: If horses aren’t your forte, perhaps scuba diving is. As of 2018, there is a new dive center in operation in Hiva Oa called Marquises Diving. Get in touch or inquire via your hosts. Scuba diving in the Marquesas Islands is a unique experience and you’ll likely encounter large fish including sharks, dolphins ad the likes (if the visibility is decent). 

Taaoa Bay

Back in Atuona, head out on the short scenic drive to neighboring Taaoa Bay, filling up a massive extinct volcano. Stop at the wild beach and admire the church – one of the most photographed in the archipelago.

church in taaoa - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

From the small hamlet, drive up the valley to the Upeke archeological site and locate the tiki statue hiding amongst the giant banyan trees.

stone statue in upeke - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Day 4: Hanaiapa Bay & Hanatekuua Bay Hike

This day is perfect if you’re up for some hiking! A thirty-minute drive from Atuona will bring you to the picturesque Hanaiapa Bay. Spot the small cliff rising from the water and see if you can make out the head of an African man and the head of a woman?

Hanaiapa Village from hike to Hanatekuua - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia
rock with man and woman Hanaiapa Village - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hiking To Hanatekuua Bay

Ask the locals for the trailhead, and begin the 2-hour hike (one way, including stops) to Hanatekuua Bay. Before you reach the pass which then drops to the bay, take a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views from up here. Back towards Hanaiapa Bay, there might be a waterfall splashing straight into the ocean, and out in the far distance, the uninhabited island of Fatu Huku.

hike to Hanatekuua - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

A few more steps will reveal Hanatekuua Bay, one of the most beautiful places in the Marquesas Islands. The bay shelters turquoise waters that splash onto a white sand beach that’s backed by coconut plantations.

Hike to Hanatekuua Bay - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Walk down to the beach, go for a splash and chat with the locals if they just happen to be taking a break from tending to their copra.

Hanatekuua Beach - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia
Hanatekuua Bay Hike Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia opening coconut
Copra sacks Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

To get back to the starting point, return on the same trail that brought you here or if you’re lucky, the locals might offer you a ride on their small boat. Use the rest of the day to relax and watch the stars!

locals in boat - Hiva oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia
Hanamenu Bay

If you’re looking for a serious adventure, you can hire a guide and hike on this day to lonely Hanamenu Bay, a sheltered bay on the dry northwest side of Hiva Oa. Few families live at the mouth of the valley. The most popular way of getting to Hanamenu Bay is by boat but get in touch with Hiva Oa Aventures on Facebook to see if they can take you there.

Day 5: Road Trip To Puamau

The final day of this 5 days in Hiva Oa itinerary will be the busiest one, so I suggest starting early. You’ll drive from Atuona to Puamau, a total distance of only 98 kilometers that will take you the entire day. Most of the way used to be on a dirt track but in 2020, a project began to pave the entire length from Atuona to Puamau so you now have a lot more time to stop on the way. Plan for a picnic lunch in Puamau. There is a small restaurant in the remote village but it may or may not be open. You can embark on this memorable road trip with a rented car or by joining a guided tour. Have a look at the Hiva Oa Travel Guide for more info.

The Smiling Tiki

Your first stop will be just before the airport. Look for the sign to the ‘smiling tiki’ (tiki souriant), park the car, and walk down for about 400 meters to see this cute (and lonely) little statue.  

Smiling Tiki Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Panoramic Views

Back in the car, take a right at the roundabout past the airport. You’ll be driving on dirt roads for the better part of what’s to come. Stop wherever you feel like on the plateau for sweeping views of Atuona Bay and Tahuata Island in the far distance.

View of Atuona and Tahuata - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Motuua, Nahoe and Eiaone Bay

As you descend from the plateau to the northern side of the island, this is where things really start to get interesting. 

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - road to Puamau
Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - remote bays

Your entire time on this side of the island will be spent winding your way along the sea cliff, coming down only to pass through the tiny hamlets of Motuua, Nahoe, and Eiaone Bay.

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia - remote village
Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia cliffs
Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia Motuua Village
Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia twisting road

Absolutely nothing happens here but that’s part of the appeal. Each settlement sits at the mouth of a lush valley, with a black sand beach meeting the open ocean. It used to be a tough drive to get here, but now that the road is paved, things move along much quicker. Watch out for fallen rocks but don’t let that discourage you from stopping every single time you feel like it. The views really don’t get ANY better than this!

renting car - Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Puamau

The coastal ‘road’ ends in the village of Puamau, looking like paradise from atop. The village is tiny, yet feels like Manhattan after what you’ve driven by for the last three hours. Cradled by high peaks, its beach is pounded by strong waves. Puamau Bay is all that remains of the second largest caldera on the island. It’s one of the most impressive spots in the Marquesas Islands, especially as you approach from atop. 

Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia Eiaone Bay clsoeup

The main reason to drive all the way out here is the Lipona Archeological site, one of the best in French Polynesia and a place that should not be missed.

Lipona Archaeological Site

Adorning ancient stone platforms are the most impressive (and largest) tiki statues you’ll come across in French Polynesia. For anything bigger, you’ll have to visit Easter Island, some 3,600 km’s away! In a bid to enter the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this complex is undergoing preservation work and upgrades. To protect the stone statues from the elements, they are now all sheltered. 

Lipona archeological site Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia panoramic

One of the statues is over 2.5 meters tall, while another has six fingers! Why would the ancient islanders carve these incredibly heavy statues? Who or what do they depict?

Lipona archeological site Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia six fingered tiki
giant tikis in Puamau Lipona site - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia
Lipona archeological site Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia massive tiki
Stone statue giving birth in Lipona site - Hiva Oa - Marquesas Islands - French Polynesia

Lunch in Puamau

Check if the snack (simple restaurant) in the village is open and if not, open your picnic lunch by the beach and enjoy the sounds of crashing waves.

Road trip Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia Eiaone Bay

Hanapaaoa

You’ll now begin to head back towards Atuona, but there’s one final stop to make if you’re up for the challenge. Just passed Motuua, take a right after the post office building instead of continuing straight on the road back to Atuona. The partially paved one-lane road will snake its way along the mountain and lead you to Hanapaaoa Bay, where you’ll finish off the day.

Hanapaaoa Bay hiva oa marquesas islands

It’s another gorgeous hamlet, very similar to the ones you already have seen today. The reason for the detour to Hanapaaoa, aside from curiosity, is the Tiki Moe One. The bizarre statue lies hidden somewhere in the forest. Drive past the cemetery, park the car and ask one of the locals to take you because there’s no way you’ll find it on your own (500F should do the trick).

Hanapaaoa - Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The tiki lies in an ancient temple that has yet to be excavated. You’ll definitely feel walking on the smooth rocks of the ancient complex, and even see human bones scattered on the ground.

ancient human remains Hanapaaoa hiva oa

Tiki Moe One

Your guide will then reveal the small statue, ‘enjoying’ centuries of incredible views! It is believed that this tiki used to be taken down to the beach at a particular time of the year, to be bathed and pampered before returning to its favorite spot. Nobody really knows why definitely not the locals who have lost most of their ancient religious ways.

Tiki Moe One Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Drive Back To Atuona

It’s now back to Atuona to wrap up this incredible day. To sum up: 98 kilometers, challenging drive, lots of stops, bring everything you need for the day. More info on this day in the Hiva Oa Travel Guide.

What’s Next?

This sample 5 days in Hiva Oa itinerary is action-packed, but so is Hiva Oa. If I had to take one day out, it would probably the third day. For more information about Hiva Oa and French Polynesia, check out these guides. If planning a multi-island visit in the Marquesas Islands, check out this sample itinerary

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