Mangarevan Dance - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia

Gambier Islands Travel Guide

Gambier Islands Travel Guide

Last updated on November 27th, 2022

One of the least visited archipelagos in French Polynesia, the Gambier Islands are encircled by a magnificent lagoon where black pearls are as abundant as fish. Regarded to be the birthplace of Catholicism in French Polynesia, the islands are home to out-of-place whitewashed cathedrals, a testament to the archipelago’s tragic past. For those seeking to get off the beaten track, this Gambier Island travel guide will help you plan a visit to “the forgotten islands” of French Polynesia.

Gambier Islands Travel Guide - Rikitea panoramic view - French Polynesia

About this Gambier Islands Travel Guide

Having explored over a dozen islands in French Polynesia, visiting the Gambier Islands was a very proud achievement. Its remoteness, interesting history, pristine nature and lack of mass tourism are the ingredients that fueled my curiosity. I visited the Gambier Islands as part of a cruise from Tahiti to Easter Island. The information in this Gambier Islands travel guide is based on my experiences and on extensive research.  

Heading off to French Polynesia? In-depth island guides to all 5 archipelagos await you, including sample itineraries and essential travel tips & tricks.

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Where Are the Gambier Islands?

The Gambier Islands are one of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia. The islands are located 1,600 km southeast of Tahiti and about 700 km west of Pitcairn Island. The Gambier Islands consist of five ‘high’ islands and 18 low-lying islets (motu) – all inside a common lagoon. A few outlying atolls are also considered part of the archipelago. The major islands in the Gambiers are Mangareva (with the capital Rikitea), Taravai, Aukena, and Akamaru. The total population of the archipelago currently numbers approximately 1,300 residents, most of whom live in the capital – Rikitea.


Why Visit the Gambier Islands?

Getting to the Gambier Islands is mighty tough (and expensive) but this is just an added ingredient in the allure of an archipelago once known as “the forgotten islands”. Visitors to the Gambier Islands are primarily interested in the history of the island group, more specifically its early Catholic days which manifest in marvelous churches constructed from coral lime. In addition, the Gambier’s exquisite lagoon is home to a thriving black pearl industry and to dreamy beaches that do not require sharing with others.

Mangarevan Dance - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia
What’s Included In This Gambier Islands Travel Guide?
Several sections make up this travel guide to the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia:

Brief History of the Gambier Islands

The Gambier Islands are named in honor of Baron James Gambier (1756-1833), an English admiral and supporter of the London Missionary Society who sponsored the inaugural expedition to visit the Gambier Islands aboard the Duff. However, the history of the Gambier Islands stretches back much further in time, likely to between 900-1200 AD. During this period, Polynesian explorers discovered the islands, likely arriving from the Tuamotu Atolls to which the Gambier Islands are in some way their natural extension.

Locals in Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia

The tribes that settled the archipelago would go on to form the Mangarevan Empire which thrived and exerted its powers far beyond the archipelago’s boundaries. Mangarevans traded with neighboring island groups and would even settle the remote Pitcairn Islands that are believed that have served as ‘mining outposts’ for the empire. What Mangarevans lacked, their trading partners would supplement. This included obsidian – a volcanic glass not found in the Gambier Islands that was a highly coveted commodity for its use in tools and in weapons.

obsidian volcanic glass stone

Mangarevans formed a highly stratified society, with a clear hierarchical structure that included many taboos. At the very top, the high chief with his endowed mana controlled all aspects of daily life. Beneath him were the priests along with the experts (boat makers, fishermen, etc). Always vying for power were the professional warriors, who on the one hand were needed in battle but on the other hand always ‘challenged’ the status quo. With plenty of food and space to go around, everything worked well for the Mangarevan Empire (see video of a traditional Mangarevan dance).

However, when the population level began to sharply rise, lush forests were cleared to make room for agricultural plots (slash and burn). This proved to have a disastrous effect on the islands. Heavy rains would now cause soil erosion and the failure of crops. Moreover, not enough healthy wood was available to build canoes for trading or for fishing. Over the course of a few decades, the population of the Gambier Islands spiraled into a bloody civil war in which cannibalism was part of the game.

Barren mountain in Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia

Into this vacuum enter Christian missionaries. First, it were the English Protestants who arrived in 1797 aboard the Duff but did not stick around. In 1834, the Catholic French enter the scene. Father Honore Laval from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary leads a mission to save the savage cannibals from themselves. With a surplus of motivation and self-confidence, he manages to win the hearts of the locals and persuades high chief Maputeoa to convert to Christianity, a move which makes Laval the de facto ruler of the archipelago.


Laval immediately sets out on a grand reform scheme that would transform the islands into a European-style Christian state. He first orders the destruction of ancient temples, introduces a rigid constitution known as the Mangarevan Code and begins the implementation of a megalomaniac and unnecessary construction project of churches, palaces, watchtowers and religious institutions. Laval’s workforce consists of the subdued local population and funds are raised by taking over the island’s most precious tradable commodity – the black pearl.

The crowning achievement is the Cathedral of Saint-Michel, whose construction cost the lives of hundreds of islanders. Fashioned in Spanish style and made of bricks carved from the coral reef, its altar is adorned with hundreds of exquisite black pearls and magnificent mother-of-pearl shells. Saint-Michel can accommodate 1,200 worshipers, far beyond the demand of the dwindling local population by inauguration date. Eventually, French authorities in Tahiti woke up and the mad priest was sent packing, not before succeeding in introducing Catholicism to Polynesia.

St Michaels Cathedral Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - interior

In 1881, France officially annexed the Gambier Islands. Due to their remoteness, the islands were seldom visited by outsiders apart from whalers and occasional explorers (among them famous writers of the time), though the archipelago did enjoy brief periods of economic boom, most recently during the French nuclear testing on neighboring Moruroa Atoll. The health effects of the controversial nuclear testing is still a hot topic today. At present, islanders make a living primarily from the black pearl industry, fishing, and copra.

Gambier Islands Travel Tips

Listed here are essential travel tips for those seeking to visit the Gambier Islands.

Quick Finds

Apart from this Gambier Islands Travel Guide, here are a few other resources to help you plan your visit, mind you there isn’t a lot of literature on this remote archipelago.

Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia

How to Get to the Gambier Islands

At present, Air Tahiti offers biweekly flights from Tahiti to the Gambier Islands (about 4.5 hrs). The flights land on a narrow airstrip on motu Totegegie and a communal ferry takes passengers to Rikitea (approx 500 XPF for a single journey). Flight tickets are very expensive (approx $800 return) and are not included in any of the air passes currently offered by Air Tahiti.

Air tahiti flight to Tahiti French Polynesia

If you’re (very) flexible with your time, you could theoretically book a spot on the Nuku Hau cargo vessel which services Rikitea once per month from Tahiti ([email protected] | +689-40549954). You can also look for any yacht owners seeking travel companions or help on various forums. Lastly, you can visit the archipelago on a cruise ship, as I did.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Gambier Islands?

The Gambier Islands enjoy milder weather than Tahiti. The best months to visit are during the cooler and drier ‘winter’ months (June-August), with the warmest and wettest months being December-January. I visited the Gambier Islands during early October and the weather was quite cloudy and wet for the most part. From July to late September, humpback whales can be spotted.

How Long Should You Spend in the Gambier Islands?

In theory, about three full days would be enough. However, since the duration of your visit depends on flight/boat schedule, these factors will determine the length of your stay. The appeal of the archipelago lies in its remoteness and its magnificent lagoon, so having time to relax, getting to know the locals and to visit its special spots are all paramount.

Getting Around the Gambier Islands

The islands themselves are very small and can be covered on foot. On the largest island – Mangareva – locals will gladly offer you a ride in their 4X4. The challenge lies in getting from one island to another. For the visiting tourist, this will likely be done as part of a paid excursion via your pension or cruise. However, there is a communal ferry that connects the inhabited islands which theoretically can be used for island hopping, though you will need to return to Rikitea at night to sleep. Keep in mind that some sites are located on private land so even if you do independently make it to the island, you still need permission and/or guidance.

Rikitea- Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Where to Stay in the Gambier Islands?

If you won’t be visiting on a yacht or as part of a cruise, Mangareva will be your base for exploring the archipelago. At present, there is one Airbnb listing in the heart of Rikitea and three pensions listed below. All pensions should offer half-board stays (breakfast and dinner) as well as equipment for rent/free use such as bicycles or kayaks plus paid excursions to neighboring islands and motus. Keep in mind that some pensions only accept cash while others also accept major credit cards.

  • Pension Maro’i: located in the heart of Rikitea by the pier.
  • Pension Chez Bianca et Benoit: located on a hill in the vicinity of the small community of Atituti about a 15-minute walk from Rikitea.
  • Pension Chez Jojo: located on the same side of Rikitea but on the north end of the island about 45 minutes by walk from Rikitea.


At the present time, there is no ATM in the Gambier Islands, but the post office will change US Dollars or Euros. It is best to come with enough cash to cover your visit and to pay in advance for accommodation if possible.

What to Bring Back From the Gambier Islands?

The number one souvenir from the Gambier Islands is a black pearl. You might be able to find some for sale in the main village of Rikitea, but it’s also worth visiting the Robert Wan pearl farm on Aukena Island where you can buy pearls in all categories (starting from about $50). In addition, it’s worth stopping at the local crafts school where students sell beautiful artwork carved from mother of pearl shells that are no longer in use. For those into Pacific fashion, it’s worth searching for Kaka’o a local hat woven from the grass which grows on the mountains (can take up to a week to weave).

black pearl necklace tahaa french polynesia

Things to See and Do in the Gambier Islands

Listed here are the top sites you should see during your visit to the Gambier Islands. This will obviously depend on the amount of time you have and the weather.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind that your pension hosts will likely also offer special excursions such as lagoon tours which include snorkeling and a picnic lunch on one of the motu, as well as whale watching tours (in season).

Follow the sites mentioned in the following section on this interactive map. Simply click on the image to open in Google Maps.

Gambier Islands Travel Guide Map French Polynesia

The Lagoon

The lagoon surrounding all Gambier Island but one (Temoe Atoll) is one of the largest in French Polynesia. It is partially submerged in certain sections making navigation in and out a task for the pros. As you cruise the lagoon, the archipelagoes heavily eroded and submerged islands are clearly visible and it isn’t unusual to spot typical Polynesian birds riding the thermals. 

Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia
Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia 4
Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia 3
Bird in Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia


The sunsets in the Gambier Islands are among the best you’ll see, that is if the weather cooperates. The immense lagoon and its shallow waters work hand-in-hand with the setting sun in deflecting its westward-headed rays. 

Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia 2Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia 3Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia 4Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia 5Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia 6Sunset in Gambier Islands French Polynesia - Mount Duff


Mangareva is the largest island in the archipelago and home to most of the population. Its main village is Rikitea which is also the administrative capital of the Gambier Islands. Like many islands in Polynesia, legend has it that Mangareva was pulled out of the ocean by the demigod Maui.

Gambier Islands Lagoon French Polynesia 2

Rikitea Village

There isn’t much happening in the village itself but, for the locals, it’s as central as it gets. The main road is lined with century-old oak trees known locally as Koueriki, rows of tree-baring fruit and colorful flowers. There’s a medical center, police station, community hall and a small number of kiosks. By the pier, there is a very small beach and a restaurant which is not open most of the time.

View of St Michaels Cathedral Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - Rikitea
View of Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Koueriki local tree in Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Tropical flower in Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia

The prettiest site in the main village is the St. Anne Chapel. It measures just 7X7 meters and was built in 1847. Apparently, there is also a Laval-era prison with just two cells somewhere around the village but I could not manage to find it.

Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Belvedere Scenic Lookout

Before reaching the St Michael’s Cathedral on the outskirts of Rikitea, a road cuts to the other side of the island. After one of the bends, you’ll see signs pointing right to Belvedere de Piiti. Climb the boulders and enjoy awesome views of the village and beyond. Around this section of the cross-island road, lie the remains of an ancient temple known as Rauriki marae but I could not locate it.

View of Mangareva from lookout point - Gamber Islands French Polynesia
View of floating pearl farms in Mangareva from lookout point - Gamber Islands French Polynesia
View of Rikitea from lookout point - Mangareva Gamber Islands French Polynesia
St Michaels Cathedral Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - view from belvedere

Hike to Mount Duff

Originally named Manha Reva (moving mountain), Mount Duff is the highest peak in the Gambier Islands at 441 meters. It is named after the ship which carried the first Christian missionaries who ‘rediscovered’ the island in 1797. The peak is also referred to these days as Mont Auorotini and reached via a well-marked trailhead.

It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the summit of Mount Duff and about 45 minutes to get back down. After periods of rain, the last section is extremely slippery. If it is a cloudy day, it is not worth climbing as you will not see anything from the top (you’re better off just visiting the belvedere). Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks because, by the time you make it back down, shops might be closed for the day.

The hike begins in a thick forest and after a few hundred meters (approx 25 minutes), splits into two, with the left trail to Mount Duff and the right trail to Mount Mokoto (423m) which can also be hiked. The hike to the summit of Mount Duff is a constant climb and rope-assisted in certain sections. Close to the summit, we encountered wild raspberries which alleviated some of the pain from the climb and from the thorny bushes we had to manage through.

Hike to Mount Duff summit Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Mount Duff summit Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Additional Hiking Options in the Gambier Islands

Apart from the hike to the summit of Mount Duff, several other hikes can be attempted on Mangareva Island. Check out this useful website for additional hiking options.

St Michael’s Cathedral

This is by far the main attraction in the entire Gambier Island group. Neighbored by a giant breadfruit tree, this is the crown achievement of Laval’s megalomanic construction frenzy. Measuring 48 meters in length by 18 meters in width and 21 meters in height, it is the largest church in the South Pacific! It can seat up to 1,200 worshippers and measures three times the size of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Papeete.

St Michaels Cathedral - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia

The construction of St Michael’s Cathedral bears a tragic story. Not only is this mega structure completely unnecessary considering the size of the population and the landscape, it is also situated over the site of an important ancient Polynesian temple (marae) and its construction is estimated to have cost the lives of 5,000 islanders.

Built in record speed between 1839-1841, Laval’s intention was to be able to gather the entire population under a single mass. Laval managed to convince the local chief, now King Maputeoa, of its necessity by using its construction to also erect the nearby palace. The cathedral is built entirely out of coral stone and lime from a quarry 16 km from Rikitea. The cathedral is supported by 18 coral stone shaded by a domed ceiling that was originally woven from reeds and covered in lime chalk until a copper roof was later installed. In 1848 two bell towers are added and in 2011, the cathedral was painted red and white, replacing the traditional royal colors of azure blue.

Interior of St Michaels Cathedral - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia

Interior of St Michael’s Cathedral - Gambier Islands French Polynesia

What is especially striking about the cathedral (apart from the overbearing heat) is the decoration of its prized altar. Adorned by hundreds of black pearls and mother of pearl shells, there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the Pacific. Originally, the altar was adorned by a 50-carat black pearl given to Laval by King Maputeoa. When Laval was ordered back to Tahiti in 1871, he had the massive pearl shipped to Rome where it is now part of the secret Vatican collection, rumored to be the finest pearl in the Pope’s collection.

Black Pearl Altar - St Michaels Cathedral - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia
St Michaels Cathedral Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - pearl altar
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St Michaels Cathedral Rikitea - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - Jesus statue

The Bishop’s House

Right across from the cathedral, this two-story house with an attic has three windows and currently houses Rikitea’s priest. The structure was restored in 1995 and currently bears the same colors of the cathedral, though both were originally painted in the royal colors of azure blue and white.

Bishops House - Rikitea Mangareva - Gambier Islands - French Polyensia

Royal Fermentation Pit

A giant stone pit that was used to ferment breadfruit and store it for times of crisis. The management of the island’s emergency food supply was always the prerogative of the high chief according to traditional Polynesian hierarchy.

Royal Fermentation Pit Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Abandoned School

Another missionary-era stone structure, currently closed due to unsafe conditions with no immediate plans of renovations.

King Maputeoa Palace

Now located in the middle of the playground of Rikitea’s primary school, the palace was built for King Maputeoa in 1850. You can explore the grounds by asking permission from the principal if the school is in session. On the grounds, you’ll find the royal fish pond which once housed fish and sea turtles, a grand arch that welcomed visitors, and a number of watchtowers used to protect the palace (from who?) and to communicate with other towers on neighboring islands. It is said that Polynesians rarely spent time inside the stone buildings which are uncomfortable in the humid island weather.

King Maputeoa Palace Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Kings Palace Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Crafts Center

A lovely initiative that teaches local youth the art of carving mother of pearl shells which can no longer produce pearls. This is is a great place to buy some original souvenirs while helping fund the activities of the center (cash only). On the grounds of the center are a number of additional Laval-era stone structures.

Crafts Center Rikitea Gambier Islands French Polynesia

The Hill to Atituti

From the cathedral, the paved road rises to the village of Atituti. It takes about 20 minutes to hike and, en route, you’re treated to beautiful views of the village and the cathedral. Along the way are a number of local homes and loads of fruit trees. It can be a difficult climb for some so feel free to hitch a ride. Be sure to have enough water and sun protection.

Trpical flowers Gambier Islands French Polynesia

St. Pierre Chapel

The picturesque local cemetery is also the home of King Maputeoa’s tomb and mausoleum. Baptized on Aug 25, 1836, at the age of 22 years, Maputeoa took on the name Gregorio Stanislas in honor of Pope Gregory XVI. He died in 1857 and buried in St. Pierre Chapel which was constructed in 1850.

St. Pierre Chapel Gambier Islands French Polynesia
King Maputeoa’s tomb Gambier Islands French Polynesia
St Anne Chapel cemetery - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Weather Station

The local weather station doubles as a great scenic lookout over the lagoon and neighboring islands.

Lookout point - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Queen’s Bath

From the weather station, somehow cut inland and join the Sister’s Path (Po’atu o Kame) which eventually leads to the Rouru Convent. Along the way, you should pass the Queen’s Pond on the left side of the trail. It was carved from a single rock that is said to have rolled down from Mount Duff. The pond measures 2X1.2 meters and has a depth of 40 centimeters. Local tradition says this pond never dries up, even in periods of drought. Its waters are said to have special purifying powers and in the old days, the souls of the dead would bathe here and later ‘cross’ the lagoon to neighboring Taravai Island before plunging into the ocean for a final rest.

Queen’s Bath Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Rouru Convent

After St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Rouru Convent is another site you cannot miss. Created in 1836 by Father Cyprien “for the promotion of women in the Gambier Islands”, the compound housed 60 nuns and 150 girls at its height.

A huge stone arch marks the official entrance to the convent, where girls were free to enter but not to leave. This was especially true when outsiders visited the archipelago and the convent was used to shelter the female population from the troubles brought by whalers.

Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia 5

Life in the convent consisted of learning reading and writing coupled with laboring small plots of lands. The compound consisted of a boarding house, the Chapel of Sainte Agathe and a small infirmary that served the entire island (even the former president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse was born here).

Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia 4
Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia 3
Rouru Convent - Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia 2
Rouru Convent Gambier Islands French Polynesia - chapel cross

Just outside the boarding house are strange pits which are the cause of much speculation. They were either used as latrines (though do not appear in any of the design plans and are far too close to the dormitory), breadfruit storage pits or perhaps tanks to store water.

Rouru Convent Gambier Islands French Polynesia - latrines

Now overrun by vegetation, exploring the Rouru Convent is an eerie experience, especially for those slightly familiar with the history of the Gambiers. It is a testimony to both the good and the bad brought about by the French Catholic missionaries.

Path of the 12 Apostles  

About 500 meters past the edge of the Rouru Convent, a sign on the left points in the general direction of the lagoon via the Path of the 12 Apostles (Chemin des 12 Apotres). This is one of the cobblestone paths commissioned by Laval, bending 12 times through a beautiful forest down to the beach. It’s only worth heading down if it’s low tide since there is not much beach left when the tide is high.  

Path of the 12 Apostles Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Path of the 12 Apostles Mangareva Gambier Islands French Polynesia - beach


Located about 5 km southeast of Mangareva, Aukena measures 2.5 km in length and 0.5 km in width with a total area of just 1.35 km². About 40 people live on this island and much of the island’s land (if not all) is privately owned.

White sand beach in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia

St Raphael Church

Built from coral stone. This is the first Catholic stone church in the entire Pacific. It was inaugurated in 1839 (nine years prior to St Michal’s) and rebuilt in 1944. Reaching this beautiful church is a bit tricky as access is via a long path perpendicular to the beach that is on private land.

St Raphael Church Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia


The octagonal-shaped watchtower is clearly visible from the lagoon and is currently used by sailors as a landmark, aiding the entry into the lagoon. It was built in 1850 and has a front door and three windows that offer panoramic views of the lagoon.

Watch tower in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Tai O Ra’a Beach

Just off the main pier and close to the path leading to the Robert Wan pearl far, this is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in French Polynesia. Surprisingly, the snorkeling here was quite rewarding but you’ll need to swim about 200 meters away from the beach. You’ll find a few huge patches of coral just before the reef drops and, if you’re lucky, even large stingrays. 

White sand beach Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Beach in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia
View of Mount Duff from Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Lookout Point

On the way to the Robert Wan Pearl Farm, a road rises to the highest point in Aukena before dropping to a quiet settlement on the other side of the lagoon. On a sunny day, the colors of the lagoon from up here are spectacular.

View of Gambier Islands lagoon from Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Aukena Lookout point Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Robert Wan Pearl Farm

Considered to be the ‘father’ of the black pearl industry in French Polynesia, Robert Wan operates a number of working pearl farms on the islands, one of which is right here. You can tour the center where the sorting and grafting take place and learn first hand about the delicate process that eventually might lead to the development of a commercial black pearl. It really feels like a McDonald’s kitchen here, with everyone knowing their exact role and daily quota.

Robert Wan Pearl Farm Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Robert Wan Pearl Farm in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia
Robert Wan Pearl Farm - aukena - Gambier Islands - French Polynesia 3
Robert Wan Pearl Farm in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia - oyster for making black pearl
Robert Wan Pearl Farm in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia 2
Robert Wan Pearl Farm in Aukena Gambier Islands French Polynesia 3

Tours are in French only but if your visit is part of a cruise, English translation will be arranged. By the beach and pier, the farm operates a small shop where pearls of all quality are sold (credit cards accepted). Visitors to the center often leave with a gift in the form of a complete shell that will no longer produce any pearls.


Taravai is the second-largest island in the group with a total size of nearly 6 km². At the time of the arrival of the missionaries, Taravai had a major settlement and contained many temples. These days, it is home to less than 20 residents.

Taravai Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Church of Sainte Gabriel

This is one of the most beautiful churches in the Gambier Islands. Fashioned in Gothic style, it was built in 1868 and replaced an existing church that could no longer be used.

Church of Sainte Gabriel Taravai Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Onomea Beach

Over on the east coast of the island, the beach is accessible only via the sea.


Akamaru is the third largest island in the archipelago with a total size of nearly 2.5 km². It is the site of the first Christian mass held by Laval in 1834. At present, it is home to about 20 residents.


Notre-Dame de la Paix

The Church of Our Lady of Peace is another beautiful structure. Built in 1844, two towers were later added in 1862 though they are not fully symmetrical (by intention as Laval claimed). On the left of the church’s altar, there is a metal statue of the Virgin adorned by a black pearl necklace. As part of a July pilgrimage, this statue is taken to Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Rikitea and brought back to Akamaru a few weeks later.

Notre-Dame de la Paix Akamaru Gambier Islands French Polynesia

Royal Alley

A grassy path lined with palm trees that leads from the pier to the church.

Shark Cave

In a rocky area accessible only by boat on the southeastern side of the island there is a large opening in the coastline where many sharks can be seen.

Temoe Atoll

Temoe lies about 40 kilometers southeast of Mangareva and has been uninhabited since 1836 when Christian missionaries moved the entire population to Mangareva to assist in the mega construction projects. Since there is no natural entrance into its lagoon, even locals rarely visit Temoe these days. On rare occasions, an experienced fisherman will arrive and time his entrance according to the tides and wave patterns. On the beaches of the lonely atoll, the remains of a number of ancient Polynesian temples can still be spotted, together with Mangareva’s Mount Duff in the far distance. 

Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 2
Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 3
Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 4
Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 6
Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 6
Temoe Atoll - remote South Pacific atoll - Gambier Islands French Polynesia 5

What’s Next?

I hope you found this Gambier Islands travel guide useful. Plan your trip to French Polynesia and the South Pacific with these companion travel guides.

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