Hiva Oa Island Travel Tips
Listed here are specific travel tips for Hiva Oa. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.
What Do You Want To Know?
- 1 Recommended Reading
- 2 How Many Days Do You Need In Hiva Oa?
- 3 Is Hiva Oa Worth Visiting?
- 4 When Is the Best Time To Visit Hiva Oa?
- 5 Time Difference
- 6 Language
- 7 What To Pack?
- 8 Money
- 9 Mobile Phone
- 10 Hiva Oa Average Costs
- 11 How To Get To Hiva Oa
- 12 Getting Around Hiva Oa
- 13 Where To Stay In Hiva Oa?
- 14 Diving In The Marquesas Islands
- 15 Hiking & Excursions In Hiva
- 16 Beaches
- 17 Drinking Water In Hiva Oa
- 18 Eating
- 19 Safety In Hiva Oa
- 20 What To Buy In Hiva Oa
- The Island Where Time Stands StillThe Island Where Time Stands Still: personal account of my 5 days in Hiva Oa
- French Polynesia Travel Guide: everything you need to know before heading to paradise.
- Lonely Planet: ‘the bible’ for any independent traveler. For such a dreamy yet challenging destination, I recommend grabbing one of these for the road to go along with this travel guide. After all, it’s not only super useful but also makes for a great souvenir!
- Tahiti Tourisme: the official site of the local tourism office. You’ll find relevant information about Tahiti and the outer islands.
How Many Days Do You Need In Hiva Oa?
The Marquesas Islands are truly fairytale islands, far from Tahiti and expensive to get to. I would strongly advise spending 5 nights in Hiva Oa, which will allow you to see all the highlights but without much rest. If you’re planning to see more than one island in the archipelago (Nuku Hiva goes very well with Hiva Oa), plan for at least 10 days in the archipelago. If you absolutely don’t have time but still want to see Hiva Oa, 3 nights is the absolute minimum.
Is Hiva Oa Worth Visiting?
Honestly, if you have the chance to visit the Marquesas Islands, don’t miss it! I visited both Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa and was wowed by both. They are similar in terms of scenery and activities, but Nuku Hiva is slightly more dramatic if you had to choose just one island to visit.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Hiva Oa?
The closest islands in French Polynesia to the equator, Marquesas Islands climate is pretty much opposite to that of Tahiti and the Society Islands. The best time to visit the Marquesas Islands is between October to April, when the islands get less cloud cover and rain. From May to October, there’s a greater chance of storms and strong wind. I personally visited Hiva Oa at the end of February/start of March. The weather was mixed, with super sunny days and a couple of rainy days that never lasted for too long. Keep in mind that the peaks of this high island are almost always covered in clouds, but coastal areas stay sunny and cloud free!
There is one special event on the calendar that is worth planning around (if possible). Every four years, one of the islands in the archipelago hosts the Marquesas Arts Festival. It’s a weeklong celebration of the incredibly unique ancient culture of the islands. The next one is in 2019, but there’s a ‘mini festival’ planned for 2017 on one of the islands.
Yet another proof of the archipelago’s remoteness, the Marquesas Islands are 30 minutes ahead of Tahiti time. Don’t forget to adjust your watch!
Though mostly speaking French these days, the native language in the archipelago is Marquesan and not Tahitian. So replace ia orana with ka oha (hello) and manuia with maitai roa (cheers).
What To Pack?
Hiva Oa is a tropical destination, and as such – I recommend packing clothes that dry quickly and keep moisture (a.k.a sweat) out. Have a look at the X Days In Y Packing List for recommendations on what to pack for Hiva Oa based on my experience.
There is an ATM in Hiva Oa, in the main village of Atuona. Keep in mind that most ATM’s on the outer islands have daily/weekly cash withdrawal limits. Inquire with your hosts if they accept credit cards and factor in for excursions, transportation and shopping.
Free WiFi was available at my pension, though it was extremely slow. You can also get online at the Salon de The (Chez Eliane) in Atuona.
I highly recommend getting a Vini prepaid SIM card (see the French Polynesia Travel Guide for more information). If you just happened to get a Vodafone SIM card (like I did), be sure to have enough credit before leaving the Society Islands, as it’s impossible to find any shop that sells Vodafone top up cards in the Tuamotus and Marquesas Islands.
Hiva Oa Average Costs
Here’s a breakdown of costs during a my 5 days in Hiva Oa. I stayed half board at a pension, rented a 4X4 for one day, went horseback riding and joined a tour to Tahuata Island.
How To Get To Hiva Oa
By Air: by far the most convenient way to get to Hiva Oa, with direct flights from Tahiti (~3 hours). Hiva Oa is also connected with Nuku Hiva (~30 mins), making the two islands worthwhile to explore on a single trip. You can also fly from Hiva Oa to some of the smaller islands. I recommend visiting Hiva Oa prior to Nuku Hiva, as the latter is a slightly more dramatic. Flights to any island in the Marquesas are expensive, but if you’re visiting multiple islands in French Polynesia, consider buying one of the Air Tahiti Passes and adding on the ‘Marquesas extension’. Bring something warm for the plane and as always, be sure to grab a window seat for the memorable views!
Pro Tip: if you have to catch a flight (domestic or international) or a boat to Moorea, give yourself a buffer and take into account delays. Weather can be foggy and flights delayed for hours.
By Boat: the luxury liner / cargo ship – The Aranui, visits pretty much all of the Marquesas Islands as it resupplies the locals and picks up exports back to Tahiti. Trips aren’t cheap but you’ll spend the day on each island. The ship also stops in Rangiroa and another atoll in the Tuamotus. I personally would not enjoy this, as you have such little time on such gorgeous islands. Nonetheless, the Aranui usually books out very quickly.
Fatu Hiva: the southernmost island in the Marquesas archipelago is also said to be the most beautiful. The problem? The only way to get there is by boat. Unless you own a yacht, you can charter one for 60,000F each way (makes sense if you’re in a group), or try and book a spot on the weekly trip the local administration makes every Tuesday (5,000-10,000F each way). The last option is trying your luck with the Aranui, which may or may not have a spot for you (~8,000 including food, sails at night and arrives in the morning).
Getting Around Hiva Oa
Pop by the tourist office in ‘downtown’ Atuona, and pick up free a map of the island.
To/from airport: the Hiva Oa airport is miraculously built on a small plateau in the mountains surrounding Atuona. Unlike neighboring Nuku Hiva, it’s a quick 10-15 minute ride to the village, and accommodations will either pick you up for free or for ~3000F.
To/from Atuona: most accommodations are never too far from the main village, and in fact, it makes for a scenic walk. Some pensions also offer free rides to and from Atuona.
By Car: if you’re not joining an island tour, you can rent your own 4X4 and explore the island. In fact, I highly recommend doing so. You can rent a Suzuki Jimny from Make Make Car Rental (not to be confused with Snack Make Make) from as low as 6,000F for 6 hours, 10,000F if you return by 7pm and 12,000F for 24 hours (cash only at the time of writing this guide). Discounts available on longer rentals. They’ll drop / pickup the car from your pension. Call +689-87797718, 87-757400.
Advice: roads in the eastern part of the island, which is also the prettiest, are not sealed and can be challenging, especially with a manual transmission car. Drive with extra care, look out for falling rocks and make sure you have enough phone credit in case of emergency. That said, a road trip in Hiva Oa is something you’ll never forget, and I highly recommend it!
Where To Stay In Hiva Oa?
All accommodations in Hiva Oa are located in and around Atuona. My stay on the island would not have been as memorable as it was if it weren’t for my spot on choice of staying at Pension Kanahau (Chez Tania). This has to be one of the best pensions in all of French Polynesia, and much of that is due to its owner – Tania.
It all starts at the airport, where Tania greets you with a huge smile and a traditional flower necklace. She’s one of those people that lights up the room with her smile, plus she knows everybody on the island. She’ll give you a ride to the pension and help you sort out your itinerary (may or may not charge 3000F for airport transfer). In fact, it’s thanks to her that I got to see so much of the island and avoided making costly mistakes of time and money.
Pension Kanahau is located about a 20 minute walk outside Atuona Village. Perched on a hill overlooking the sleepy port in Tahauku Bay, the pension has four bungalows set in a lush tropical garden, all with breathtaking views. Each unit is equipped with a (fantastic) hot shower, mini fridge, mosquito net, TV, coffee/tea and a balcony. A couple of units also have a kitchenette.
The pension’s common area is beautifully decorated with traditional Marquesan art and its walls are covered with exquisite tapa. There’s a TV, filtered water, free (but slow) WiFi and you can get your laundry done up here. The real draw however, is the exterior balcony where you’ll be dining.
It wouldn’t be a top notch pension without great food and Tania’s cooking really hits all the right taste buds. I highly recommend going half board here, but in any case, she’ll drive you to the village whenever you want for free.
Breakfast consists of an assortment of breads, donuts, fresh fruit and a huge selection of homemade jams. As good as breakfast is, the real magic happens at dinnertime. Elegantly decorated traditional fish dishes are usually on the menu with: red tuna taking center stage, Tania’s famous poisson cru and even lobster if she really likes you (ask for the incredible story of how they’re caught). Yummy desserts are never forgotten, followed by lots of chit chatting about island life and star gazing!
Tania will go above and beyond for you, and you’ll be bragging about her for months. Cash only, inquire about discounts on stays over 3 nights and don’t forget to buy a few flowery Tahitian dresses before you leave.
Diving In The Marquesas Islands
The Marquesas Islands have no protective lagoon. It is possible to scuba dive here, but expect challenging conditions and poor visibility due to the currents and plankton. That said, you might get to see whales, dolphins and sharks. In Hiva Oa, get in touch with SubAtuona which offers day trips that combine a visit to Tahuata Island with diving and a picnic lunch. They may or may not be available when you’re in Hiva so it’s best not to count on this option too much. UPDATE: as of 2018, there is a new dive center in operation in Hiva Oa (perhaps instead of SubAtuona) called Marquises Diving. They apparently also do trips to the neighboring island of Tahuata.
Hiking & Excursions In Hiva
Hiva Oa is all about exploring the magnificent nature of the island. When it comes to hiking, Hanatekuua Bay can be done on your own but that’s about it. All other hikes, including the cross island trek will require a guide and can be very expensive.
As far as excursions, the day trip to neighboring Tahuata Island is not to be missed and you can also join a 4X4 island tour of Hiva Oa. I highly recommend making arrangement for either of these as early as possible since: there aren’t that many guides available on the island, tours require a minimum amount of passengers, poor weather can lead to cancellations and lastly, when the Aranui is in town – all guides are fully booked. Contact Pifa O’Connor (+689-87727633 | Facebook Page), who speaks excellent English (super rare around here) and can take you hiking, to Tahuata Island and around Hiva Oa. He also works as a fireman so not always available. Horseback riding should not be a problem to book.
See the ‘things to do’ section for lots more information.
Hiva Oa has amazing beaches that you’ll likely have all to yourself. Keep in mind that swimming is possible but usually rough due to the lack of protective reef. While the sand is beautifully golden, it is home to millions of the infamous sand flies of the Marquesas Islands. Known as nono, they are not native to the islands but their bite will itch for days and might leave a mark. It’s best to rub on some citronella scented monoi oil when hitting the beach.
Drinking Water In Hiva Oa
Do not drink tap water in Hiva Oa! If your pension does not offer filtered water, you’ll have to stock up on bottled water.
It makes sense to stay half board at your pension, especially if the cooking is to your liking. In any case, Atuona has a couple of grocery shops, snacks a cafe. Whenever you’re heading out on a hike or road trip, take food with you.
See the ‘places to eat & drink’ section for specific recommendations.
Safety In Hiva Oa
For general safety tips in French Polynesia, have a look at the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide.
As for Hiva Oa specific safety tips:
- Bring comfortable hiking gear.
- If you’ll be heading out to Tahuata Island and tend to get sea sick, have some pills ready.
- If you’re renting a car, drive with extra care, especially on the unsealed roads of the northeastern side of the island. It’s best to ensure you have enough phone credit to make any emergency calls. In the evening hours, watch out for locals who for some reason do not turn their lights on…
- Be prepared for the nono. These are tiny black or white sand flies that are actually not native to the islands. They leave a nasty bite that itches for days, and if scratched – can leave a lasting mark. The best way to avoid getting bitten is by applying layers of monoi oil (the citronelle kind).
- Be mentally prepared for a lot of bugs at night. It’s best to leave the light on outside your bungalow and keep it dark inside, until going to bed.
What To Buy In Hiva Oa
While Papeete is the place to buy black pearls, the Marquesas Islands are the place to buy authentic arts and crafts. Marquesans are considered to be among the best wood and stone carvers in the South Pacific. Highlights include: tiki statues fashioned from wood or volcanic rock (~3000-10,000F), wooden bowls (~5000-10,000F), sandalwood ornaments (~5000+F), bracelets, bone carved weapons and plenty more. Tapa can also be found, but it is super expensive. The best place to buy tapa is in Samoa.
You’ll find a covered artisan market (fae artisanal) in Atuona right behind the Tohua Pepeu archeological site, that should be open every day but Sunday. I’m glad I bought most of my Marquesan crafts in Nuku Hiva, as prices here were quite on the steep side.
Another option is to get in touch directly with an artist. Call Laina Taiaaput (+689-87212375), a local artist living in a simple home with a million dollar view. Laina and husband are expert woodcarvers and invite you to visit their shop. Prices here are so much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen.
Note that it shouldn’t be a problem bringing Marquesan crafts through customs. I passed through New Zealand, Australian and Canadian customs with: wood & stone carvings, (dried) vanilla, monoi oil and jam.
Hiva Oa is also a good place to get a tattoo. Marquesans aren’t only exceptional at carving rock and wood, but also skin. A large tattoo on your arm or leg should cost between 20-40,0000F.