Last updated on January 15th, 2023
From the aerial view as you land, to the scenic ride from the airport, to pretty much every second of every day – Nuku Hiva will leave you speechless. The capital of the Marquesas Islands, Nuku Hiva is just about as remote as one can go in the South Pacific. The island is dramatically beautiful beyond imagination and it is completely yours to discover with hardly anyone around. With action packed days filled with outdoor adventures, nature lovers will have their wildest fantasies come true. With the help of this Nuku Hiva Travel Guide, join the few independent travelers who venture to this fairytale of a destination, and prepared to be wowed!
I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with 5 days in Nuku Hiva and have since returned for a second visit in 2020. This travel guide to Nuku Hiva was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of this destination. The Nuku Hiva Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.
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Very few independent travelers make it to Nuku Hiva, so consider yourself in the excellent company of authentic explorers. In fact, many locals on other islands will tell you it is their dream to make it someday to the Marquesas Islands.
With so much to see and do on the island, you don’t come to Nuku Hiva to recharge your batteries or lounge by the pool. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, love the outdoors, and curious about ancient cultures – Nuku Hiva is not to be missed. Fear not the stories of present-day cannibals, local islanders will welcome you with open arms to their paradise. On the menu? Hiking, scenic drives, whale watching, ancient temples and did I already mention hiking? Nuku Hiva is so diverse, you’ll double-check if you’re really in the tropics. And it’s so beautiful, you’ll be lost for words every minute of every day! If time and money allow – do not miss the opportunity to visit the Marquesas Islands.
Click on the image to open in Google Maps. The map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.
Before we discover all that Nuku Hiva has to offer, here’s a quick overview of the Marquesas Islands and Nuku Hiva.
Of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia, the Marquesas Islands are the closest to the equator. The archipelago’s 12 islands are among the most remote in the world, lying over 1,000 km’s from the capital Tahiti and over 4,500 km’s from Mexico – the nearest continent. The high volcanic islands have no protective reef and are decorated by jagged peaks of basaltic rock.
Known as ‘The Land of Men’ and ‘The Mysterious Islands’, Polynesians somehow arrived here in the 10th or 11th centuries on massive outrigger canoes, probably after colonizing Samoa in the west. The isolation of the islands led to the creation of a unique and rich culture, with its own language, religion, art, and even physical features.
The first contact with the ‘outside world’ took place in 1526, with the arrival of a Spanish vessel, but it wasn’t until Captain Cook’s landing in 1774 that the islands were ‘fully discovered’. Admired for their rich culture and easy way of life, the local population was decimated with the influx of foreign guests, who brought with them diseases for which the islanders had no immunity. From a population estimated at over 100,000, less than 4,000 Marquesans survived the turn of the 20th century!
Today, islanders live very peaceful lives, primarily living off copra production, farming, fishing, and small-scale tourism. Though not faced with the threat of disease, population decline is an issue, with young islanders seeking employment (and excitement) in the big island of Tahiti.
Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the group and the second biggest island in French Polynesia. Its capital Taiohae serves as the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands, where well over half of the island’s 3,000 residents live. With incredible natural beauty and the slowest possible pace, quite a few renowned artists found inspiration on the island throughout the years. Among them, are Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, Moby Dick author Herman Melville, and American novelist Jack London.