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Hiva Oa: the island of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel

The island of Hiva Oa (316 sq km, 1,986 inhabitants) is the second largest island, and today it is also second in importance, of the archipelago after Nuku Hiva. The first European to discover Hiva Oa was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira in July 1595. In the past, the village of Atuona was the administrative center of the Marquesas, but today its role has been taken by the town of Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva.

Hiva Oa is famous for being the place where the impressionist painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel lived. Both are now buried in the small Atuona cemetery. Atuona, the main village, is located on the south coast of the island. Other villages on the island are those of: Puamau, Hanapaaoa, Taaoa, Hanaiapa and Nahoe. The highest point on the island of Hiva Oa is Mount Temetiu (1,276 meters), which together with Mount Feani (1,126 meters) overlooks the bay where Atuona is located.

The island has other interesting attractions. In the village of Atuona, in addition to the cemetery with the tombs of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel, there is an interesting museum with copies of Gauguin’s paintings and alongside the reconstruction of the house where the painter lived the so-called “maison du jouir”.

Scattered on the island there are archaeological sites such as those of Puamau (Iipona) and Ta’a ‘Oa. Puamau is famous for hosting the largest tikis of French Polynesia. While on the site of Ta’a ‘Oa there are numerous pae pae (ancient basements of huts). In the Faakua valley, just north of Atuona, there are the petroglyphs of Tehueto, carved on the basalt. The island is characterized by a mountainous landscape rich in vegetation with high mountains and deep inlets.


Hiva Oa has an airport located almost in the center of the island. The island is connected by regular flights with Tahiti and with the other Marquesas islands with an airport, namely with Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou and Ua Huka. The boats that connect the island of Hiva Oa with those of Fatu Hiva and Tahuata also depart from Atuona. Alternatively, the cruise with the Aranui cargo ship is a great option to visit the island.

The climate of the Marquesas Islands.


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