The Gambiers were populated in three waves from the 10th to the 13th centuries, and they may have been a stopping point on the Polynesian migration routes to New Zealand or Easter Island.

The Sacred Heart Congregation, the first Catholic mission in French Polynesia, was established here in 1834 and Father Honoré Laval and his assistant François Caret became virtual rulers of the archipelago. Laval ran the islands like his own personal fiefdom until persistent complaints about his behaviour led to his exile on Tahiti in 1871.

Moruroa lies just 400km northwest of Mangareva and between 1966 and 1974, when above-ground nuclear tests were conducted, the population of the island was herded into fallout shelters (now demolished) if winds threatened to blow towards the Gambier.


Mangareva is 1700km southeast of Tahiti. Air Tahiti flies to/from Pape'ete once or twice weekly (78,000 CFP return, about 3½ hours). The airport is on Motu Totegegie, on the northeastern side of the lagoon. A communal ferry from Mangareva meets every flight. The journey takes 45 minutes and costs 1000 CFP.


From Tahiti, the cargo ship Nuku Hau is the only one serving the Gambier that takes passengers. It sails once a month.