Bird-Watching in the Marquesas
Serious birdwatchers rate the Marquesas as a top birding hot spot, where you can spot rare species that are found nowhere else in the world. Here are just a few feathered friends to look out for:
Fatu Hiva monarch (Pomarea whitneyi) Fatu Hiva; forest-dwelling, 19cm, glossy purple-black; approximately 25 birds left in existence.
Iphis monarch (Pomarea iphis) 'Ua Huka; forest-dwelling, small light brown body, estimated population 1000–2500.
Marquesan imperial pigeon (Ducula galeata) Nuku Hiva and ‘Ua Huka; 55cm and arboreal with a dark grey body with bronze-green reflections; approximate population 300.
Marquesan kingfisher (Todiramphus godeffroyi) Tahuata; beautiful white crown, blue eye stripe and blue-green back; population 400 to 500.
Ultramarine lorikeet (Vini ultramarina) ‘Ua Huka; 18cm, flashy blue and aqua green with small orange beak; estimated population around 2000.
White-capped fruit dove (Ptilinopus dupetithouarsii) Throughout the archipelago; 20cm, greyish-white crown and olive green body; population unknown.
For more information, go to www.manu.pf and www.birdlife.org.
Festivals & Events
Powerful, grandiose, visceral – words do little justice to the Marquesas’ premier festival, which lasts about one week and is held once every four years (usually in December) either on ‘Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa. The last one was held in 2015 on Hiva Oa, so you’ll have to wait until December 2019 for the next, on 'Ua Pou. If you don’t have the patience, ‘mini festivals’ are held on the smaller islands (on Fatu Hiva in 2017) in between two ‘big’ festivals.
The Marquesas Arts Festival revolves around a series of music, dance and cultural contests, with dance performances being the highlights. Groups from all the Marquesan islands demonstrate their skills at traditional dances, including the spine-tingling Haka Manu (Bird’s Dance) and Haka Pua (Dance of the Pig). Groups from other Polynesian archipelagos are invited and they join the contests, too. Most dancing contests take place on restored archaeological sites, which strengthens the visual appeal of the performances. Events also include traditional Marquesan meal preparations as well as arts and crafts displays.
The Marquesas Arts Festival is your top chance to immerse yourself in traditional Marquesan culture. All islanders take it very seriously. Book your Air Tahiti flight a few months in advance.
Best Places to Stay
If there is one place in French Polynesia where it’s really possible to spend some cash, it’s the Marquesas. Tiki, pestles, umete (bowls), adzes, spears, clubs, fish hooks and other items are carved from rosewood, tou (dark, hard-grained wood), bone or volcanic stone. These treasures are pieces of art, items you will keep for a lifetime. Less expensive buys include seed necklaces and umu hei, an assortment of fragrant plant material such as ylang-ylang, vanilla, pieces of pineapple covered in sandalwood powder, and various other fruits and plants, held together with a plant fibre. Fatu Hiva prides itself on being the only island in French Polynesia to have perpetuated the manufacture of tapa (cloth made from beaten bark and decorated with traditional designs). Before visiting the Marquesas, be sure to check the customs regulations in your home country regarding things like woodcarvings or tapa.
In most villages there is a small fare artisanal where you can shop around. They may open only when requested or when the Aranui is in port. It’s also well worth approaching craftspeople directly. Some work is done to order only, so if you stay several days on an island it’s worth making a visit as soon as you arrive.
Bring enough cash because you cannot pay by credit card. Prices may be relatively high, but they’re still lower than in Pape’ete and are well worth it for the time and artistic effort put into the works. Expect to pay at least 2000 CFP for a small tapa piece (up to 15,000 CFP for a piece 1m long), 3000 CFP for a small 15cm tiki (and up to 100,000 CFP for a large one) and 5000 CFP for a bowl or plate of about 50cm. Bargaining is not a Pacific tradition so don’t expect to be able to beat the prices down very much.