The 7,500 inhabitants of the Marquesa Islands could reasonably lay claim to living in the remotest place in the world. Farther from a continental landfall than any other group of islands on earth, the Marquesas poke out of the open Pacific just south of the equator and about 1,400 km (870 mi) north-east of Tahiti. Unlike many of the islands in the South Pacific, the Marquesas are, because of their remoteness, almost entirely unspoiled. They are wild and rugged islands with steep cliffs and valleys leading up to high central ridges. Brooding volcanic pinnacles pierce the landscape, while the lush vegetation is overflowing with bougainvillea, orchids, spider lilies, ginger and jasmine, as well as all manner of fruit from grapefruit and banana to mango and papaya.
Of the 12 Marquesa islands, known in the local Polynesian language as ‘Land of the Men’, only six are inhabited, with most of the population living in the narrow fertile valleys, leaving the interiors to the hundreds of wild horses, cattle and goats. The birdlife is extraordinarily rich and varied and the waters around the islands are teeming with fish and lobsters. The size and quality of the ocean waves as they reach many of the beaches of the Marquesas make the islands a hot spot for surfers.
The town of Atuona on Hiva Oa, the second largest island, is famous as the final resting place of Paul Gauguin, the French impressionist painter who came to live here in 1901 and, more recently, of the Belgian singer, Jacques Brel, who died there in 1978 having run Atuona’s open-air cinema for several years.