Islands “at the edge of the world” lure visitors with the sheen of Pacific pearls
Located 1,600 km from Tahiti, choosing Gambier Island as one’s destination is a guarantee to experience a completely different type of vacation. Beyond the spectacular scenery – five islands and a dozen motu around a fabulous lagoon – one is taken in a spiral where the peaceful way of life is contagious and the visitor is literally enthralled by the incredible heritage of this amazing spot.
To say the Gambier archipelago is off the beaten track is a major understatement. Travellers visiting this area feel privileged as they are warmly greeted by the friendly local community. The islands are still secluded and offer natural and cultural treasures to be discovered with delight alongside friendly Mangarevan inhabitants. This creates a perfect alchemy, beyond description, of well-being and a unique change of scenery.
Let’s make things clear: the lagoon, hosting the entire archipelago, is probably the most beautiful of French Polynesia. Both transparent and sandy, turquoise and dotted with coral heads, it displays a range of blues marvellously contrasting with the surrounding lush green mountains. Hiking is a favourite activity to make the most of this unique scenery.
Although Mangareva hosts some pre-European remnants of marae and other cultural witnesses of the past, Mangareva is renowned for its fascinating religious 19th Century heritage. One says that faith can move mountains. In Gambier, it moved tons of corals! As the cradle of the Catholic religion, the missionaries and the recently converted islanders, built hundreds of religious buildings between 1840-70: churches, presbyteries, convents, schools, and observation towers. They can still be visited in Rikitea, ’Akamaru, ’Aukena and Taravai. The largest and oldest monument of French Polynesia proudly stands in Rikitea. Saint Michael’s Cathedral (1848) was renovated in 2012.