Over one thousand miles southeast of Tahiti are the Gambier Islands. Because of their location close to the Tropic of Capricorn, the islands abound with fruit trees, drawing a lush, green landscape thanks to the tropical climate tempered by the ocean’s trade winds. The Gambiers is the region where pearl farming first developed, and Gambier pearls are renowned and valued the world over. Mangareva, the largest island of the region, is home to most of the population and the center of the region’s pearl industry. The area’s only small family pensions are located here, in the town of Rikitea.
Rikitea was the cradle of Catholicism during the nineteenth century, following the arrival of the first missionaries to the region. Hundreds of coral stone buildings from that era survive here, including churches, convents, schools, and watch towers. Particularly impressive is the Saint-Michel Cathedral with its pearl and nacre inlaid alter, a testament to the heritage of the region. Still in use today, this Catholic Church was built under the auspices of Father Honoré Laval. With its deep ties to modern Catholicism, life on the islands is punctuated by many religious celebrations, singing services, processions and various decorations.
Visitors to Rikitea will be enchanted to find a number of ruins known as the Rikitea Ruins. Among these archeological relics are a convent, a triumphal arch, several watchtowers, a prison and a court. These abandoned remains have been noted for their dark, eerie feel. One other place of interest on the Gambiers is Mt. Duff, rising to over 1,200 feet, along the island’s south coast. Named for the European ship belonging to explorer Captain James Wilson, this mountain is the highest point in the entire Gambier Islands group, offering breathtaking views to anyone who makes the summit. The Gambier Islands includes Mangareva, Aukena, Taravai, Akamaru Island, Angakauitai, Manui, Tekava, Tepapuri, and Tauna. To read more about the best beaches in the Gamier Islands and French Polynesia, click here. Read on to get all your travel information for the Gambier Islands French Polynesia. We will focus on Mangareva for travel, as it is the only island with restaurants and such. The Gambier Islands French Polynesia is better for day trips to see the beautiful sights.
In the Gambier Islands, the month of January is characterized by essentially constant daily high temperatures, with daily highs around 87°F throughout the month, rarely exceeding 89°F or dropping below 83°F. Daily low temperatures are around 76°F, rarely falling below 74°F or exceeding 79°F. For reference, on March 24, the hottest day of the year, temperatures typically range from 77°F to 88°F, while on August 2, the coldest day of the year, they range from 71°F to 83°F.
There is one airport located on the island of Mangareva, the Gambier Island Airport. Travel documents for entry into French Polynesia: Each passenger is solely responsible for obtaining and carrying the correct travel documentation, including a valid passport, Visa (if applicable), sufficient funds to cover length of stay, and medical information (if applicable). Always make sure that the way your name appears on the airline ticket matches your passport. It is also advisable that the other documentation you carry matches your passport name and that you identify yourself by the nationality on your passport. Make sure your passport is valid for the required time beyond your travel dates. Be advised, certain countries require a passport to be valid for six months beyond the date of departure. So it is a good rule of thumb to make sure your passport is valid for 6 months past your departure date from the islands.
There are no rental cars on the Gambier Islands. Arrange with your pension to be picked up at the dock (after taking the ferry from the airport on the motu). The island’s 16 mile circle road can be walked in 4-6 hours. It’s a great walk. If you wish to see one of the other islands in the group, ask your pension about day trips.
The most affordable way to visit several islands is with an Air Tahiti Pass. These passes connect islands of the same archipelago, or two different archipelagos, while extensions to the far-flung Marquesas and Austral islands can be added on to the other passes. The cheapest is the Discovery Pass, connecting Moorea with Huahine and Raiatea, but many other combinations are available. Those purchasing a pass must complete their travel within 28 days and only visit each island once; however, not all islands have to be visited. Passes offer good value when compared with multiple point-to-point air tickets.
Restaurants & Bars – Top Picks
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$ – $$$ Snack JoJo
It’s hardly haute cuisine at this modest joint, but the fine choice of sandwiches alongside the mainstream Tahitian dishes, which provide easy midday or evening fuel. The owners also rent a spacious, well-appointed bungalow at the back of the property, right on the water’s edge (but there’s no beach). Credit cards are accepted. For more information call 689 87 76 36 24, or visit them on Facebook at Snack Jojo.
$$ Chez Teava
This is Rikitea’s best spot for lunch or dinner. Local ingredients and freshly caught seafood are the staples of the simple menu. Voluminous sandwiches too. Restaurant is near the cathedral. For more information call 689 40 97 82 51. No web presence for Chez Teava. Hours are 11am-1pm & 5.30-8pm Mon-Sat, 5.30-8pm Sun.
$$ Restaurant Lounge Manareva Hammam & Spa
For more information call 689 49 11 10 90, or visit them on the web at Restaurant Lounge manareva Hammam & Spa.
Things to Do
Cathedrale Saint-Michel de Rikitea
Fully restored in 2011, the imposing Cathedral of St Michael was built between 1839 and 1848 and was Laval’s most ambitious project. It makes a colorful scene on Sunday morning, when it is bursting at the seams with a devout congregation singing moving himene (hymns). For more information, visit TripAdvisor for the Cathedrale Saint-Michel de Rikitea.
Named for the European ship belonging to explorer Captain James Wilson, this mountain is the highest point in the entire Gambier Islands group. For more information on Mont Duff, visit TripAdvisor.
Arriving at the Convent of Rouru, located at the foot of Mount Duff on the island of Mangareva, the first building to be seen, to the left of the entrance porch is the Saint Agathe chapel, a 24 m Length built in 1848 in large coral stones, under the direction of Father Cyprien Liausu, of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Picpus. On the north side, there is a large room which served as an infirmary for the sisters of the convent and for the inhabitants of Mangareva since former president Gaston Flosse was born there. The vaulted chapel, situated in the southern part of the building, served for masses open to the population often celebrated by Father Cyprien. The old altar, made of carved blocks of coral, was moved and installed in the Cathedral of Saint Michael, on the right of the entrance. There are only a few steps left of a stone staircase on which the faithful, who always come to pray, have placed a small statue of a man holding a child. There is no web presence for the Couvent Rouru.
At Mangareva’s main village, Rikitea, visitors will find a number of ruins. Among these archeological relics are a convent, a triumphal arch, several watchtowers, a prison and a court. These abandoned remains have been noted for their dark, eerie feel. There is no web presence for the Rikitea Ruins.
Across the path from St. Micheal of Rikitea Church is a well-maintained 140 year-old rectory, occupied by the parish priest. There is no web presence for the Rikitea Rectory.