The Best of the Gambier Islands

The Best of the Gambier Islands, located more than 1600 km from the island of Tahiti, is part of the 5 Polynesian archipelagos. It is essentially composed of the island of Mangareva which is home to the capital, Rikitea, the main gateway to the archipelago. Other more or less uninhabited atolls are also attached to the archipelago. The latter was the birthplace of the arrival of Christianity in French Polynesia.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 geology here is unique: one reef, complete with sandy motu, encircles a small archipelago of lush high islands dotting an exquisitely blue lagoon that’s as clear as air. Adding to the allure are some of the eeriest and most interesting post-European structures in the country, a legacy of the Gambier’s history as the cradle of Polynesian Catholicism. Today the archipelago is known for producing some of the finest and most colorful pearls in Polynesia.  To learn more about the best beaches in the Gamier Islands and French Polynesia, click here, or visit us on Pinterest.

Gambier Islands Weather – When to Visit

The Gambier Islands enjoy milder weather than Tahiti. The best months to visit are during the cooler and drier ‘winter’ months (June-August), with the warmest and wettest months being December-January.  From July to late September, humpback whales can be spotted.

Top Things Not to Miss in the Gambier Islands

The Lagoon, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsThe Lagoon

The lagoon surrounding all Gambier Island but one (Temoe Atoll) is one of the largest in French Polynesia. It is partially submerged in certain sections making navigation in and out a task for the pros. As you cruise the lagoon, the archipelagoes heavily eroded and submerged islands are clearly visible and it isn’t unusual to spot typical Polynesian birds riding the thermals.

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Visit Mangareva, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsVisit Mangareva

Mangareva is the largest island in the archipelago and home to most of the population. Its main village is Rikitea which is also the administrative capital of the Gambier Islands. Like many islands in Polynesia, legend has it that Mangareva was pulled out of the ocean by the demigod Maui.

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Visit Rikitea Village, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsVisit Rikitea Village

There isn’t much happening in the village itself but, for the locals, it’s as central as it gets. The main road is lined with century-old oak trees known locally as Koueriki, rows of tree-baring fruit and colorful flowers. There’s a medical center, police station, community hall and a small number of kiosks. By the pier, there is a very small beach and a restaurant which is not open most of the time.

The prettiest site in the main village is the St. Anne Chapel. It measures just 7X7 meters and was built in 1847. Apparently, there is also a Laval-era prison with just two cells somewhere around the village but I could not manage to find it.

Belvedere Scenic Outlook, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsBelvedere Scenic Lookout

Before reaching the St Michael’s Cathedral on the outskirts of Rikitea, a road cuts to the other side of the island. After one of the bends, you’ll see signs pointing right to Belvedere de Piiti. Climb the boulders and enjoy awesome views of the village and beyond. Around this section of the cross-island road, lie the remains of an ancient temple known as Rauriki marae but I could not locate it.

Hike to Mount Duff, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsHike to Mount Duff

Originally named Manha Reva (moving mountain), Mount Duff is the highest peak in the Gambier Islands at 441 meters. It is named after the ship which carried the first Christian missionaries who ‘rediscovered’ the island in 1797. The peak is also referred to these days as Mont Auorotini and reached via a well-marked trailhead.

It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the summit of Mount Duff and about 45 minutes to get back down. After periods of rain, the last section is extremely slippery. If it is a cloudy day, it is not worth climbing as you will not see anything from the top (you’re better off just visiting the belvedere). Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks because, by the time you make it back down, shops might be closed for the day.

St. Michael's Cathedral, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsSt. Michael’s Cathedral

This is by far the main attraction in the entire Gambier Island group. Neighbored by a giant breadfruit tree, this is the crown achievement of Laval’s megalomanic construction frenzy. Measuring 48 meters in length by 18 meters in width and 21 meters in height, it is the largest church in the South Pacific! It can seat up to 1,200 worshipers and measures three times the size of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Papeete.

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Rouru Convent, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsRouru Convent

After St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Rouru Convent is another site you cannot miss. Created in 1836 by Father Cyprien “for the promotion of women in the Gambier Islands”, the compound housed 60 nuns and 150 girls at its height. A huge stone arch marks the official entrance to the convent, where girls were free to enter but not to leave. This was especially true when outsiders visited the archipelago and the convent was used to shelter the female population from the troubles brought by whalers.

The Bishop's House, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsThe Bishop’s House

Right across from the cathedral, this two-story house with an attic has three windows and currently houses Rikitea’s priest. The structure was restored in 1995 and currently bears the same colors of the cathedral, though both were originally painted in the royal colors of azure blue and white.

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King Maputeoa Palace, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsKing Maputeoa Palace

Now located in the middle of the playground of Rikitea’s primary school, the palace was built for King Maputeoa in 1850. You can explore the grounds by asking permission from the principal if the school is in session. On the grounds, you’ll find the royal fish pond which once housed fish and sea turtles, a grand arch that welcomed visitors, and a number of watchtowers used to protect the palace (from who?) and to communicate with other towers on neighboring islands. It is said that Polynesians rarely spent time inside the stone buildings which are uncomfortable in the humid island weather.

St. Pierre Chapel, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsSt. Pierre Chapel

The picturesque local cemetery is also the home of King Maputeoa’s tomb and mausoleum. Baptized on Aug 25, 1836, at the age of 22 years, Maputeoa took on the name Gregorio Stanislas in honor of Pope Gregory XVI. He died in 1857 and buried in St. Pierre Chapel which was constructed in 1850.

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Path of the 12 Apostles, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsPath of the 12 Apostles

About 500 meters past the edge of the Rouru Convent, a sign on the left points in the general direction of the lagoon via the Path of the 12 Apostles (Chemin des 12 Apotres). This is one of the cobblestone paths commissioned by Laval, bending 12 times through a beautiful forest down to the beach. It’s only worth heading down if it’s low tide since there is not much beach left when the tide is high.

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The Hill to Atituti, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsThe Hill to Atituti

From the cathedral, the paved road rises to the village of Atituti. It takes about 20 minutes to hike and, en route, you’re treated to beautiful views of the village and the cathedral. Along the way are a number of local homes and loads of fruit trees. It can be a difficult climb for some so feel free to hitch a ride. Be sure to have enough water and sun protection.

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Tai O Raa Beach, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsTai O Ra’a Beach

Just off the main pier and close to the path leading to the Robert Wan pearl far, this is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in French Polynesia. Surprisingly, the snorkeling here was quite rewarding but you’ll need to swim about 200 meters away from the beach. You’ll find a few huge patches of coral just before the reef drops and, if you’re lucky, even large stingrays.

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Robert Wan Pearl Farm, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsRobert Wan Pearl Farm

Considered to be the ‘father’ of the black pearl industry in French Polynesia, Robert Wan operates a number of working pearl farms on the islands, one of which is right here. You can tour the center where the sorting and grafting take place and learn first hand about the delicate process that eventually might lead to the development of a commercial black pearl.

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Notre Dame-de-la-Paix, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsNotre-Dame de la Paix

The Church of Our Lady of Peace is another beautiful structure. Built in 1844, two towers were later added in 1862 though they are not fully symmetrical (by intention as Laval claimed). On the left of the church’s altar, there is a metal statue of the Virgin adorned by a black pearl necklace. As part of a July pilgrimage, this statue is taken to Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Rikitea and brought back to Akamaru a few weeks later.

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Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & Bars

Snack JoJo  $11 – 30

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.   Telephone:  689 87 76 36 24  Web:  Snack Jojo.

Chez Teava  $11 – 30

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.    Telephone:  689 40 97 82 51.

Pizza Atomic  $11 – 30

Serves glowing-hot pizzas to eat in or take away. The Rumarei, with cheese and korori (the adductor muscle of the oyster), is particularly original.  Telephone:  689 40 97 83 09

Best Hotels in the Gambier Islands

Chez Bianca & Benoit, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsChez Bianca & Benoit

Located on the mountainside at the base of Mt. Duff, this pension has panoramic views of Aukena Bay and is about a half mile from the dock. The three rooms are located in a two-story house and share a communal bathroom with hot water and have access to a lounge room with TV and telephone. All meals are available and are taken around a communal table. Tours of Mangareva, as well as the three other main islands can be arranged together with fishing and motu picnics. If your stay is less than three nights, full board is compulsory. Half board costs 18,040 CFP and full board is 24,400 CFP per person.  Chez Bianca & Benoit Information Here.

Pension Maro'i, Magareva Lagoon, Gambier Islands French Polynesia, The Best of the Gambier Islands, best time to visit the Gambier Islands, best Gambier Islands Sights to See, Best Gambier Islands Accommodations, Best Gambier Islands Restaurants & BarsPension Maro’i

Set among tropical plants and trees on a white-sand beach on Gatavake Bay, this laid-back complex of cottages is a 15-minute walk from Mount Duff and 3 km from St. Michael’s Cathedral.  The 4 casual cottages have garden or bay views and feature terraces and ensuite bathrooms.  Loaner bikes and kayaks are complimentary. Other amenities include a bayside restaurant and billiards, plus fishing and snorkeling gear. Tours and airport transfers are available, and minimum stay rules apply.  Pension Maro’i Information Here.

34 Comments

  1. DorcasW

    Hey Leahrae; I do enjoy reading your post. I bought a product once that labeled “Thahaiti” but I have never heard about this Archipigalo nor any of the Islands before I read your post. What historic scenery?

    It sounds like somewhere that I would want to visit, for its historical values. Can Tourists to these monuments take away pictures with citations from citizens? 

    DorcasW

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi Dorcas, yes you can take as many photos as you like at these historical locations….and there are quite a few.  A great way to mix up a great beach vacation with so much history as well.  Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  2. RoDarrick

    Wow! This gambier islands seems to be a very great location to be as a recreational center. It might just be the perfect spot for my next vacation. I like the various sites that are around the place and it would make for a great site to get closer to nature while rehabilitating. I’ve been meaning to have a vacation on an island and I’m sure this would be the next location for me. Thanks for this post

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome!  Glad you enjoyed my Gambier Islands French Polynesia post 🙂

      Reply
  3. Mim Akter

    Hi Leahrae,
    I like to travel. So for i have traveled to many islands. Gambier islands french polynesia a beautiful place. I’m looking for a place to go for vacation. After reading this informative post I have definitely added this location to my list of places to visit. I will definitely share this blog with my friends. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great!  And if you have any additional questions please feel free to ask.  Thank you for visiting beach travel destinations.

      Reply
  4. AmDetermined

    Hi Laehrae, i am always happy to read you post because every thing that you always post are history of places, this makes it educating and very helpful when paying a visit to Gambier Islands and more over your research on their best hotels, Bars and Restaurant wont let a visitor look strange in the country.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      There is a lot of history here.  Great for those who don’t want to spend all day just laying around at the beach.  Personally I am a beach bum, but I love to explore.  The Gambier Islands French Polynesia is the perfect place for this.  Thanks for visiting.

      Reply
  5. Adyns68

    Tahiti and its environ are full of heavenly places. I never heard of Gambier before but I think you did a great job presenting it to us. I like the beaches and the lagoon looks amazing. And I think a place like chez Bianca et Benoit is a great place to stay and enjoy nice amenities.  I am wondering if this is an adult only hotel, or if families are welcome here?

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      This is a great hotel choice and yes families are welcome here.  If you have a child under 1 year, they like to know in advance so they can have an additional bed ready.  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  6. SeunJeremiah

    I must appreciate the fact that you have brought this amazing location to my knowledge, I love traveling alot and visiting places I have never been, as we know it the world is with wonders and excellent beauty and this location has actually captivated my sight and has prompted me to visit the gambier island this December, looking for to testifying to its beauty.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      I am glad I could help 🙂  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  7. Aabidah Ahmed

    I love the part Mangareva, it is the central and largest island of the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. It is surrounded by smaller islands as well which is a beautiful view.

    This one would be my favorite and first destination if I ever do get a chance to travel there. The others are great as well but Mangareva is my favorite.

    This was a well-written article and with beautiful pictures. Thank you for this information.

    All the best to you.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome.  Yes, Mangareva is wonderful  You would have an amazing time.  Please let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  8. Jackson kenny

    Fabulous place, looks like a place I’d love to go on vacation. Since it’s almost August when I always travel, I might consider coming here, it looks like it has good history. I’m hoping that when I do visit next month, I’ll be able to see the humpback whales at the beach. Gambier island might just be my next destination. Thanks for the hint in

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Kenny.  I am glad you enjoyed and I have you interested in vacationing to the Gambier Islands.

      Reply
  9. Joseph Barnaby

    That place looks like somewhere I could live. It sounds like there is alot of history here that would really be neat to see. You always do a great job with your descriptions of these places in paradise. If I’m looking for a place to go for vacation I know what site to come to. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thanks Joseph and glad you enjoy reading!

      Reply
  10. Joseph

    Wow what an awesome place, this is the true definition of paradise I would love to go here. This seems like a place that not many would know about. This is awesome great post.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you Joseph and glad you enjoyed reading. Hopefully this prompts you to take a nice vacation to this wonderful beach destination!

      Reply
  11. Yulia

    Wowwww such a beautiful place! defently going on the bucket list for me. Beach and island vacations are my favorite and this looks like one of the spots that I must visit! thanks for all the detailed information. beautiful site!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you so much! Thanks for visiting BeachTravelDestinations.com!

      Reply
  12. Steve D'Agostino

    Aw, man. How beautiful! I’ve never heard of the Gambier Islands, but it’s hard not to add this spot to the bucket list! Thanks for the fantastic post!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are so welcome! Glad you enjoyed reading 🙂

      Reply
  13. Lance

    After reading this informative post I have definitely added this location to my list of places to visit. The images and videos you have provided are breathtaking and definitely peak my interest. Are there any places that provide the over water bungalows as this is something that really interests me?
    When my wife and I vacation we enjoy the places that are as you state “off the beaten path” and it appears that this ticks off that box as well.
    Thanks again for this informative post and I will definitely be showing this one to the wife for future trips.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You won’t find over-the-water bungalows in the Gambiers. You will need to go to the Society Islands for them. Here is the link for the Society Islands which is still part of French Polynesia: Society Islands Travel Guide. The Gambiers are off the beaten path. Not so much with the Society Islands, although it is still not as crowded as other beach destinations.

      Reply
  14. Maurice Jackson

    This and all the other destinations mentioned sound like beautiful eye-catching resorts. And from your intensive reviews, you seem to me anyway like a lady well traveled. If so I envy you and wish I was there. I wish I could visit them all. But I will get on one far away tropical beach. That is a promise to myself. Everyone who has a chance get-away to a tropical beach is living a dream.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes, that is true Maurice, everyone needs that get away to a tropical beach and it is living a dream. A dream in paradise, but it is all worth while and within your reach 🙂 Thanks for visiting BeachTravelDestinations.com

      Reply
  15. Kevon

    Never heard of the Gambier Islands. But I do know of French Polynesia. As usual, your article left me longing to take a holiday. I don’t know if I’m happy I found out about the Gambier Islands or if I’m depressed because I can’t go. Are there direct flights from the US? If not, where would connecting flights land?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Yes, you fly into Tahiti and then fly into Mangareva. So depending on where you are, I know for me I can fly directly to Tahiti from here (Florida) and then catch Air Tahiti to where ever I want to go in French Polynesia. Beautiful place and worth visiting!

      Reply
  16. BingC

    Wow, what a great site this is! I’ve been trying to find a great vacation getaway for my wife and me. As soon as our kids are out of the house and we have an empty nest, I’ll be ready. The Gambier Islands look amazing, but I have a lot more reading to do, it seems.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      It is amazing! You and your wife would love the Gambier Islands for sure, and of course it is the perfect beach vacation getaway. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  17. Mike

    Oh man, great post! I had never even heard of this place. I like the fact that post about places off the beaten path unlike most websites that try sending you to the same places everyone goes. I’m pretty sure I may be able to talk my wife into heading off here for our next vacation. Thanks for another great destination. Keep them coming. Quick question, are there any all inclusive resorts or did I overlook it in the post?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you and yes, definitely off the beaten path. You won’t find any all-inclusives here for sure. The pensions I listed are it for accommodations, but so well worth it for sure. I think your wife would love it here. It’s like one of those dream destinations 🙂

      Reply

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