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 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.
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.
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.
Gambier Islands Attractions
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).
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.
At Mangareva’s main village 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.
St Pierre Chapel & Cemetery – Mangareva
This cemetery is one of the many remains that bore witness to Mangareva’s rich historical past. Here you will find the memorial to King Maputeao, the Rouru Convent, which previously had several watchtowers and 60 nuns.
King Maputeoa Palace – Rikitea
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 which welcomed visitors, and a number of watchtowers used to protect the palace and to communicate with other towers on neighboring islands.
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
Chez Bianca & Benoit offers impeccable service and all the essential amenities to invigorate travelers. To name a few of the hotel’s facilities, there are express check-in/check-out, luggage storage, car park, car hire, restaurant. Hotel accommodations have been carefully appointed to the highest degree of comfort and convenience. In some of the rooms, guests can find non smoking rooms, balcony/terrace, blackout curtains, fan, television. The hotel offers an excellent variety of recreational facilities, including diving, fishing, garden, water sports (non-motorized).
Kura Inn Mangareva
With garden views, Kura inn Mangareva is located in Mangareva and has free WiFi. Each room is equipped with a terrace, a kitchen with a microwave, a dining area and a seating area with a flat-screen TV, while the private bathroom includes a shower and free toiletries. There’s also a fridge, oven and an electric tea pot.