Destination Guide: Marquesas & Tuamotu Atolls

Tahiti Private Expeditions and its sister company, Superyacht Private Expeditions, have been providing superyacht guests with exclusive dive services for more than 10 years. Their teams, which stay aboard with you and your guests, have local knowledge of both French Polynesia and other untouched areas. They adapt underwater activities to your expectations and experience, with Superyacht Private Expeditions doing so anywhere in the world. Additional services include films of guest trips. In the first of a series of articles about the South Pacific, Christelle and Rodolphe Holler, owners of both companies, share their passion for French Polynesia, which is all about ocean conservation. Here, they recommend beautiful, hidden places to cruise and dive in the Marquesas Islands and Tuamotu Atolls. For both groups of islands, the Hollers recommend a minimum of two days around the same place. Be sure to check out their companies’ Marquesas and Tuamotu Atolls video, too.

Map Marquesas Islands credit Rodolphe Holler

MARQUESAS ILLUSTRATION: R. Holler – Superyacht Private Expeditions


The Marquesas Islands are the “youngest” group of islands in French Polynesia when referring to geology. Their lush, sharp volcanic mountains and large bays offer scenic sheltered anchorages. Because none features both a coral reef and a lagoon, the underwater encounters are quite different than those of the other archipelagos.

We recommend starting your cruise in Nuku Hiva (below), where it’s easy to join the boat by commercial or private plane. (Initial clearance is usually on Tahiti. No special permits are required for cruising, either.) Don’t miss a horseback ride in the valleys and along the cliffs with a local guide, who will tell you all about the legends of Nuku Hiva and his ancestors. There’s a special spirit in the Marquesas called Mana which, the native people believe, kindly looks after the community and its visitors. During the ride, you’ll love seeing in the distance many wild horses, giving you the sensation of sheer freedom.

Eiao and her neighbor Hatutaa, both uninhabited and about 62 miles (100 kilometers) northeast from Nuku Hiva, host some of the most beautiful diving. Visibility is not always perfect, but the coral is colorful, and we see a profusion of fish, including manta rays. This is definitely one of our favorite dives!

PHOTO: R. Holler - Superyacht Private Expeditions

PHOTO: R. Holler – Superyacht Private Expeditions

Then head to Hiva Oa, 30 nautical miles from Nuku Hiva. Teuaua islet is a reserve with thousands of marine birds and can easily be reached after a hike. Diving and snorkeling are basically great everywhere, though we prefer going to Tauhata, at the southern point of Hiva Oa. Cliffs fall into the ocean, giving way to breathtaking underwater walls covered with marine life. It’s particularly quite special to see sharks swim by quietly. (Sharks have been protected since 2006 throughout French Polynesia. The region has been a marine sanctuary since 2002.) This is a one-of-a-kind dive spot in French Polynesia.

Carry on to the island of Ua Pou, the cradle of Polynesian culture, 65 nautical miles from Hiva Oa. There is no better place to discover distinctive works from native artists, carved in volcanic stone or precious woods such as sandalwood. Each piece tells a story, just like the tattoos often covering their bodies! The Marquesans are friendly and extremely proud of their roots. Spending time with them will really touch you. Back on the yacht, have a look from the swim platform, and you will probably see manta rays. Do not hesitate to jump in the water and snorkel with them! They are around most anchorages in the Marquesas.

If your trip finishes in the Marquesas, we suggest cruising back to Nuku Hiva and moor at Hakaui Bay, south of the island. Unlike most Marquesan islands, it features a long, untouched, white-sand beach, surrounded with lush vegetation and mountains. It’s the place to have a private picnic and to snorkel with hundreds of welcoming melon-headed whales (in the dolphin family)!

If the Tuamotu Atolls, south of the Marquesas, are next, we recommend visiting Hakaui Bay at the beginning of your trip so you can cruise straight to the atolls. Nuku Hiva to Fakarava, one of the best in Tuamotu, is 530 nautical miles.

ILLUSTRATION: R. Holler - Superyacht Private Expeditions

TUAMOTU ILLUSTRATION: R. Holler – Superyacht Private Expeditions


The contrast between the Marquesas and the Tuamotu is incredible. The 78 atolls are all remnants of ancient volcanoes. A huge lagoon hosting amazing marine life and a fringing coral reef flirting between the lagoon and the ocean remain. The atolls often feature natural passes, too. Even though all of these islands deserve to be discovered, we believe a few should not be missed.

Start in Fakarava. Along with five neighboring atolls, it’s part of a UNESCO biosphere. Cruise through the North Pass, which is large and deep, to enter the huge lagoon and sail down to anchor near the South Pass, 32 nautical miles away. (The South Pass itself is too narrow and shallow to enter via yacht.) The South Pass is our favorite place in the Tuamotu. Not only is it incredibly scenic with its pink-sand beaches and numerous islets, but it hosts life in profusion under the water. Start your dive or snorkeling safari in the incoming current (from the ocean to the lagoon). Thanks to a smooth drift, you will see thousands of small, colorful tropical fish, beautiful coral, and hundreds of grey reef sharks swimming peacefully (below). During the full moon of July, you can witness a unique event: thousands of groupers breeding in the pass, surrounded by sharks. This is Rodolphe’s preferred dive! Finish the dive in the current near a friendly guesthouse, where we love having a drink at sunset and sharing our thrills of the day with the welcoming local people. Do not miss a picnic on one of the surrounding islets. You will feel like Robinson Crusoe! These lagoons are ideal to discover scuba diving and for children.

Cruising back to the North Pass, stop by a black pearl farm and choose your own. It is our favorite way of finding pearls! Farmers will happily show you how they graft the oyster or how they harvest. Then dive the North Pass, where the current is stronger, and hide in “Ali Baba’s hole,” sheltered from the drift. Watch pelagic fish go by in the current above you.

PHOTO: R. Holler - Superyacht Private Expeditions

PHOTO: R. Holler – Superyacht Private Expeditions

The entrance into Toau atoll lies 12 nautical miles from Fakarava’s North Pass. The sole 11 inhabitants live the village on the opposite side of the atoll. It is therefore a great place for any water activities and beach parties! When diving it’s common to see manta rays and follow them in their enchanting ballet throughout the dive, followed by friendly sharks, tuna, and butterfly and angelfish. Come evening, discover coconut crabs on the islets. These funny-looking crabs feed exclusively on coconuts and are an endangered species, so they’re not eaten. Both kids and adults really enjoy the experience.

You may choose to stop around scenic Apataki atoll, 70 nautical miles from Toau, for a day or two. The main interest there is diving. Just like anywhere else around the Tuamotu, sheltered anchorages are everywhere, and you can easily snorkel from the boat. The drift dive at the North Pass is thrilling, as Apataki hosts the largest grey reef shark population of the Tuamotu. And, when the swell comes from the north, it’s perfect for surfers.

Head next to Rangiroa, the second-largest atoll in the world, a 70-nautical-mile cruise. On your way, if you haven’t given it a try yet, go deep-sea fishing to catch mahi-mahi, tuna, or swordfish. Rangiroa features two main natural passes and is world renowned for the quality of its dives. Our favorite is with the wild bottlenose dolphins in Tiputa pass. These dolphins have been accustomed to people for decades and often join you, asking for a cuddle. It is simply magical! Avatoru pass is a show of a profusion of fish, including schools of jackfish, barracuda, and silvertip sharks. The visibility is incredible, and you won’t want the dives to finish. We also recommend going for a relaxing spa treatment at the Kia Ora resort and discovering Polynesian massage with natural local oils. An amazing steakhouse is near the hotel, too.

You can fly back to Tahiti from Rangiroa and overseas the same day.

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