Of all the archipelagoes in French Polynesia, the Gambier Islands are the farthest from Tahiti.Discovered in 1797 by the British captain James Wilson, the archipelago was named in honor of Admiral James Gambier who financed his expedition into the South Pacific.
Some years later in 1834, the arrival of Catholic missionaries from the Congregation of Sacred Hearts of Picpus deeply transformed the way of life for islanders. Converted to Catholicism under the influence of Père Honoré Laval, they finally abandoned their ancient polytheist beliefs in favor of one great God and helped the Picpus brothers construct cathedrals, churches, convents and other types of religious structures. Built out of coral and basalt blocks, these edifices still amaze visitors who go there.
The Saint-Michel de Rikitea Cathedral built in 1841 on the island of Mangareva is probably one of the most beautiful and oldest examples of religious structures in French Polynesia (it is currently under renovation). With a little more than a thousand inhabitants, the four high islands and a few islets located about 1630km/1013mi southwest of Tahiti are the most sparsely populated out of all the archipelagoes. Mangareva, the main island, holds more than 80% of the archipelago’s population with pearl farming as the main source of revenue. Renowned for their beauty, the pearls from the Gambier Islands require very specific installations and grafting techniques, domains in which the inhabitants of the archipelago excel. The mother-of-pearl is cultivated in more than 130 pearl farms that provide very interesting tours for visitors curious about unraveling the mysteries of perliculture.
Those who wish to discover lush green untouched landscapes will appreciate the many walks and hikes that are offered. On the island of Mangareva, Mount Duff (also called Mount Auorotini) has an elevation of 441m/1447ft and provides breathtaking panoramic views. The views of the island’s bays from this point are stunning and unique.
of the Gambier Archipelago
Located 1600 km (995 mi) to the east of the island of Tahiti, Mangareva is the main island of the Gambier Islands, a small archipelago of a dozen islands sprinkled throughout a unique, vast turquoise lagoon.
Located to the east of Mangareva, this island has a gorgeous white sand beach. The first church constructed out of stone in all of French Polynesia is also on this tiny island in the Gambier archipelago. Built in 1839, Saint-Raphaël Church is a 19th-century archeological vestige like no other.
Located to the south of Mangareva, this island is renowned for its beautiful beaches and magnificent Saint-Gabriel Church embellished with shells.
South of Aukena, Akamaru was home to the famous Père Honoré Laval for several years. Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix Church, modeled after Chartres Cathedral, provides remarkable testimony of his presence.