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French Polynesia

Gambier Islands (Mangareva)

Gambier Islands: More than 1,600 km southeast of Tahiti, the Gambier group consists of 14 small mountainous islands, the largest and most populated of which is Mangareva.

The cradle of Polynesian Catholicism in the nineteenth century, these islands hold more than one hundred stone buildings built from that time, including churches, presbyteries, convents, schools, weaving workshops, bakers' ovens and watch towers.

French Polynesia's first Catholic mission was established here in 1834 and the entire population was quickly converted. 

Father Honoré Laval, the leader of the mission, quickly ensconced established himself as a despotic ruler of the region. Almost single-handedly he brought about the complete destruction of the native culture and customs - his memoirs speak of the delight he felt destroying heathen temples and icons. When he arrived the population was estimated at around 5000 or 6000. 

A census conducted 16 years after his eventual exile to Tahiti established that a mere 463 people survived the cruelties, diseases and cultural annihilation of his time. The enormous and highly decorated Cathedral of St Michael on Mangareva stands as a testament to Laval's obsession - it can accommodate 2000 of the faithful, four times the population of the island! 

Travelling to the Gambier Islands

Not many travellers make it out to the remote Gambier islands, in the southeastern pocket of French Polynesia, and tourism has made virtually no impact here.

Not much happens out here and chances are you'll have to stay a week or two since Air Tahiti only services Mangareva three times a month. This is truly a forgotten part of the world - don't bother bringing your credit card.

The lagoons of Mangareva were formerly worked for their Pearl Oysters. This work continues today since the biggest and most famous pearl farms are here, being the main resource of these islands. Its lagoons are reputed to be the best source of fine quality pearls.

The main village, Rikitea, has the imposing St Michael's cathedral dating from 1848 whose masterpiece is the altar richly decorated in pearls and mother of pearl.

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We have included French Polynesia in some of our specials to the South Pacific, eg. our Kontiki Voyage and South Sea Dream Voyage. Another option is to create your own package to French Polynesia by utilizing the seperate travel components, like hotels, flights and excursions on the islands.

For a legal wedding the legal requires in French Polynesia that you remain at least 30 days in French Polynesia before the marriage. In practice this means you may only have a ceremonial wedding in French Polynesia (see also Tiki Village).

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