MANGAREVA, FAR AWAY LAGOON
The remote Gambier Islands lie just a little more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) southeast of Tahiti. Polynesian mythology tells of Mangareva being lifted from the ocean floor by the demi-god Maui. The mountains of Mangareva rise over the surrounding islands and the luminous lagoon like a great cathedral. The island is the centre for Catholicism in Polynesia, with the people of Mangareva having a very traditional Polynesian lifestyle.
Mangareva is the largest island in the Gambier and its main village, Rikitea, is the chief town of the archipelago. The island has a large lagoon with striking blue and green hues and is also famous for its Tahitian black pearls, which are cultivated in the pristine waters around the island.
As the cradle of Catholicism in Polynesia, Gambier features hundreds of religious buildings built by missionaries and islanders alike between 1840-70. These include churches, presbyteries, convents, schools and observation towers. A visit to the renovated St Michael’s Catholic Church, where the altar is inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl shell, is a must.
The lagoon, hosting the entire archipelago, is probably the most beautiful of French Polynesia. Both transparent and sandy, turquoise and dotted with coral heads, it displays a range of blues marvellously contrasting with the surrounding lush green mountains.