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The Pacific: Marquesas

The ultimate escape

Postcard: The Marquesas: Splendid Isolation
WHY GO? The Marquesas are completely different from the rest of French Polynesia. The volcanic mountains are so jagged and the green valleys so deeply etched that the land looks more like Scotland than the South Seas. Survivor aside, the lack of tourist development, and the fact that these islands are farther away from a major land mass than any other island in the world, make this the ultimate escape.

WHERE TO GO The main islands to visit are Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, the home of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel. Visit Nuku Hiva's Taipivai Valley for its ceremonial meeting places, and Kamuihei, the ruins of an ancient temple complex. On Hiva Oa see the seven-foot tikis near the village of Puamau and Calvary Cemetery in Atuona, the final resting place of Gauguin and Brel.

WHERE TO STAY Nearly identical, Keikahanui Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge and Hanakee Hiva Oa Pearl Lodge overlook the bay of the islands' main villages. Rooms are small but have glorious views and are decorated with local art. Keikahanui Nuku Hiva: Rooms, $250-$335; 689-92-07-10; www.pearlresorts.com. Hanakee Hiva Oa: Rooms, $210-$335; 689-92-75-87; www.pearlresorts.com.

ISLANDER TO KNOW Living in the islands since 1972, Rose Corser knows all the best archeological sites and will outline trips and line up guides. She also knows the artisans who create the most beautiful woodcarvings, a specialty of the islands, and showcases them in a small boutique attached to her museum, which spotlights local archeological finds. At Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, 689-92-03-82; rose.corser@mail.pf.

GREAT FINDS Besides Rose Corser's boutique, Mooroa Utia is the man to go to for woodcarving on Nuku Hiva. He sells from his house (which is impossible to find; have Richard Deane, from Keikahanui Nuku Hiva, take you). On Hiva Oa, Jean Marie Otonini (689-92-76-55) is generally regarded as the woodcarving authority. (Have someone from the hotel take you there too.) The pieces to look for are small spears for about $50 and intricate rosewood digging implements for around $1,500.

BEWARE The two-hour trip from the airport to the hotel on Nuku Hiva is over a narrow road with treacherous twists and turns. Instead, take the helicopter (15 minutes, $75). It can be arranged through the hotels on Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa.

BE SURE TO PACK Earplugs. Both islands are overrun by roosters, and they have a different sense of dawn than everyone else; the crowing begins at 3 a.m.