With currently only one scheduled
flight a week from Tahiti, the islands of the Gambier are the most
isolated of any of the islands in French Polynesia. This
isolation has ensured that the islander's way of life has changed
very little in the nine hundred years since Polynesian explorers
from the Marquesas first inhabited the islands.
The biggest external influence over
the islanders was brought about by the arrival in 1834 of French
Catholic missionaries, headed by Father Honore Laval, under whose
guidance the gentle people of these islands learn to spin, weave
and print to add to their ancient skills. Today the islanders
skills include the farming of black pearls and it is claimed that
the best quality pearls produced in French Polynesia come from the
waters of the Gambier Islands.
One other major legacy of Father
Laval's stay was the erection of many neo-gothic buildings
consructed of coral and stone of which over a hundred still exist
today, with the finest example being the 2000 seat cathedral, which
is found in the centre of Rikitea, the main town of the Gambier,
located on Mangareva.
The islands of the Gambier are a
mixture of high and low islands. Mangareva is a high island
with its highest peak of just under 1500 feet to be found
on Mount Duff. The other main high island is Taravai,
which is next to Mangareva.