The Gambier Islands are comprised of 14 islands, but only 5 of which are inhabited. Mangareva is the largest island comprising 56% of the total land mass in the archipelago and yet it is small. The total population is around 1,300 and the island is only 6 square miles. Rikitea is its main town and is where the majority of the population live. This set of islands lay well over 1,000nm southeast from 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. Although once the center for Catholicism in Polynesia, the people of Mangareva have returned to a more traditional Polynesian lifestyle.
CHURCHES AND RUINS
Many ruins can be found in the main village of Rikitea. Among these archaeological relics are a convent, a triumphal arch, several watchtowers, a prison, and a court that have survived from the 1800’s.Most of these abandoned remains are dark and eerie feeling.
The island has become an important supply source for the Tahitian cultured pearl industry. With its cool waters and protected reefs, it supplies the majority of the pearls to Tahiti in a magnificent range of colors.
The largest and oldest monument of French Polynesia is the Cathedral Saint Michael of Rikitea. It was originally built in 1848 and renovated in 2012.
This neo-gothic Catholic church was church was constructed of fired limestone and the alter is inlaid with iridescent mother-of-pearl shell.
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.
St. Michael’s Church Rectory
Across the path from St. Michael of Rikitea Church is a well-maintained 140-year old rectory, occupied by the parish priest.
Relics in Rikitea
Several archaeological relics can be found by wandering around Rikitea including several watchtowers and some beautiful arches. Most of these abandoned remains are dark and foreboding.
St. Joseph was built before 1866. It might have been a church at one point, but now it is unfortunately rundown relic. The columns were made of shells and the walls were made of concrete. To the left of the church are a pair of beautifully carved statues. Below is a photo Matt and I with a few of our friends from Agape (Josh), and Haylcon (Becca, John, Andrew).
There is one main road around the entire island. It is shared by pedestrians, trucks, motor bikes, dogs and hogs.
Fueling in Rikitea
The island of Rikitea receives a supply ship every 2-3 weeks. The ship brings in fresh fruits, veggies, fuel, supplies, furniture, boats, and just about anything the island needs. It also loads up with packages and containers to take back to Tahiti.
After our 3500nm passage from Chile, we desperately needed diesel. There are three ways you can get fuel. You can bring your boat up next to the supply ship and a cement dock (not appealing), you can fill jerry cans (we needed 600 liters which would take us days to fill), or you can put a 200-liter barrel into your dinghy and back to your boat. We opted for the last option.
We ended up buying fuel for 4 boats. Sugar Shack took 600 liters and Argo, Agape and Halcyon each took 200 liters. Argo used the jerry can method, but Agape and Halcyon followed in our footsteps by loading the barrel into their dinghies and siphoning into their tanks. We luckily used our pump and filter, but still the process took over 6 hours (2.5 hours to order 3.5 hours to fill).
There is very little access to wifi on the island. In fact, there is really only one place where you can find a trace of internet and that is JoJo’s. Usually, you can sit at the restaurant side of JoJo’s when they are open, but more often than not, they are closed. When that happens, or when cruisers just can’t afford to eat out, they congregate on the driveway in search of the wee bit of access they can find.
Despite the many days of howling 25kt winds, white caps in the anchorage and rain, we did have some lovely sunsets.