Last stop in the Marquesas – Nuku Hiva

Having already enjoyed 2 weeks in the Marquesas we felt it was about time we made it to the main island of Nuku HIva to clear in with customs/immigration and hopefully find a shop. We had started our journey through the Marquesas at the most windward and remote island of Fatu Hiva to allow for easy downwind sails to the other islands. Apparently the customs boat sank a couple of years ago, and luckily for us, the gendarme seem to turn a blind eye to boats stopping on the smaller islands before checking in. Such a laid back attitude was a breath of fresh air after the bureaucracy and paperwork we experienced in Panama.

We left Tahuata at dusk, to sail over night, allowing us to arrive in daylight to Nuku Hiva. The night brought much lighter winds than forecast and we spent several hours drifting at 2 knots, whilst rolling around in an uncomfortable cross swell. Neither of us slept well on our off watches due to the sails slamming and boat rolling. As with most passages it seemed that Neptune had a way of sensing we were pretty fed up and soon balanced out any negatives. The dawn brought wind, a beautiful sunrise and two pods of dolphins playing in the bow wave; welcome to Nuku Hiva!

Approach to Nuku HIva

Not ready for officialdom, hussle and bussle of a town just yet, we headed for Hakatea Bay, an anchorage 10nm from Tiaohae, the main town. The bay of Hakatea is surrounded by imposing cliffs which offer protection from all sides, but mean the bay cannot be seen from the approach. This makes the entrance through the large swell, which pounds on the rocks at either side of you, feel pretty dicey. Luckily it’s not long before you turn the corner into the still water of the spectacular bay.

The village, a 15 min walk from the beach is set in a stunning valley that leads to a waterfall. We had a good look around the river mouth but chose not to walk to the waterfall as a local guy is charging $10pp to step foot on his land through which you would access the falls. Friends who completed the walk and other locals who knew of the charge advised us it was neither worth it nor within the Marquesan spirit.

The river running through the village


Leaving the calm of Hakatea Bay for the 10nm sail around to Tiaohae, we met big waves and a beat in 25 knots. Although we would not want to sail far in those conditions, we enjoyed the novelty of it as Florence pounded her way upwind through the waves. Several single man outrigger canoes surfed in alongside us as we entered the shelter of Tiahoe bay.

Outriggers in the bay

Once officially checked into French Polynesia, we went in search of fresh food; an exciting prospect after 2 months without access to eggs, cheese or vegetables. We knew food would be expensive in French Polynesia but $9 for a bag of tomatoes and $6 for one green cabbage was a shock! We bought some eggs ($5 per dozen) and decided we could survive with local fresh fruit and our still large supply of tinned vegetables from Panama. With fresh Baguettes, both readily available and cheap, we would not starve.

There was plenty to see in Tiaohae and the surrounding scenery inspired us to explore. We set off on a couple of hikes into the hills from the anchorage and spent plenty of time exploring the small town.

Cathedral Notre Dame Chathedral of the Marquesas, built with stone from each of the archipelagos 6 inhabited islands.

8-11.jpgThe locals are very into their fishing and the dock was always busy with people processing the days catch. Traditional singing and dancing are also very popular, we would regularly hear drumming start in the evening and rush ashore to find out what was happening. We managed to catch two local community dance practices and several singing lessons.

Whilst in Tiaoha we thoroughly enjoyed the company of an American couple, David and Pearl; proper sailors who sailed from America on a 25ft boat with no engine. Before setting off they had also spent a lot of their time sea-kayaking, camping, cycling etc so we were never short of conversation. David and Pearl had planned to hire a 4×4 to see more of the island and kindly invited us to join them for the day.

It was rare to get a fully dry day during our stay on Nuku Hiva but the night before our 4×4 excursion it rained so hard we had to spend a long time bailing before we could row the dinghy ashore. With the 4×4 paid for and the weather looking like it could brighten, we set out early in search of the islands best historical sites and most striking scenery.

Winding up the steep hairpins out of Tiaohae Bay, we made our way through the dense jungle up to a clearing, which gave great views of the next bay.

A view of the bay between downpours

After admiring the view, we descended into the Taipivai Valley, where Herman Melville spent some time with a native tribe in 1842 and set his book Typee.

We continued our journey up the river valley, through water pouring down the narrow road, towards the North of the island. The amount of rainfall had produced huge cascading waterfalls at every turn.

Once out of the valley, we began to look down upon the extremely picturesque Hatiheu Bay. A jagged ridge line topped with towering rock pillars looms over a curved black-sand beach and the villages colourful gardens. We had planned to walk from here to Anaho Bay but the increasingly torrential rain put a stop to our plans.

We bounced along a dirt track in the other direction to catch a view of another spectacular bay, further down the coast.

Climbing back away from the coast, we stopped to explore the archaeological sites of Hikokua, Kamuihei and Teipoka. These are among several restored marae (sacred sites) in the Marquesas. large open areas mainly used for ceremonies, dances and human sacrifices. The sites contain tiki statues, petroglyphs and enormous, impressive banyan trees. The stone table pictured bottom right was alledgidly used for human sacrifice! We were keen to explore further but the rain had turned the area into a mosquito infested swamp so we soon beat a hasty retreat back to the truck, soaked to the skin.

The journey was becoming more treacherous by the minute, as water poured down the hillsides and turned the road into a river. Our journey was stopped by a torrent of water blocking the road whilst sweeping coconuts and other debris in its path. We decided it was time to head back to the boats in Taiohe whilst we still had the option. Torrents of water crossed the road with enough force to push our big 4×4 truck sideways, as we dodged around downed trees and landslides partially blocking the road, we realised why the local choice of vehicle was a big 4×4.

Whilst the weather was not what we would have chosen for a day exploring the island, we had a great time in excellent company and Matt felt he got a real 4×4 driving experience!


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