Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas island chain but remains sparsely populated. The coast line is punctuated by a mix of steep cliffs and narrow bays. But it is the sheer diversity of the interior that enthralled me. Along the coast is it a typical Pacific island but venture inland and the contrast could not be starker with Taipivai bay causing us to blink given it’s similarity to our native Norwegian fjords. Whereas further inland one can find the Toovil plateau which is reminiscent of Western European alpine pastures and forests populated by contentedly grazing cattle making for a perfect pastoral scene.
However we did not sail directly here as after leaving Hiva Oa we sailed south, now those astute map readers among you will realise that we were going in the wrong direction, but we decided upon a somewhat circuitous route to our next destination.
First stop on our little island hopping expedition was to be the island of Fatu Hiva where we arrived feeling tired after what was an uncomfortable trip during which we had seen winds speeds of up to 30 knots. No Norwegian fortunate enough to visit these islands would forego the opportunity to pay homage to one of our national heroes Thor Heyerdahl of Kontiki fame. It is said that during an eighteen month stay on Fatu Hiva he first developed his hypothesis that French Polynesians were descended from South American settlers who sailed there with the assistance of the same trade winds that propelled our own passage to these parts.
The scenery here together with the lushness of the foliage was quite stunning. But in stark contrast to our experience on Hiva Oa we quickly formed the view that the people here had a completely different attitude towards visitors. Commercialisation was rampant and we felt that everyone was preoccupied with making money and everything had a price. Even the children were quite pushy and we heard of several instances of petty theft from the visiting boats. Unfortunately mass tourism does not always bring societal benefits and when a society becomes obsessed with trying to exploit every opportunity for commercial gain it somehow loses the very allure that drew people there in the first place. That is precisely how I felt leaving the physically beautiful Fatu Hiva.
Our experience here also vindicated our decision to seek out more secluded and less visited anchorages, as we had done on Hiva Oa, where one can still find the real spirit of the Marquesas. We realise that we are so fortunate to be able design our own itinerary and we can be spontaneous in altering our plans if we so desire.
After two days exploring there we faced Mare into the north west and set sail for the smallest of the Marquesas islands Tahuata. This little island would hold special significance for me when I was to discover that the earliest recorded mapping of the island by Spanish explorers in the late sixteenth century actually named it Santa Cristina !. But hopes of a warm welcome to “my island “ were dashed when upon our final approach a sudden, violent gust of wind blew my cap off and we once again put into action another man over board exercise to retrieve it. Following a brief stopover we continued to sail northwestwards and en route we decided to drop anchor at Hanamenu on the western side of Hiva Oa for the night. What another lovely discovery, a beautiful and secluded little bay which is only accessible by boat. It’s crystal clear waters and inviting deserted beach provided the perfect backdrop to a revitalising swim.
We were back to sea again next day and heading for Nuku Hiva propelled along at quite a pace by 15 to 20 knot winds filling our reefed genua sail arriving there on June 7th.
Our first anchorage on Nuku Hiva would be alongside our Swedish friends on Pangea at Ho’oumi bay which is surrounded by some spectacularly lush hillsides. After a few days taking it easy we motored further up the coast and into the nearby Taipivai “ fjord land “ bay to enjoy breakfast on board Vega hosted by some more Swedish friends and fellow sailors. A wonderful aspect of this sailing lifestyle has been the discovery of the amazing sense of collegiality amongst the sailing community that we have been blessed to encounter along the way. We have all had our share of triumphs and challenges but nothing seems insurmountable when we have the opportunity to share both those good and challenging times with our fellow mariners.
Our next port of call would be Taiohae which is the island’s administrative centre and is a busy and lively port, especially during sailing season. With the availability of local WiFi hotspots and some reasonable broadband service I finally managed to upload some photographs and to set up these blog posts on my website. I also leveraged this rare opportunity of internet access to catch up with my family via Skype. You may well ask why did we did not just acquire a data SIM card from one of the local telephone service providers. However we had earlier decided that in the spirit of this voyage we would try to institute a constantly connected detox to allow us a distraction free appreciation of this once in a lifetime opportunity to assimilate fully into this alternate lifestyle sailing through some of the most incredibly beautiful places on the planet.
Whilst moored here we teamed up once again with our Swiss friends Anisia and Tom from Vagabond setting off on a motoring tour of the interior of the island encountering some incredible countryside of mist engulfed hillsides and the weirdest looking tree formations that I have ever seen together with the joy of observing a herd of wild horses grazing some lush pastures.
Back in Taiohae we visited Notre Dame cathedral and marvelled at the juxtaposition of the manifestations of various belief systems to be found here such as the ancient Tiki sculptures close to the cathedral which is a legacy of the arrival of Catholic missionaries. These Tiki statues abound on the island adding a hint of mystery to the landscape and reflecting the pre Christian era belief system of the islanders. The proud tradition of carving is preserved in the islander’s contemporary creative expression in the form of the ubiquitous and exquisite sandal and rosewood carvings offered for sale widely here. The darker side of the island’s past is ever present in the form of human sacrifice stones harking back to an era in the island’s history where society might not have been quite as welcoming to travellers or indeed rival native groupings as it is today.
Just a few hours sailing time west of Taiohae lies the famous Daniel’s bay and Hakaui valley which is the portal to one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in French Polynesia the majestic Vaipo waterfall which sees water cascading over a sheer basalt rock face and then free falling some 350 metres making it the tallest waterfall in the archipelago and is within the tallest top 200 waterfalls globally. It remains rather elusive as the trek to it’s base is quite arduous and at times the density of the jungle like foliage makes it feel like being on the film set of Jurassic Park. Yet again I feel very privileged to have actually seen this natural marvel first hand. Amongst the host of exotic aquatic creatures that we observed during our time at this sheltered anchorage we also spotted a small shark swimming close to the shore line. As if all that natural wonder was not enough Daniel’s Bay also provided another opportunity to enjoy the company of Tom and Isabella from Pangea. Also joining us on this occasion was a quartet of young US adventurers from SV Trilogy. We all spent some delightful nights around a beach bonfire exchanging tales of our respective experiences and sharing alfresco dining. A particularly memorable culinary treat was the evening that Tom and Isabella caught some crabs and served up a simply delicious crab based supper. Once again I am prompted to reflect on the extent of the warm camaraderie that prevails within the sailing community that I feel truly blessed to be part of and feel so privileged to be afforded the opportunity of forging friendships with such lovely people.
Having completed our socialising , jungle trekking and exploration of Daniel’s bay and it’s environs we set sail to the north side of the island and dropped anchor in the majestic surroundings of Anaho bay. Surrounded by a reef and offering some of the most idyllic bathing and snorkelling opportunities imaginable and an additional unusual feature in the form of black sand beaches, we felt very at home there. Right on cue we had a Manta Ray fish swim serenely underneath the boat just after our arrival into the bay, a fitting welcoming gesture to such a breathtakingly beautiful place. It is difficult to adequately describe in words the impact that these magical bays and inlets have had on us and the excitement that comes with the discovery of yet another tropical gem as we sail around these islands.
Having spent just over a week enjoying the northern side of the island we once again headed south and arrived back into Taiohae on July 14th. in time for the Bastille Day celebrations. Over the next few days we carried out some work on Mare in preparation for the next leg of our voyage. This included such essentials as having a new toilet installed and Axel continued to work on the automatic tiller system. On July 16th. we decided to relocate back to Daniel’s bay as it is difficult to undertake precision work in the exposed and rolling surf conditions that are an ever present feature of Taiohae harbour. The calm waters of our new anchorage provided the perfect environment to effect our vital maintenance chores. One thing that we learned during the ocean crossing was the dividends that accrue as a result of meticulous pre departure preparation. I have come to the realisation that sailing really is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration !.
By July 18th. we were good to go and set a southerly course with our sights set on our last port of call on this leg of our trip. Oa Pou might be one of the smaller islands of the Marquesas grouping but it does have the distinction of being the most densely populated and is geologically the youngest amongst it’s Marquesas siblings. That geology has also bequeathed the island it’s most striking features in the form of those towering basalt columns that dominate the skyline. I loved some of the place names here such as Hakamoui meaning the Valley of the King or my favourite Hohoi bay or more accurately it’s exquisite alternate name Bay of the flowered stones in deference to the presence of the coastal rock formations that are naturally shaped in the form of flowers. Once again we were spoiled by a multitude of white sanded beaches.
It is really difficult to leave the Marquesas as over the past few months I have discovered so much of a world that hitherto I could never have dreamed existed. Combining sublime natural physical beauty with the warmth of the welcome afforded to travellers by the local population marks this out as the perfect introduction to Pacific island life for me, I will miss it.
However we have so much more to experience and today, July 21st. is the launching pad for the next leg of our adventure as we set forth on the 750km sail south to Raroia a dreamy atoll and the place where the legendary Kontiki voyage finally made landfall on August 7th 1947 after an almost 7,000km voyage that lasted 101 days. We are truly sailing in the wake of some giants of adventure and as we face into our first night at sea the words of Thor Heyerdahl spring to my mind “ Borders ? I have never seen one, but I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people “.
Let the next part of our adventure begin as we too are travelers without borders.