Circumnavigating Nuku Hiva
6th – 14th September 2017.
With all our ducks now in a row we set off to explore the island and it’s bays. I guess we could have hired a car but as we’d already driven to and from the airport and crisscrossed the interior twice it would have been a bit of a waste of money.
Baie de Controleur
Turning east as we left Taiohae bay we motored a few miles along the coast to Baie de Controleur, which is a a three pronged bay with long deep fiord-like inlets. Once again the swell was running in from the south which made for a rather exciting dinghy landing followed by a scramble up a rock wall to get ashore. Due to the breaking surf a beach landing, which would have been far preferable, was totally out of the question. The main reason most boats stop here, apart from the fact that the waters are usually quite calm when the wind is from the north, is to visit the village of Taipivai and walk up to the waterfall way back in the valley. Many cruisers attempt the hike but so far we know of none who have been rewarded by their efforts and actually reached the falls. In light of what those before us had discovered, or more to the point not discovered, we decided to skip that activity.
A more sure bet for us, or so we thought, was to visit the archeological site of Paeke, a short walk out of town and then up a rough trail on the hillside. Being a hot morning we were thankful that a nice family stopped to give us a ride in the back of their ute to where the trail began.
Our guide book said that the site featured two well preserved me’ae (sacred sites) flanked by a couple of brick coloured tikis. The sign post said that the site was only 500 metres from the main road but after a long, longer than we thought it should take, trudge up hill along a mostly overgrown and pig foraged trail, we stopped to ask a guy harvesting coconuts if we were actually still on the right trail. He was very friendly and sure looked a cross between Crocodile Dundee and the wild man from Borneo. Not long after we stumbled across the site.
In keeping with the trail it too had fallen into a state of disrepair and was in serious need of a few four footed mowers, namely goats and horses to keep the weeds down to a respectable level. What we could see looked ok, but because of the surrounding waist high foliage, we didn’t risk venturing further afield to the big pit used to dispose of post-sacrifice human remains for fear of breaking an ankle or ending up in the pit ourselves. So was it worth the effort? Well unless the place gets cleaned up a bit we’d give it a thumbs down. But ask a local before you go ‘cause maybe our hoofed friends may have paid the site a visit in which case it would be worth a look.
Having checked out the village, the craft centre and the various tikis that were scattered around the community festival grounds, we decided that it was time to move on to the bays along the north coast of the island.
As we left the anchorage and rounded Tikapo Point we were greeted by a large pod of what we thought were rather strange looking dolphins. Having seen hundreds of dolphins over the years we’d never seen any that looked like these guys. We learned later they were actually melon headed whales which are a species endemic to the Marquesas, and in particular the this part of Nuku Hiva. How lucky were we to have seen them and had them escort us along for a while.
Sailing up the east coast the landscape started to change. As this coastline is continually battered by the easterly trade winds the rocky cliff faces have very little to offer in the form of vegetation clinging to them. What does grow is pretty much just low stunted bushes which is a vast contrast to the lush green hillsides found along the south coast and interior of the island.
After a couple of hours we popped our noses around the most easterly point on the island and toodled downwind to the approaches of Anaho Bay. This picture perfect bay is definitely the jewel in the crown of Nuku Hiva. Calm clear waters caress a beautiful white sand beach guarded by rows of coconut palms which in turn are backed by towering mountains. It was a spectacular sight.
We chose to anchor at the eastern end of the bay which is more sheltered from the prevailing wind than the recommended western side, which would blow a dog off a chain when the gusts are howlin’ through, and howl they did on a couple of days while we were there. The western end does have better shore access but the downside is that a reef runs between you and it and if your anchor lets go, for sure and for certain, you will be sitting on terra firma sooner rather than later.
We spent eight wonderful days anchored here. It is a remote spot that is only accessible by boat or horse which makes it a cruisers’ dream. Three families who grow and harvest coconuts for the copra industry live on the western shore and keep pretty much to themselves. They have a couple of horses, a few cattle, goats and dogs and small open air church. There are no roads, no stores and no electricity. They live a simple and stress free life in paradise. Oh to be so lucky.
In company with three other boats, Southern Comfort, Off 2 C and Tao we shared many a sundowner, lots of laughs and the odd shore excursion. It was lovely to have such great company but not be in each others faces all the time.
There were lots of underwater activities for the menfolk as they took to their respective hulls with weapons of mass destruction in the ongoing war against slime and barnacles.
Meanwhile while we ladies busied ourselves about the house with all the pink jobs and spent the afternoons playing in our galleys, creating master-chef worthy platters of happy hour appetizers for our evening social gatherings.
Having heard of a vegetable farm in the area and with our stocks starting to dwindle, we hiked over the hill to see if we could procure a small supply of whatever they could sell us. As it turned out this was one of the farms that supplies the produce market twice weekly back in Taiohae, so they had lots on hand. We left there piled high with watermelon, papaya, cucumbers, peppers zucchini, bananas and limes and all for the meagre amount of $12.
We were quite surprised a couple of days later when we saw a teams of horses heavily laden down with sacks full of fruit and veg head down the beach and into the water. They just waited patiently for a boat to back up and then one by one their sacks were offloaded. It was a well orchestrated manourver and one that we witnessed twice during our stay. The boat goes around to the village of Hatiheu in the next bay where the sacks are transferred into a ute and driven a couple of hours to the market in the main town of Taiohae on the island’s south side. Market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 0530 to early afternoon.Get there early!
Horses for Courses
Our second outing we dubbed “cruiser’s day out” All of us decided to have lunch at the highly regarded Chez Yvonne’s restaurant in the village of Hatiheu, roughly two kilometers to the west. To get there you follow a well marked trail up and over the steep 218 m high Teavaimaoaoa Pass. With the exception of Phillipe and Natalie from Tao, the rest of us decided that rather than walk we’d jazz it up a bit and rent a horse each for the day.
So at 0930 the following morning six horses all saddled up and ready to go were waiting for us on the beach. The saddles weren’t the most comfortable we’d ever sat in as they had been carved from timber, but throw a few hessian bags over them and they did the job.
The horses were extremely sure footed and had the steady-as-she-goes attitude which was just as well as the trail got a tad tight and rocky in places.
We had one walking guide at the front of our posse and one bringing up the rear. Both the guides and the trusty steads must have pounded this beat many times in their lifetimes, I reckon they could even do it in the dark.
At the summit before descending down the other side of the pass we stopped to take in the gorgeous views of Anaho Bay and beyond. Our boats looked like little specs on the water way down below us.
After another 45mins of downhill riding we arrived at the village and I think all of us and the horses were glad to have a few hours off the clock before heading back later that arvo.
The village of Hatiheu is only small with one general store, a small school, post office, church and of course Chez Yvonne’s restaurant. Lunch was quiet a treat.The food was typical Marquesasn fare and as usual there was lots of it. Curried goat, pork, shrimp and a variety of fish dishes including possion cru featured on the menu .
The thatched roofed restaurant eating area looked out over the beach, the bay and the manicured waterfront gardens. You couldn’t have asked for a better setting. A few of us wandered around town but as we had planned this bay as our next stop we pretty much were saving the sightseeing until then.
Our horses arrived to collected us round 3pm and they looked refreshed after their swim in the bay and a bit of downtime.The trip home had one minor hitch one when Liam’s saddle came adrift and he face-planted in slow motion to mother earth, foot still stuck in the stirrup. The well trained horse stopped immediately and just stood still until the guide bolted up to release Liam from his now upside-down view of the world.
No worse for ware he escaped with a just little bump on his head. As far as we know the horse was not traumatized by the event at all. It was a great day out and one we would thoroughly recommend to anyone coming this way.