Closing the loop on Nuku Hiva.
15th- 29th September 2017
Hatiheu Bay :Towering Peaks & Ancient Sites
It was hard leaving beautiful Anaho Bay, but as always there is someplace else to see. So we motored two miles west around the headland to the village of Hatiheu where we’d ridden the horses a few days before.
Once again it was a spectacular anchorage, one difference being that we’d swapped the white sands of Anaho for the black volcanic sand here.
Having already seen the the bay from the shore, now we got to see the picture in reverse which was more the perspective that we are used to. The village, backed by a sea of palm trees dominating the valley behind, looked even more impressive from the water than it had standing on land
The statue was erected back in 1872 and how they got it up there is a bit of a mystery, no-one that we asked could tell us how it was done.
We stayed only three days here, our main focus being to visit the archeological sites of Hikokua and the connecting sites of Kamuihei, Tahakia and Teiipoka, all of which are an easy stroll along the main road out of town. Hikokua dates back to AD 1250 and was still in use in the 1800’s. Discovered by archeologist Robert Suggs in 1957, it took thirty years to restore and is now maintained by the village and their four footed companions.
There are nine christian graves near the centre of the site which date back to the missionary era, along with a flat stone that was used for rituals and dances associated with the rites of puberty. A platform at the north end of the site was, as macabre as it sounds, apparently used for human sacrifices and to display the remains of bodies after the event.
Moving on up the road a ways we arrived at the trio of sites which were discovered during the late 90’s. From what we have read the importance and number of structures here stands testament to the dense population that once inhabited this fertile valley. Among all the huge basalt stones thrives a massive 600 year old Banyan tree, the likes of which just astounded us. At the foot of it was a very deep pit that is presumed to have been used for the disposal of taboo objects and remains of human sacrifices. Other pits in the area were used to store breadfruit. Further up the hill we found Petroglyphs, rock carvings, depicting fish and turtles. All in all it was a good day’s sightseeing.
Moving on from Hatiheu we continued along the north coast stopping for lunch in an uninhabited bay before continuing on to Baie Hakaehu and the village of of Pua. This too was a black sand beach with the usual breathtaking backdrop, for which the camera never does justice.
While here we went ashore and met Marina and her husband Germane. They own a small farm just back from the beach where they grow oranges, limes, mango, papaya, bananas and breadfruit. They also own one hundred horses as well as cattle, goats and dogs. Seven other families live in the small community whose livelihoods also depend on farming.
Marina told us that only one other boat had ever stopped in this bay and she was thrilled to bits when we she saw us came in and anchor. The next day our friends from Southern Comfort and Off 2 C also arrived to spend some time. Now she was beyond ecstatic and even rang her daughter to tell her the news.
In exchange for some rope which we’d now replaced on the boat, we were given a goodly amount of fruits which Marina insisted we take.
At her the invitation we strolled through their farmland amongst ruins dating back to ancient times. We walked up the hill to their family cemetery which overlooked the beach and on the way back down provided a a takeaway snack for a rather cheeky horse who had taken a liking to eating breadfruit. Liam had picked one up that had just fallen to the ground and was in the process of retrieving another one from a low hanging branch when the four legged thief casually strolled over and began devouring the first one. It seems that all animals in the Marquesas are quite partial to eating fruit of any kind.
When you make such short but endearing friendships it’s always hard to say goodbye, but there was still the west coast to explore, so goodbye it had to be to these sincere and generous Marquesan's.
What Lies Beneath
Before the cross-island road was built linking Taiohae, the capital of Nuku Hiva to the airport, the only form of transport for inbound and outbound passengers was via boat from this bay. The now seldom used dock, except by fisherman, is still up kept in case of rock or mudslides along the winding and mountainous road during the rainy season, which would very effectively cut off access to the airport and the outside world.
The bay looked lovely as we pulled in with another enticing white sand beach to laze around on. But looks can be deceiving. As we were about to drop the anchor a swarm of yellow wasps invaded the bow and yours truly was stung three times on the inner thigh. “Ouch” is way too bland a word to describe the burning pain that these furious creatures inflicted on my nerve endings. It really put a downer on the moment to say the least.
We quickly hightailed it out further away from the shore, dropped the hook and retreated inside the confines of our insect screen proofed home. Over the coming days the bands of wasps were joined by their equally savage cousins know as bees. The cockpit of GWTW had suddenly become a no-go zone as the hordes invaded. They took a liking to anything and everything colourful including anything white, which means our whole boat!
We’d heard a familiar rumbling of the anchor chain a few times indicating that there were rocks lurking on the seafloor 45 ft below us. What we didn’t realise was that there was a beast down there that had taken our chain into it’s clutches and was not about to release us any time soon. Our windless and our boat skills were no match for whatever was down there and no amount of tooing and froing or moving the boat this way and that helped the situation. We were well and truly stuck fast.
Luckily our friends on OFF 2 C, who had left the anchorage yesterday due to the wasp issue, had returned late in the afternoon as the sea conditions further south we not favorable. As they too were pulling up their anchor we radioed them explaining our problem and asked if they could hang a bout for a bit while Liam donned his scuba gear to investigate the issue. He surfaced saying that it didn’t look good down there. The rock was a big as a Volkswagen and the chain was wrapped around it in a figure of eight that had doubled back on itself as well as on a smaller rock. Not a man to mince his words, “It’s an absolute shit-fight“, he said.
The only way to deal with it was to disconnect our anchor from the chain, something no sailor does lightly, while our own Lloyd Bridges attempted to unravel the 80 foot cat’s cradle of chain. To do what needed to be done we needed one more body on board, so as Vaughan gingerly backed the transom of Off 2 C towards us, Lesley jumped off and swam over to give me a hand on deck.
Our plan was that after Liam had disconnected the anchor from the chain he would tie a long line to it and we girls would pull it up towards the surface and let it dangle 20ft down off our bow cleat. Then with me on the helm and Lesley directing from the bow as Liam gradually sorted out the mess below, I would slowly maneuver GWTW forward so that Lesley could bring in the slack chain, except for the last 20 feet. Liam would then re attached the anchor to the chain and we’d pull the whole kit and caboodle back on board and be free at last.
The exercise needed to be executed with extreme caution taking into account that Liam was down alone at 45 ft, which is a real no-no in the diving world. We also had a lee shore on three sides of us depending which direction the wind came from, so once the chain was free GWTW would be drifting as Lesley and I would both need to be on the bow until it was all back on board and secure.
After the best part of two hours the mess was sorted. Many thanks to Vaughan and Lesley for hanging around and helping us.
This was a classic example of the benefits of carrying scuba gear with full air tanks or a hooker system on board. ‘Cause when the powers that be throw you a curved ball like the one we just had it would really wreck your day without the right gear for the job
A Valley Where Time Stands Still.
With that speed bump now behind us we picked up where we left off and continued down the coast and around to the island’s south side to Baie d’Hakatea. In “cruiser speak” it’s also known as Daniel’s Bay after the man who lived here for many years and befriended boats that stopped here. The west side of the bay is strikingly steep, we’re talking 1,600 ft high while the east has a gently sloping white sand beach with coconut palms backed by some very formidable peaks. The only structure in the eastern lobe of the bay is Daniel’s former house which has now been sold to a gent in Tahiti but is looked after under the watchful eyes of a lovely couple, Michael and Natasha.
Much to our delight the bay has pretty much 360 degree protection from the sea due to it’s overlapping headlands which makes for a snug, calm anchorage with a nice sandy bottom.
We spent several days here enjoying the peace and grandeur of our surrounds. Three or four families have homes in the western bay and live the simple life tilling the soil and selling their veggies to the market in town and to cruisers like us. Unlike Anaho Bay on the north coast where you can take a horse over the hill to the next village and hook up with a car to go wherever you want on the island, you can’t do that from here. There are no roads, electricity or cell phone signals and definitely no internet. This bay is an island within an island. The only way in or out is by boat.
As an aside for those of you who follow the TV “Survivor” show, parts of the French Polynesia series was filmed in this bay.
In company with the crew from OFF 2 C and Southern Comfort we donned our hiking clothes and shoes and took the dinghies to the mouth of the river ready for the four hour round trip hike to the Vaipo waterfall. In hindsight, had we known, it would have been far easier to leave the dinks on the beach in Daniels bay and follow the foreshore path over to the village where the trail start, to avoid walking through all the icky black sand.
Ashore we met Paul who has donned the hat of meet and greeter for those who come to hike. He’s a soft natured fellow who is knowledgeable about the origins of the ruins scattered about in the village and along the trail through the lush Hakaui Valley and further on to the Vaipo waterfall, which at 350m is the highest in French Polynesia. Paul offered to bring us fruit from his trees and had them waiting in the cruisers BBQ hut near beach when we returned later in the day.
As of earlier this year a fee to visit the waterfall of 1,000 CFP ( US$10,) was introduced by the small community here for the upkeep of the trail. Paul collects the fee and issues a receipt valid for the length of your stay. As cruisers we get to visit the falls as many times as we like while our boats are anchored here but for us, doing the hike once was quite enough.
Another reason for the fee we assume, is because small tourist boats also visit here from the main town and it’s only fair that the residents of the bay, whose land all the feet stomp across, get a slice of the pie too.
The tourists pay around 7,000 CFP each for the day out, and they don’t even get to go all the way to the falls! They must have wondered what was going on when the six of us trooped past them and disappeared across the stream in the direction of the falls.
The trail in parts was not as easy as we thought it would be. It was quite rocky and pretty hard on the old knees. We were glad we’d picked up a hiking stick for some much needed stability along the way and took a good supply of insect repellant with us. We definitely needed both. There were three streams to negotiate along the way, all of them fast flowing with rocks and stones that could bring you unstuck with one wrong footstep, so you had to be careful wading through. The last stream before the falls also had a rather large and nasty looking eel who poked his head out from under a rock a few times to check out the ankle menu as we passed by!
Finally we reached the narrow canyon at the end of the valley. From this point on it was “make your own path type territory” until we reached the falls a little further on. Had there been a lot more rainfall recently they would have been far more spectacular but what we saw was pretty good, although the view of the drop was way better from further back along the trail.
We’d all brought our swimmers and if the streams we’d crossed along the way were anything to go on, then cooling off in the clear waters would be just what the doctor ordered. Sadly that wasn’t the case.
Liam being the brave one of our group, climbed over some boulders and swam to the base of the falls while the rest of us, not wanting to immerse ourselves in the not so gin clear greenish wet stuff, were more than content to just sit and watch the waters tumble down.
Usually when you go on a trip the return journey always seems quicker, but not this one. By the time we got back it was getting on for dusk.The bugs had come out with a vengeance and we were pretty well stuffed by the time we reached the dinghy. We weren’t alone on that score, everyone was glad to see our homes bobbing about in the bay and give our unfit legs and knees a well earned break.
A couple of days later we returned to our starting point of Taiohae Bay, having completed a 24 day circumnavigation of the diverse coastline of Nuku Hiva. We had gone where not many cruisers go. And loved it!