Marvellous Marquesas

The Captain’s comments from our 4+ weeks in the Marquesas….

After our 38 day passage from Panama City it was a genuine relief to make our 20th April landfall at Tahauku Bay, Hiva Oa, which is the first port of entry to the Marquesas Archipelago, the easternmost of the 5 far strung Archipelago’s that make up French Polynesia. (FP), a total area that is larger than Europe.

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The Marquesas are visually spectacular volcanic islands that are geologically “young”. There are sheer cliffs that, at various locations, fall 300m into the ocean and, being so young there are no fringing coral reefs or in fact, very little coral at all.

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The Marquesas are renowned for the abundance of manta rays in their waters. The morning of our arrival at Hiva Oa we were welcomed by 5 mantas in the anchorage. DSCN1043 At every other anchorage barring the last island of Ua Pou we saw mantas. Though they were not large, averaging about 1.5m wingspan, they were prolific in numbers. There is an abundance of plankton in the Marquesas, which limits visibility and snorkelling opportunities, but the flipside is to see these graceful creatures gliding around the anchorages feeding on the plankton. The dogs did not appreciate these intrusions into their space and we doubt that our neighbours appreciated them voicing their objections. 

There is a restricted inner anchorage at Tahauku Bay, protected by a breakwater that has room enough for about 40 yachts. It was tight so we chose to anchor outside the breakwater. The downside was that we were exposed to quite a bit of swell and movement.

 Soon after we arrived we heard the dogs barking and we went out to be welcomed by our friends, John & Sue on SV Marilyn who had arrived a few days earlier. They gave us a briefing on the anchorage, stores, local routines etc that was very helpful.

We were also delighted to meet Chuck & Linda on SV Jacaranda, whose excellent blog we had read, giving us detailed information on the various anchorages, cultural sites and general information on the islands that make up the Marquesas.

 Just before leaving Panama City , we attended the annual “Pacific Puddle Jump” presentation at the Balboa Yacht Club sponsored by the yachting magazine “Latitude 38”, the Tahiti Tourist Board and other presenters. We, along with many others, signed up with a Yacht Agency Service that provides assistance with entry procedures for non-Europeans and duty free fuel, which at half price is well worth having.

 Sandra of Hiva Oa Yacht Services was very helpful with our entry formalities. Sandra also manages the local internet services that are available under the covered awning attached to a shipping container overlooking the anchorage. DSCN1052

The total population of the Marquesas is approx 6,500, with around 2,200 living on Hiva Oa, 3,000 in Nuku Hiva and the remainder on the other islands. With such a small population, investment in support services is quite limited.

The local township of Atuona is a 4 Km walk from the anchorage. There are 3 small supermarkets and a selection of local fruit & veg. It was quite a mission to re provision as there is no public transport but on half the provisioning forays, we were given lifts by locals to whom we were very grateful.
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At dusk on the evening of our arrival, I put a flying fish baited line in the water and hit the jackpot.

I had 8 fish within the hour, the majority were a smaller specie of Barracuda, each about 1 Kg. This was plenty for our freezer to deal with. After the fish drought of the passage, we, and the dogs, were very pleased to have fish back on the menu.

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The first few days we sat in awe viewing the scenery from the anchorage. Such dramatic peaks, pinnacles, ridges, contours and vegetation. There is a peak above Atuona that rises to the skies and is generally covered in cloud & mist. Early morning was the time to see the peak. I was talking to an American cruiser who gave the very apt description of the Marqueasas as being like “Hawaii on Steroids”.

 3 days after our arrival we joined John, Sue & a Dutch lady, Mia, on an Island tour with a local guide called John. It was an all day event with the first stop at John’s house where his wife showed us her “Tapas”, a form of artwork made from the bark of various trees, Banyan and Breadfruit being most favoured. After preparing the bark, the locals create indigenous Marquesan designs.

 The Marquesas, according to locals, is the birthplace of the Tiki. Easter Island, Hawaii and other tiki locations descend from the Marquesas.

An hour into our trip we stopped by the roadside and hiked 20 minutes to the site of the “Smiling Tiki”. He sits with a smile and his hands on his stomach, protecting an ancient ceremonial site and village, all that is left is the foundation of boulders, which once supported a large commmunity of houses built from branches and palms.

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 The Marquesans had no written language to record their civilisation and visiting the ancient ceremonial and archaelogical sites is a grim reminder of the collision of cultures during the colonial expansion period of the 1800’s. It is estimated that there was in excess of 100,000 inhabitants in the Marquesas before French occupation in 1832. By the 1920’s there were an estimated 2,000 or less than 2% of the original population living in the archapelago. Typhoid, small pox, syphilis and other diseases decimated the population.

 We travelled further on across the upper ridge of the island towards the east coast and the village of Puamau, passing through areas of dense rainforest with mist at the higher altitudes. Pine trees have been introduced since the early 1960’s and presently the high ridges have a distinct serrated skyline of large pines. There is some harvesting being undertaken but it will be a serious challenge to take trees from this difficult terrain.

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Almost 3 hours into the trip we were overlooking the delightful panorama of Puamau Bay before negotiating the numerous hairpin bends as we decended into the village. There was a $3 entry fee to the site known as Ma’ae Iipona where there are numerous Tiki’s arranged in an amphitheatre overlooking the original village. The largest Tiki sculpted in French Polynesia, standing 2.8m high and known as Tiki Takaii is here (interestingly takai is the word for tall in Japanese. Coincidence??). DSCN1097 There is another of a woman lying on her stomach that experts suggest is a woman giving birth. It is a very impressive site and would have been home to hundreds of the former inhabitants.

 Later John took us to the beach front where he assembled a table from his roof rack and served us a local lunch comprised of stewed chicken, local vegetables and rice. We were invited to identify one of the vegetables. We all fell short. It was green papaya from his garden which had a good taste and texture. Almost all meals are served with bananas as part of the dish or as a side. After lunch we reversed our path two hours back to Atuona over the 50/50 paved road & unpaved track that was tough on the body. Overall it was a very good day, we traversed the island, visited most of the ancient sites, had some stunning views over land and sea and John was a very informative guide.

We also managed to procure some of the wonderful Pamplemousse, a large citrus fruit in the form of a grapefruit that is very juicy, semi sweet and very refreshing to eat.

 The modern history of Hiva Oa includes the final resting place of the famous French artist, Paul Gaugin, who spent his final years in Atuona. There is a 300 passenger specialised cruise ship that carries his name based in Papeete, which cruises French Polynesia, occasionally stopping in at the Marquesas. On our second day in port, the Paul Gaugin made one of her infrequent visits to Hiva Oa!DSCN1049

Another famous son of Hiva Oa is the Belgian born singer songwriter Jaques Brei who, like Paul Gaugin, sought personal solitude in this very remote outpost of FP. He also died a few years after his arrival and is buried there.

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On Sunday 24th April we sailed across the Canal du Bordelais to Tahuata Island, looking for a more sheltered anchorage and white sand beaches. We found both! DSCN1225 DSCN1128Many of the beaches are open to the surf, so even though we were on the protected side of the island, on our first attempt to land, I got it wrong and we were unceremoniously thrown out of the dinghy into the surf. It was only a matter of sheer luck that the dinghy did not also capsize and land on us. It’s all about timing!

Later in Hanamoenoa Bay we went ashore and met Stephen, a local “Man Friday” who lives at the beach, speaks good English, is a former fisherman and is passionate about his islands and the environment. On his plot he grows limes, papaya, bananas, spices, some vegetables and of course coconuts which he trades for goods from yachts.

The next day he went to Atuona by water taxi and returned with numerous plants and 2 coconut plants. He was dropped at Amarula and I took him by dinghy back to the beach where we took some salt water when beaching. He washed the plants in fresh water from the stream and I queried him about the coconut plants. He told me that there are 40 different varieties of palms. His new plants would bear double the fruit of traditional trees and bear in 7 years rather than 10. That makes sense to me!

I caught some fish that night and we kayaked ashore with a few for Steven next morning. He set about cooking some for us, fried in his pan with oil and soy sauce along with some breadfruit on the open fire, it was very tasty.

Later we took the dinghy down to visit the main village on Tahuata, Vaitahu, where there is a magnificent Catholic church serving the population of 600. The church is of open design, built in 1987 and the attention to detail with the stone selection, laying and grouting is a fine testament to the skills of the local people. The church has large stained glass windows and as the light reflects the colours into the church, has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

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 Sue and John arranged a surprise 70th birthday party for me on SV Marilyn with Chuck & Linda off SV Jacaranda, Jordy, Mia and a number of other cruisers, which was a wonderful experience. Special thanks to Sue. 

We returned to Hiva Oa on 29th April to provision after the supply ship had called, then sailed overnight down to Fatu Hiva, arriving at Hanavave Bay by 0800 the next morning. This bay is known as the “Bay of Virgins” and is rated as one of the most beautiful anchorages in the world, and we agree! It is an absolutely stunning vista with basalt rock pinnacles rising vertically from the surrounding ridges and the village, separated by a stream, nestled in the valley by the sea. The anchorage is on the north west of the island and is generally well protected with minimal swell influence.

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We visited the village of about 300, noted for their skills in carving Tiki’s from wood and stone.

Whilst there we enquired about getting a goat as we were getting low on red meat. 2 days later a 12 Kg dressed goat (Lynne insisted headless) arrived by boat. We let it hang overnight then broke it down into legs for baking and portions for stewing, then it was up to the freezer to do its job.

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This was the first calm anchorage since arriving in Marquesas so I went up the mast to re rig the spinakker halyard and check the rigging. DSCN1481 It was my 70th birthday and we had John & Sue and other friends for sundowners and snacks.

Every day in this anchorage we were in awe of the sheer beauty of the landscape that surrounded us. The afternoon vista changed as the sun moved from its zenith creating ever changing shadows on the hills, pinnacles and valleys as it moved to the set. DSCN1649

Prior to European settlement Hanavave Bay was known as “The Bay of Penises”. This did not go well with the French Catholic missionaries, who rearranged one letter in the name and “Voila” it suddenly became the “Bay of Virgins”. We are not too sure about how this comes about, but is a good story.

The local people are friendly, generous and very pleasantly present their artifacts for sale. We were looking to buy bananas, enquired to a woman at a house where a few bunches were hanging on the verandah but they were not for sale!

Not missing an opportunity, she gave a presentation of her excellent wood carvings of ebony and rosewood and Cat bought a small rosewood mask.

When the transaction was completed, she made a whirlwind lap of her garden and presented us with 3 pamplemousse, 1 breadfruit, 3 coconuts, 4 cooked bananas and 1 bunch of green bananas as a bonus present for buying the mask.

Later that morning we hiked up to a lovely waterfall where we had a swim in the pool. It was an hour each way and a good stretch for our still suffering “Boat Legs”.

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The next day we went the 4 Km by dinghy (17 Km by road) to visit the main village (350 people) at Omoa Bay. It is an interesting and very neat village where Lynne bought a Tapa and a beautiful local designed, Fatu Hiva sarong.

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You can find more of our Fatu Hiva photos here on Facebook 

We sailed overnight back to Hiva Oa to collect our “Duty Free Fuel Certificate” and to catch up with George & Lorna on S.V. Quatsino  who we had not seen for almost a year and who had just arrived from Panama. Just before they arrived, George caught his first fish! A 6 Kg Yellowfin Tuna so we had a lunchtime feast of sashimi, grilled tuna steaks with some fresh salad from the vege market that we rinsed down with plenty of “Clos” white wine. It was great to catch up with them after so long and the socialising carried on through the next afternoon and evening.

The next day we set off to visit the northernmost anchorage on Hiva Oa, Hanamenu Bay, where there are a few houses tucked in the valley with traditional gardens, pigs in pens and wild goats that roam the hills. We went ashore to a black sand beach for a brief walk before we were forced out by the “no see um’s” or sandflies, locally known as no-no’s, the worst we had experienced to date. Lynne’s legs were covered with itchy welts for a whole week after that delightful encounter!

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After an overnight sail we found ourselves in the very tight bay of Vaipaee, Ua Huka. I wasn’t comfortable leaving the boat, so I dropped Lynne and Catrin ashore and they went to explore and found the interesting little museum that Lynne had read about in our guide books. Here are our Facebook photos from Ua Huka  

From Ua Huka we sailed across to the very large Taiohae Bay in the Marquesas Administrative island of Nuku Hiva (population approx 3000) Whilst Taiohae bay enjoys yet another stunning backdrop to the anchorage, it is open to the South East and is subject to the entering swell. There were 70 yachts anchored there with plenty of room for at least as many more.

We managed to get some used sail material and other materials from Kevin at Nuku Hiva Yacht Services to repair our mainsail. We didn’t have the weather to comply however so it was some days later down in Ua Pou before we managed to complete the repairs! Kevin is very helpful and runs an efficient business ranging from offering clearance services to wifi to car hire to sail repairs to chandlery services…..!

There is a twice weekly early morning veg market by the dock that had sold out by 0630 the first time I went, so the next time I was an early bird at 0400 and had the best choice to stock up on the limited range of local produce.

On 12th May we motored 8 miles south to “Daniels Bay”, a well protected, calm bay set in a gorge surrounded by steep hills. It was raining hard and we were welcomed by plenty of no see um’s. 

The third highest/tallest waterfall in the world is located a 2 hour hike from Daniels Bay and after some solid rain overnight we set off in the dinghy at 0800, entered a narrow river that has a bar entrance and set off on a well marked trail to make our assault on the falls. We were joined by the 4 man crew of another vessel S.V. Rhumb Runner

The trail was quite muddy and slippery due to the rain overnight. The first river crossing, a half hour into the hike, was reasonably simple, although it was already thigh deep for some of our party! DSCN1906 The trail was a gradual incline through rainforest, where half the hike was under the forest canopy. 90 minutes into the hike we had our first glimpse of the falls and it was spectacular. It is not possible to view the total falls but we could see the sheer vertical fall estimated to be 205m.

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Onwards and upwards took us past a large archeologocal site of a former village and ceremonial site.

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Just before the falls we came to another river crossing that was about 20m wide, waist deep and fast running. There were a few large boulders that retained some remnants of trees that gave us the opportunity to link hands and help each other across. It was quite challenging. DSCN1940 On the return crossing we noticed a number of eels approx 600mm long in the eddies at the river crossing. A week later we met a woman who had been bitten by an eel at this crossing, something one would not anticipate.

The effort made was well rewarded with a spectacular view of the falls that were well fed from the previous nights rains. There is a theory that half the water that passes over these falls evaporates on the way down. That may be the case in dry times but we could not imagine that being the case when we viewed them. The hike back was an easier task, but overall it was a tough 4 hour hike with spectacular scenery and well enjoyed.

Back in Taiohae Bay we hired a 4WD vehicle from Kevin (Nuka Hiva Yacht Services) for a day trip around the island. John & Sue joined us. We took a picnic lunch and set off at 0900 after a thorough briefing from Kevin on what to see and anticipate. First stop was to buy fresh Baguettes then onwards & upwards to a great view over the bay and anchorage. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicle, a woman came running across to us and gave us a bag containing 9 large avocados. Prior to and thereafter we did not see any avocados anywhere and we enjoyed them all that following week. Such a treat!

Nuku Hiva, as an island, is a photographer’s paradise, stunning views from many and varied locations and an archeological treasure trove. The eastern part of the island is green and lush with plenty of archaeological sites dotted in amongst the rainforest, waterfalls and peaks along the route from the south of the island past Controleur Bay and across to Hatiheu on the north coast. The coast road west from Hatiheu is more of a track and we were advised by Kevin to return the way we had come after having our lunch there and then take the higher, drier road across the western part of the island, passing the Marquesan Grand Canyon to the airport on the north west point. Cattle and pigs can be seen all along this route and they were once the main source of meat for the whole of the Marquesas.

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A few days after our island tour we motored east to the well protected Controleur Bay, intent on doing sail repairs, but it rained yet again. We walked on one of the few sand beaches in the bay on the lookout for a villager to buy some fresh fruit from. One of the shacks had a few lime trees, bananas and about 20 free range pigs. DSCN2114The adjacent shack/house had a larger beach area split by a creek, a plantation with approx 20 lime trees, some tall papaya trees, about 100 banana palms and at least 200 plus free range pigs. I collected a small bucket of limes that had dropped on the ground and I soon had a following of about 50 pigs!

It rained heavily overnight and next morning we made another foray ashore and I ventured into the plantation, once again in search of a resident as I did not want to take fruit without permission. Nobody there, bananas galore but I only collected more limes which had dropped to the ground and were obviously not a favourite food for the pigs. The ground had turned into a quagmire overnight as the pigs trod the paths. This time I had a following of all 200 plus pigs, a bit like the Pied Piper but slipping and skidding through the mud and rain rather than dancing down the streets. My mind started playing games and I half wondered what a catastrophy it could have been if I had slipped over and the pigs fancied fresh meat for breakfast that morning!

Had there been anyone present we would have asked if we could buy a pig, then tested the capacity and capability of our freezer.

Ua Pou was our final destination in the Marquesas. We arrived later that afternoon, greeted by a large pod of dolphins P1070179who welcomed us into Hakehatau Bay, which has arguably the most spectacular skyline of all the Marquesas. There are 9 dramatic pinacles that command the skyline, the majority of which can be reached by day hikes.

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Unfortunately the anchorage was subject to a lot of wave motion and quite uncomfortable. At 1500 we ventured ashore and wandered through the sleepy village, looking for more fruit & veg before departing for the Tuamotus.

We met a local, Atai, who took us to his house where we bought some bananas and placed an order for fruit and veg which we arranged to collect the following morning.

Atai excelled. From his hillside garden he provided us with:

2 Breadfruit, 11 mangoes (some of the tastiest we have ever eaten), 3 papaya, approx 4 Kg of Manioc (Cassava root or Tapioca) 20 oranges and a full bunch of bananas, all of which he loaded into his wheelbarrow for us to take down to the dock, accompanied by his son Roderick, who returned home with the empty barrow.

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With fresh fruit it is all or nothing. To avoid any wastage we sun dried many bananas and some of the mangoes that we enjoyed for over a month later. We also froze many bananas to blend with fruit juice to make smoothies for breakfast. Limes, kept in plastic containers in the refrigerator will keep for well over a month. Although our plan was to leave later that day, we spotted a delightful, well sheltered anchorage further to the south where we spent 2 more days in good weather repairing our mainsail before setting off for the planned 420 mile passage to Raroia Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.