27 August 2004 - Nuku Hiva,
(apologies for some duplicated details - this was written later and by
a different author)
Nuku Hiva was sighted late afternoon on August 26 as a slightly darker
spot on the horizon. The last Roger’s Chocolate was consumed to mark
the occasion. Throughout the night we watched the dark shape getting
larger. We slowed down a little so as not to arrive before morning,
in keeping with our policy of no landfalls at night. It was exciting
to watch as the morning light gradually illuminated the island, providing
more definition and colour to our destination. The island is quite
lovely with lots of jagged peaks softened by a carpeting of vegetation.
From a distance it looks like moss covering the rocks, but closer inspection
reveals trees, bushes, and other plants (apologies to the biologists in the
crowd for the lack of detail).
After anchoring (morning of August 27), some other cruisers came by and brought us some fresh fruit. We were particularly impressed with the pamplemousse, which is like a grapefruit but much larger and much sweeter. The fresh limes made perfect garnishes for rum and coke. Bjarne also attempted to make a key lime pie a couple of days later. It was tasty but he tells me it didn’t taste like key lime. Well, this is the kind of roughing it one has to do.
Time for the administrative stuff. We inflated the dinghy, put our little 2 hp engine on the back and away we went. At least that is what was supposed to happen. We were quite annoyed to find that the engine, which we had spent a ridiculous amount of money to get tuned up before leaving (this is what happens when you are in a hurry), wouldn’t start. We heard a disconcerting snap when adjusting the throttle. The throttle had seized up, as had the choke. WD-40 didn’t do the trick so we rowed to the beach side of the rather large bay, which was closer than the docks and not upwind. We tromped along a road following the water in search of the gendarmerie, as there is no customs official on Nuku Hiva. My land legs gradually returned and I think I stopped wobbling down the road after about 10 minutes.
The town is very charming. It and the bay we were parked in is actually inside a caldera, so the hills surrounding the town are part of an old (extinct) volcano. There are many beautiful plants growing, as well as interesting Tiki (old carved stone statues) along the water front. There are dogs and chickens wandering all over the place, and we could hear the roosters crowing regularly. Before I had visited Tobago, where there are also many roosters, this suburban girl had believed the myth that roosters crow at dawn. Hah! They are at it 24 hours a day.
The gendarme was very friendly and seemed to appreciate our (mostly Bjarne’s) efforts to speak french, although he tended to respond to us in English. We were then required to go to the bank to post a bond and to the post office to mail some paperwork to Papeete. The tasks were delayed by the closure of businesses during midday. Since we hadn’t been to the bank yet we couldn’t buy any lunch so we walked around town. We saw two pigs with some piglets rooting around a creek, as well as some goats. We then sat on the grass and I tried not to fall asleep while looking out at the bay. Once the bank opened we handed over more than $2 000 Canadian per person for the bonds which are supposed to cover airfare should something happen. They don’t want to be stuck with getting tourists home. It’s not so bad since you get it back, but of course it has to be in Polynesian francs which means a conversion fee, plus the bank naturally charges a fee for being so kind as to hold on to your money. The other annoying thing about it is that when we left, they were not willing to reverse the transaction and put it back to the credit card we used to pay in the first place. Thus they return a hefty sum of money in Polynesian francs, cash, just when you are leaving the country and don’t need them.
We bought a few provisions and then trudged back to the dinghy. It was starting to rain a little bit. We were dismayed to find that we had not pulled the dinghy up high enough past the tide line and it was now swamped and full of sand. What a mess! It was very heavy and a real struggle to dump out some of the water in order to haul it up, while other waves relentlessly washed into us and the boat. Fortunately, we lost only the can of WD-40. The engine was swamped, but it wasn’t working anyway.
Once it was out of the water, I left Bjarne to continue emptying the boat, and searched out Rose Corser, an American who kindly provides a mailing address for cruisers. She and her husband (now passed away) fell in love with the island and moved there years ago. She owns an inn, which had little cabins that the guests stay in. The view is gorgeous. She did have mail for us. She was busy that day but encouraged us to come back and check out her little museum of Marquisan artefacts. While I was searching out Rose, Bjarne made a couple of phone calls and discovered that our phone card was being consumed at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get another card until the post office opened on Monday (this was Friday).We rowed back to Freya, pausing along the way to speak with a fellow Canadian on a nearby boat.
The rain had begun in earnest now. We were to see much of it over the next while, making the task of drying things out very challenging. On Saturday Bjarne rigged up a water collection system and we collected over 50 liters. I thought this would be a good time to do laundry and make use of all of the water so I spent most of the day doing that and transferring water to jerry cans. This plan backfired because the dag nabbit rain lasted for so long I couldn’t dry the stuff out. Therefore, a number of days later I was re-washing half of the stuff with bleach to get the mildew smell out. Similarly, the cushions that had gotten wet on passage with salt water also became progressively more mildewy. Later we discovered some interesting fuzzy stuff growing on a few books that we hadn’t realized were wet.
Bjarne spent Saturday taking apart the dinghy engine, cleaning out the sand and water, jury-rigging a part for the throttle, lubricating all of the parts, and of course, reassembling the whole thing. We rewarded ourselves with a late supper of pizza.
On Sunday we tested out the engine. Good thing it worked since one of the crew (who shall remain nameless but is the taller of the two of us) managed to deep six the dinghy oar locks. The spot was marked with a float and we carried on to town. Our underused walking muscles got a bit of a workout on the various hills while we wandered around enjoying the scenery. There were many horses tethered here and there munching on patches of grass. Although there are a lot of vehicles (mostly jeeps and trucks) zooming around, we also saw people using horses for transportation.
The rain and the surge from the swells left the water quite murky, which made retrieval of the oar locks quite a challenge. However, Bjarne persevered, diving on three separate occasions and finally retrieved them, along with a flipper someone lost. Despite the stirred up water, we did see a couple of sea turtles and a large ray swimming by the boat. We also saw a large cockroach swimming near the boat and trying to climb up the sides. I hadn’t realized they could swim so well. We weren’t really anywhere near shore. I could just imagine it crawling in via one of the through-hulls. Ugh!
When it finally seemed like the sun would stay out for at least a few hours at a time, we tackled the leaky windows. Bjarne took the gasket/weather stripping off of one and began poking around. He was quite surprised when the window pane fell out with little provocation from him. We then dismantled almost all of the windows and re-bedded the glass. A little extra excitement was had when one of the panes got broken (that taller crew member can be a bit of a hazard at times). Thankfully, we had some plexiglass cut for emergency storm windows. We just had to cut it to the right shape and we were in business. We aren’t sure there won’t be some leaking around the frames but so far the fix is working.
On the following Saturday we left Taiohae Bay to tour around a bit more. The first stop was L’Anse Haketea, which is also called Daniel’s Bay by cruisers. Daniel has lived there for over 60 years and is very friendly and welcoming to cruisers. He started keeping log books of the visitors back in the ‘70s.
From the village (which consisted of 4 families) in this bay we hiked to the third tallest waterfall in the world. The trail was very muddy and some of the streams were rather swollen. Thus we had to wade across with water up to the top of our legs at times. At one stream, Bjarne was able to shuffle across on a tree over the swift current, while reaching up to the parallel tree branch with his hands. I wasn’t tall enough so we had to rig up something for me to hang onto. Initially, I was going to use the bottoms of my zip-off pants, which is why the picture at this crossing has me with one pant leg missing. Bjarne had to go back and forth a few times to first test it out, and then to bring our stuff across. He tried to take a short cut by throwing our sandals to the other side. We watched the shoes go straight up and then straight down into the rushing current. Fortunately we managed to catch up to them when they got caught in an eddy a hundred yards downstream. Bjarne commented that it was hard to believe he used to be the pitcher for our softball team in London!
The scenery was beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the hike, although we didn’t reach the waterfall until four hours later. There was an unbelievable number of coconuts along the path, and we found it interesting to observe them in all of their various stages of growth. We stopped by a stream for lunch and Bjarne decided he wanted some coconut to munch on. We know they are hard to get into, but we didn’t expect the rock he hit it with to split in half! He persevered and we had a nice addition to our meal. (A few days later we were to learn the secret to opening them: once the outer husk is removed they will crack open if left in the sun.) Along the trail, which was marked by little piles of stones, we could see some of the remnants of former villages, mostly in the form of stone foundations where their homes had been. Before Europeans came, this island had thousands of people on it. Some of the archeological sites also have various beautiful and interesting stone carvings (Tiki), although we didn’t see any on this hike. There was never a view of the entire falls at once but it was still very beautiful. I think the pictures probably do better justice to the scenery than my words so I will leave it at that.
Our legs and feet were quite tuckered by the time we got back to the village. We visited with Daniel for a bit and learned what a noni fruit was, but never did find out if they were any good to eat. Apparently, the juice is popular in the States as some kind of herbal remedy (snake oil, Bjarne says), although we aren’t sure for what ailment(s). Check your sport/health drinks - perhaps it's one of the ingredients.
The next day was Labour Day back home, so we laboured on some boat chores and did some more route planning. It seems we are always modifying our plans as we gather more information.
At various placed around Nuku Hiva we were visited by numerous dolphins while underway. They would stay for quite awhile, particularly zipping in front of the bow. Further away we saw some leaping out of the water, 5 - 10 feet into the air. We were amazed enough at that, but then incredibly, some leapt high out of the air and spun around before splashing back into the water! These are appropriately called Spinner Dolphins.
We continued our tour around the island and arrived the next day at beautiful Anaho Bay. The night was calm and clear, with a perfect temperature, and there was no swell in the bay. We sat in the cockpit gazing at the stars and sipping wine. It felt so incredibly peaceful that we were reluctant to tear ourselves away to go to bed.
A swim and some snorkeling in Anaho Bay got the next day off to a good start. The water clarity wasn’t great but there were still lot of different colourful fish. Before getting into the water we even saw a sea turtle. Sea turtles are apparently prominent in Marquisan art and in their stories. I can imagine the tasty turtles were quite prolific many years ago.
Our land-based activity took us hiking over a high and fairly steep hill/mountain to the village and bay (Hatiheu) on the other side. The woman who runs the resort (which was empty) in Anaho bay directed us to the trail and gave us some bananas. She spoke quite quickly in French so we couldn’t catch all of what she said, but we got the jist of you go up, up, up. The view of the bay was stunning, and well worth the exercise.
We encountered two other cruisers from the boat Capriccio, whom we had also seen in the other two bays we were at. They were going in the opposite direction and were travelling more in style, via horse back. Later, when they returned to the village we had a chance to chat and they were able to point us in the right direction to find one of the archeological sites.
One of the more interesting sights of the town was a statue of Mary with a coral crown that was, impressively, on a spire maybe 600 feet up. At least, that’s what we were told the statue was of, but we didn’t climb up to check. From that distance it was just a white blob on the hill. We did a lot of walking around town, including up another high hill along a road. Up here there were goats clambering all over the place. On the way down someone in a pick-up truck stopped and offered us a ride. I was getting a bit blistered by now so we hopped in the back which was full of stuff, and held on for dear life as we bounced down the hill. I’m not sure how restful it was, but it did give the feet a break.
We had hoped to eat at a local restaurant, reputed to be the best on the island. Sadly, they were only open for lunch and we were too late. The server we questioned seemed to have the impression french staff are supposed to be brusque to point of being rude. We consoled ourselves later with some frozen treats from a nearby store. The hike back seemed longer than the hike there and our feet appreciated the chance to walk barefoot along the beach in the cool water before heading back to Freya and a dinner of freshly made pita bread and falafels.
The next afternoon, back at Taiohoe Bay, the folks from Capriccio invited us over for Pimms. After checking our social calendar to make sure it was clear, we readily agreed. We weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into since we had no idea what Pimms were. It turns out that Pimms is an alcoholic beverage traditionally served after sporting events in Britain. It is usually mixed with lemonade or sprite or whatever concoction one wishes. It was rather tasty and even better, it was cold. It’s always nice to visit boats with refrigeration. The 55' Oyster which Andrew and Michel were cruising around the world in was a tad bit more luxurious than Freya and even had a washing machine. The dining table can be set up to seat 14 people. Andrew was commenting about some trouble they’d had with the freeze, which caused trouble amongst the women on board when the Haagen Daas was too hard. We were invited over the next night to watch a movie and had a pleasant evening, enhanced by the brownies Bjarne made. When we returned to Freya she seemed rather tiny, but at least we weren’t having any troubles with her freezer.
We were in Taiohae for a couple of days to do administrative stuff before leaving, including getting our bond back. We had a bit of back and forthing between the bank and the gendarme but eventually got it all sorted out. We enjoyed a lunch out at the Keikanhanui Inn’s restaurant, which has a beautiful view of the bay. It was nice to eat out for a change, and they let us have a few pamplemousse to take with us. We also checked out Rose’s little museum that is part of the hotel where we saw interesting artefacts, including some beautifully carved tools for breaking necks before cannibalistic rituals. We were pleased to find that there was another package of mail, which had been forwarded from Hawaii.
One of the interesting things about being in French Polynesia was the chance to speak french. Bjarne, who is much more fluent than I, particularly enjoyed dusting off some of those underused brain cells. Even I was finding I was gradually understanding more and starting to remember more vocabulary. Listening to the radio in french is useful, as one starts to get used to the sounds, even if the content is lost. The fact that the people in this area tend to speak more slowly than the Quebecois was also a big help.
We left Taiohae Bay on Sunday September12, and after much hemming and hawing, turned the boat toward Penrhyn (aka Tongareva). The winds were coming from a very unfavourable direction to get to Fatu Hiva and we didn’t fancy another tough upwind sail just yet. I was a bit sad to miss it since it is supposed to be the most beautiful of the Marquesan Islands, but this way we will more time at Penrhyn if we like it, or to make a one or two more stops along the way to NZ, thus shortening the passages. It’s always exciting to head off for a new destination, and the prospect of having a shorter passage (we estimated 11 days) was especially appealing.