The ‘Bay of Virgins’ anchorage on the small island of Fatu Hiva is really quite stunning, with some curious rock spires towering majestically over the small village of Hanavave. After a tough beat from the north coast of Hiva Oa, where it took us 7 hours just to clear the north east point of the island from the bay of Hana Iapa (a distance of 14 miles), the rest of the passage we made in one tack and arrived after dark much later than we had anticipated. The small anchorage was busy with 14 other boats and we dropped anchor at the back of the pack in 36 metres of water, taking every centimetre of our 110 metre chain with some added rode for good luck to keep us in place. The village lies, as most do in these islands, in a valley with high cliffs surrounding the bay, bullets of wind shot down from the mountains on a regular basis making hard work of the otherwise spectacular bay. We had two hikes on the island, the first was a good trail to a waterfall where we were expecting a “dramatic cascade with an olympic-sized pool”. In reality, with very little rain over the past few days, we had more of a trickle over the cliff and a rather stagnant small pool. Whilst the guide books had rather oversold this waterfall for us, it was still a very pleasant walk in some beautiful countryside. One thing that stands out on this island however is the lack of bird life. It wasn’t until later that the answer became clear, we discovered that the ‘rat noir’ is present on the island, wreaking havoc with not only the bird population but coconut production too.
We asked a villager how to reach the crucifix at the top of the hill overlooking the village, she told us to just keep walking on the concrete single-file road out of the village so the next day we set off with packed lunch and camera. Breathtaking scenery and mind boggling rock formations, the road is so steep it is amazing how they managed to get the equipment up it to construct it. We fell short of reaching the crucifix itself as it lies above the highest elevation of the road and the goat trail up to the summit was just too steep for us to get a grip on. It was still another lunch with an amazing view. A few days later when we had arrived at the next island I downloaded my 160 odd photos onto my macbook and as always I had elected to delete them from the memory card to free up space. As I looked through them, amazed yet again at some of the sights we have seen, the computer crashed! It refused to reboot and after trying all the tricks in the Apple book it appears that my hard drive has been corrupted. So for now it keeps my Fatu Hiva photos hostage until I can reach Tahiti where I am rather hoping I can retrieve my data. Until then, you will just have to take my word for it, Fatu Hiva is outstandingly beautiful.
We had a very fast and lively passage to Tahuata just 40 miles from Fatua Hiva, as we got into the lee of the island we were expecting a wind shadow but instead got accelerated winds in the 30’s which made a couple of the anchorages rather uncomfortable. So we continued on to a bay which we had already spent a couple of days in after first arriving, Hanamoenoa Bay. It isn’t as gusty here and has a little less swell entering, so we took the opportunity to take the engine apart and find the small water leak we have had since the passage from Mexico. The oil cooler was the culprit and after scraping off the old paint we found several pin-hole perforations. A healthy coating of “stop any leak” 2 part epoxy and a fresh coat of paint seems to be doing the trick, it needs to hold up until we manage to get a new part sent out, probably to Tahiti. It was in this bay that we discovered how the locals tenderise their meat. Early one morning with coffee in one hand and trusty binoculars in other, I watched a figure of a man on the peak of a mountain throw a dead goat over his shoulder, gun slung over the other. After getting down a few rocks he placed it at the cliff edge and headed back, slinging another over his shoulder, then another. We were just pondering how on earth he was going to get three goats down the mountain, when he picked one up and through it over the cliff edge! The other two followed, bashing their way down the cliff hitting trees and scrub on the way. An interesting method, perhaps it does the job of skinning and de-boning at the same time!
So with the engine back together and the wind a lot more civilised we headed back to the anchorage off the main village on this island, Vaitahu. Going ashore usually involves landing on a concrete quay with precision timing as the strong swell lowers and raises the water level with some amazing force. As one of my guide books says, a lot of Marquesan landings are “for sporty types” and this was one of those sporty landings. We followed the paved road out of the village until it turned into a dirt track and made it to the top of the hill overlooking the bay. Another crucifix and shrine gave us a perfect spot with an amazing view for our packed lunch.
After a visit to the wonderful village church we headed off on a different road leading out of town, we had hoped it would lead us into the next little bay but instead we ended up on a dead end road which led only to a coconut plantation in the valley. A couple of residents sitting outside their houses offered us fruit, and we were piled up with mangoes, pamplemousse, oranges, bananas, a coconut and a fruit which I can’t remember the name of – it’s the size of a kiwi fruit but tastes like a cross between an apple and a mango but with very course flesh. The locals wanted to exchange bullets for hunting wild pigs and goats or whiskey for the fruit trade, which of course we have neither (and in any case can you imagine us exchanging whiskey for fruit? Really?) So we agreed on a cash price instead and hauled our fruity stocks back to a bucking dinghy for another sporty exit.
From Tahuata we sailed overnight to Ua-Huka further north so that we could arrive during daylight. Our first anchorage was in a small inlet surrounded by high cliffs near the village of Vaipee. A catamaran was already anchored on a single hook in the middle so we had no choice but to anchor also on a single anchor, with an annoying swell entering the bay it was a rather rolly anchorage. Another walk up a hill and lunch with a view was the order of the day, and after a sporty landing on the concrete dock we set off through the village in search of a crucifix. It was a pretty hot day and we had many locals stopping in their vehicles offering us a lift up the very steep and winding road out of the village, of course we declined as we really wanted the exercise. We never made it to the crucifix, after a couple of hours it was in view but on the other side of yet another valley and we could see the road winding the long way around and we gave up.
The next day we sailed further along the south coast to Hane Bay, a large open bay but with slightly less swell as there is a small island at the entrance to the bay giving some protection. We set our stern anchor so that the bow pointed in to the swell and sat quite comfortably. The beach landing however didn’t look very easy so instead we did some jobs and enjoyed our beautiful surroundings.
Next stop was the small island of Ua Pou about 40 miles south west of Ua Huka. The incredible rock spires overlooking the village of Hakahau had attracted us and we tucked ourselves into the small harbour with a stern anchor in an attempt to defeat the swell.
Just before exploring the next morning, the Aranui 5 joined us in the harbour, after some skillful manoeuvring on to the dock it offloaded a lot of tourists and spent all day hauling goods off and then back on with its large cranes. It was certainly an impressive sight.
Saving the best ’til last, we had a fab sail north to the last of our Marquesan medley, Nuku Hiva, and arrived into the huge bay of Taiohae on the south of the island. It’s a very picturesque bay surrounded by lush green mountains, and the small town is spread out along the road running along the coastline. There is great provisioning here, close to the dock is a daily farmers market with locally grown produce.
Nuku Hiva seems to have more to offer cruising folk, and with a good choice of anchorages we decided to do a circumnavigation of the island over the course of a week. After a couple of squally days in two different anchorages within Controller Bay on the south east point, we tacked our way out and sailed up the rugged east coast of Nuku Hiva. Large dolphins joined us, bringing their babies in close to show them what 37 tons of steel looks like ploughing through the ocean. Then we caught a chunky tuna, this was turning out to be a great day.
Our next anchorage was tucked in to Anaho Bay on the north east coast, it’s a beautiful bay with a sandy beach fringed with a coral reef and made even more wonderful because no swell gets in here. There are a few houses nestling in the coconut plantation and even a small chapel, but no roads. A mule track up and over the mountain leads to the next village called Hatiheu, and with a buoyed channel through the reef to the tranquil beach there was no need for a sporty landing. It took us a little under two hours to hike to the village for another packed lunch with a view. The village of Hatiheu sits in a large bay but this one has swell crashing on the beach. More impressive rock spires overlook the beautiful village.
What a great days hike followed by the best nights sleep in over two months in the flat calm waters of Anaho Bay. Next on our list were a couple of uncharted bays on the north coast heading west, the first was very picturesque with a white sandy beach but the holding was poor and it was quite rolly, so we had lunch there and moved on.
The next bay was called Pua Bay, known locally as the Valley of the Chiefs where it was forbidden for anyone to enter unless they had been born there. We felt our way into the anchorage and after checking out where the reefs were we dropped anchor in sand with not too much swell action.
There were goats, cows and horses grazing freely on the hillsides which kept us occupied for the rest of the afternoon. Peace and tranquility in amazing surroundings.
Our last anchorage of the circuit was back on the south side of the island, the much drier west coast has only one suitable stopover but it didn’t look particularly attractive so we decided to continue sailing to a well known bay called Hakatea close to the village of Hakaui. Otherwise known to cruisers as Daniels Bay, as a guy called Daniel used to live here and give water to cruisers, it is tucked inside a bay with high cliffs down one side. Our main reason for visiting this bay was to hike to the waterfall from the nearby village, and just after anchoring we were visited by several manta rays feeding at the surface followed by a couple who live here, Teiki and Kua. They offered us a meal at their home after the hike which sounded like fun, and we were keen to try the local pork, The bay was joggly with swell refracting off the cliffs but spotting the goats high on these vertical cliffs kept our mind off the jerky boat movement.
After beaching the dinghy the next morning and taking the ancient shoreline trail to the village, we came across a shallow river running quite fast and after pondering for a few seconds we suddenly saw Teiki appear on the other side and he beckoned us across. Luckily it was low tide and this river mouth wasn’t quite knee deep so we waded across to the otherside. Teiki and Kua live in what we would call paradise, their house is surrounded by nurtured veggie plots and fruit trees, Teiki’s wooden saddles are lined up neatly under the porch with his selection of tack. We agree on our after hike meal and continued on the village ‘road’, past a phone box and just a handful of houses until the grass road turns into a dirt track.
The 2 hour trail to the base of the waterfall took us through a beautiful tropical forest with song birds calling and lizards scurrying. We crossed the river on two more occasions, the first was full of small boulders so we managed to pick our way across with the rushing water just below knee height.
As we got closer to the waterfall, the final river crossing appeared. This time it was much wider and deeper and we picked our way through some deep murky water using overhanging trees to steady ourselves against the fast flow. Then we met another English couple on the trail, Andrew and Kate, who were just returning from the waterfall. They were also eating at Teiki’s so we agreed to meet back there for a chat.
We finally reached the waterfall, well more of a trickle once again, with a large pool at its base. The guide book suggested a swim across the pool to climb across the boulders to the base, the dead goat floating in the pool rather put us off. Obviously one of the not so sure-footed goats, or maybe it was being marinated after tenderising. I was glad to have chosen pork and not goat for my after hike meal. This really is a very beautiful and eerie spot.
On our way back we decided to find a better way to cross the river, scrambling through the undergrowth further up stream we found a shallower part that had large rocks strewn across it. With the help of a dead tree which we pushed between two of the boulders we managed a crossing with only one occasion needing a leg in the water. Back in the village we met up with Andrew and Kate again and Kua served up our meal of local wild pig with a fruity salad and bread fruit chips, all from her garden. They cook over an open fire using coconut husks, far more successfully than our attempt on the BBQ with an old rotten husk we had found at Anaho bay. Kua served freshly squeezed lime and pamplemousse juices and then homemade coconut icecream for pud. She has a solar powered coconut grinding machine, a bit like a large dremel, that shreds the inside of the coconut flesh then she adds crushed cane sugar from her garden.
We chatted away an hour or so with Kua, it was so interesting to hear how they live in this tiny village with nothing but a few simple houses and a phone box for communication. Teiki hunts wild pigs at night with his dogs, as they have no bullets he uses a knife strapped to a cane. Kua then showed me around her tidy garden pointing out all her herbs and vegetables growing while Jez talked to Teiki about hunting, rifles and horse riding. It was a privilege to spend time with these people.
Time is moving on fast, we have already spent 5 weeks exploring these wonderful islands with one stunning anchorage after another, and there are many more to come on our journey across the South Pacific. After a reprovisioning stop at Taiohae and a catch up with some work on the internet, we head off for our next set of French Polynesian islands, The Tuamotus, about 550 miles to the south west.