The Fun Stuff in Nuka Hiva

Note: This is one post of several where the pictures we have are mostly locked away from us in the short term …now I can finally revisit them!

Nuka Hiva wasn’t all about grinding out the school work!  We did actually go out and see and do some cool stuff.

Car Rental and Island Tour

One of the more interesting days we spent was with our friends Jack and Jan from Anthem, whom we originally met back in the Galápagos.  We’d spent some time with them there and enjoyed their company, so when Jack mentioned they were thinking of renting a car to check out the island we were ready to jump in and share.

Fortunately, Jack was willing to do all the driving.  This will be important later.

Before leaving Taehoie Bay, Jack had gotten some rough directions and a map of a route around the island.  The planned stops included an archaeological site that was long abandoned by some of the native tribes that lived on the island and featured some reproduction buildings as well as original stone carvings or Petroglyphs.  Also on the itinerary was a stop for lunch in a village on the North side of the island at Chez Yvonne, a drive through a couple of other villages, a visit to the bay where Herman Melville jumped ship from a whaling vessel, and a drive around the long way to the airport.  The “long way” drive was purported to be a bit rough going but very scenic.IMG_6936

It goes without saying that the roads on Nuka Hiva aren’t exactly super highways.  The island is largely mountains and the roads thread their way through the peaks and valleys through numerous switchbacks, loops, curves and climbs.  Even the paved roads can be tricky like that with hairpin turns and blind corners being the norm, not the exception.  Oh, and horses are very popular in Nuka Hiva and they often run around loose in groups and just might be in the middle of the road around the next turn.

The Ancient Village


Keeping our eyes peeled for a “Huge Banyan Tree” with some signs nearby we found our first stop with only a couple of false starts and track backs.  There was no one there and you could feel the age.  This site had been the community center for about five tribes in the area, where they came to meet, trade and apparently have some excellent dance parties.

This “Village” was, according to the sign, really more of a meeting place.  There were remnants of the large social platforms in the rock and ancient pictographs carved into some of the rocks as well.  Though the huge banyan tree was most impressive, from the feeling of age here this tree probably wasn’t even around when the site was in use.

One of the Petroglyphs

One of the Petroglyphs

Comptroller Bay

Comptroller Bay is known primarily as the place where Herman Melville jumped ship from a whaling vessel when it stopped in French Polynesia. It’s a pretty spot with some nice scenery.  Boats don’t seem to anchor there often, which I suspect has as much to do with it’s exposure to the swell as the lack of any real landing spot or town.  But it is a “must see” on the island.

Lunch at Chez Yvonne

IMG_6870The Village of Hatiheu is home to a beautiful church, and the restaurant Chez Yvonne.


Outside the village there were these craggy cliffs and hills…


Look closer at that spike of rock…someone put a statue up there!

We’d eaten at a few restaurants on Nuka Hiva and they were quire good.  But this place was something else.  It was a recommended stop – apparently because it may well be the best restaurant on the island.  The view of the water across the street wouldn’t really matter because the food was so good.

The Drive Around the Island

As it turns out I was really happy that Jack offered to drive, and also that he declined all my offers to relieve him.

Our plan included a drive around the “back side” road, past the airport and then back to town.  Most of these islands have a ring road around them of some sorts, in many of them it is even paved all the way, or at least wide.  Not so much so on Nuka Hiva.  The far side of the around the island drive would make the goats nervous.

You drive along the top of that ridge...

You drive along the top of that ridge…

As we drove further from town the road became smaller.  We were climbing and dropping, passing steep switchbacks and stunning vistas.  It was one of the more unnerving roads I’ve ever been on.  Both narrow and twisty, it ran along the sharp ridges and mountain side on the craggy coast of the island.  Often one side of the road was a sheer drop off to the valley or water below.  Sometimes both sides were; there were places where the car climbed a ridge and we couldn’t see over the top.  We could not see whether to go left (to safety), straight (over a cliff) or right (more cliffs) until we reached the top.  I was quite happy to not be driving!

Eventually the glorified goat path turned back into road, and took us to the most surprising ecological niche on the island – a cool, misty pine forest!  At the highest points in the island the palms and tropical plants disappear and you are suddenly transported.  It no longer feels like the tropics, but rather someplace cool and remote like Maine or Michigan, with a crispness in the air and stands of tall pine.

Seriously.  This is the South Pacific.

Seriously. This is the South Pacific.

We rolled the windows down and noticed the drop in air temperature, it had gotten chilly and we were heading into the clouds and fog this high up.  We didn’t expect this at all.

Descending from the clouds and pine forest the return to “the tropics” seemed almost anti-climactic – though no less beautiful!

The Fisherman’s Cooperative

As we reached the end of our stay in Nuka Hiva we found out the local Fisherman’s Cooperative was hosting their annual fundraiser.  This was to be a weekend of dancing (and dances), meals, canoe races, fishing tournaments and other activities.  We decided to stay through for it.

In June throughout French Polynesia dance teams are preparing for the Heiva – a month-long celebration of Polynesia culture, including many dance competitions and cultural events.  Each island has a dance team, in some cases more than one.  As we learned later this starts very young and is very inclusive.  But for our first exposure to French Polynesian traditional dancing was at the Cooperative fund-raiser with members of the local Nuka Hiva dancing school performing in practice for the later competitions. DSCN6956

Although their dancing didn’t have the polish of the $100+ a seat “Tiki Village” tourist attractions you can find near Tahiti and they had to dance amongst the buffet tables, this had the advantage of being true and authentic.  These women were going to be dancing whether or not there was a handful of visiting tourists, they were dancing for their family and friends.  We were privileged to get the same smiles and charming welcome.DSCN6954

Our only regret is that no one had the wit to carry a camera in to dinner on Friday night, but fortunately the women were gracious enough to dance again at lunch on Sunday so we could get a few snaps.

Daniel’s Bay (Hakatea Bay)

After some time in Taiohae Bay we decided to take a break for a few days.  It had been rainy and we wanted to just get away from school and everything else.  Hakatea Bay, about six miles down the coast, seemed just the isolated spot to go.

For years a gentleman named Daniel welcomed cruisers to Hakatea Bay, offering hospitality, local information and water.  To cruisers this became “Daniel’s Bay”, though Daniel passed away about seven years ago.  His grandson still lives in the area but no longer carries on all of Daniel’s traditions.

There is a waterfall back there, if you look.

There is a waterfall back there, if you look.

On this short little trip we found ourselves caught in a surprise squall that came on us quickly and shot the winds up to almost 40 knots!  We suddenly found ourselves plunging to the entrance of this harbor at high speed and had to bail out until it passed.  Because the entrance looks scarier than it really is.

The bay actually has two lobes to it, with a large promontory of land sticking out between them.  To get in you sail right at the land, then hang a hard left so you are again sailing right at the land.  You turn again, then before the water shoals in front of you…after the end of the promontory…you turn right into the very protected and enclosed bay.  As we were coming in the waves were up, we were surrounded by manta rays, and we were still shaking off the squall.DSCN6916

One of the major attractions of Daniel’s Bay is a waterfall that can be walked to, one of the tallest in the islands.  We went ashore to try and get too it, but the rains had swollen the little river that needed to be forded and we opted not to wade out into the fast moving waist/chest deep current to find a way across.

But…no internet, no cell phones…no school.  We spent a pleasant couple of days watching turtles, exploring around the cove and relaxing.


Did I mention the Manta Rays?  When we arrived at Nuka Hiva we saw some on the outside of the harbor.  Later they came into the anchorage several times, cruising around under the surface and feeding.  Not the really huge ones, but still very cool to watch!


All in all we passed a very pleasant couple of weeks in Nuka Hiva.  We found restaurants we liked, sampled the local market, and got our bearings and rest from the passage.  As always we were a little sad to leave it, but the rest of French Polynesia was out there to explore!



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