Final Days in Hiva Oa

Tahina at anchor in Hiva Oa, French Marquesas[Warning: this is a long entry, but lots of interesting little stories.] Our earlier posts didn’t cover some important highlights while we were still in Taahuku Bay near Atuona in Hiva Oa. And, we have some cool things to share about Hanaiapa as well. So, this post will try to give more details on our stay in Hiva Oa. As soon as I can get a reliable Internet connection, I will upload a photo album which will give you a more colorful perspective on these experiences.

One problem we had during the big passage to the Marquesas was that the new tricolor light I had fixed back in Aruba stopped working. We suspected the bulb may have shaken loose, because the anchor light was still working. So, on Tuesday (May 11) Jason took me up the mast and I brought it down. The LED bulb is large and heavy and the bulb recepticle had a flimsy base which had broken off from one of the two screws, then one of the two wires broke off. I managed to re-seat the recepticle with a file so it fit more tightly and then screwed the unit in with washers to improve the fit. But, I’m not 100% confident it will last a long time. The recepticle is just too flimsy. We re-installed it the next morning, and it all worked.

On Wednesday (May 12), we decided to go on a hike we had heard about to a swimming hole and some petroglyphs. We were told the trail was “well marked” and that you can eat fruit along the way. We found a jeep road with a sign saying “Historique Petroglyphs” and started up the trail in the hot mid-morning sun. We immediately started seeing a number of different fruit trees: papaya, orange trees, coconut trees, grapefruit, breadfruit, banana trees, and many others we didn’t recognize. The banana trees were all picked clean except for small baby fruit. But, there were plenty of papaya and we managed to pick a ripe one and eat it later.

We also saw lots of flowers and other interesting vegetation along the way. The hike went up and up a valley which was surrounded by huge ancient volcanic rock ridges. There It turned out to be about 1.5 miles each way, although it felt longer. We finally found the swimming hole – which turned out to be an area in the mountain stream where the water was blocked by some rocks, just big enough for you to wade or squat in the cool fresh water. There were a bunch of small shrimp (or crawdads) in the water that would come and pick at your skin if you let them. We walked a bit further up the jeep road which ended at a large boulder which had petroglyphs carved in its side. The carvings weren’t terribly exciting, but it was a good end to the hike. The walk down was a bit faster, but still enjoyable with all the scenery.

We decided to walk into town and try a restaurant we had read about called “Snack Make Make”. A guide we had been using said that they sell good hamburgers there. It cost about US$14 for a cheeseburger and fries – which is just one example of the very high prices here in French Polynesia. A beer cost about US$5. But, the food was good after the long hike. We went to some local grocery stores, but didn’t find much to buy. Finally, we stopped at the ATM to replinish our wallets after being drained by the restaurant. I took a 360 panorama on the way out of Atuona which you’ll be able to see when I get it uploaded as well.


As mentioned in the last post, we moved to Hanaiapa Bay on the north side of Hiva Oa on Saturday. We had to motor out around the southwest end of Hiva Oa. This put us in the lee of the island (the wind was blocked by the island). Then we continued around and the wind was on our nose, so we had to motor all the way to Hanaiapa. The rugged cliffs of Hiva Oa had little vegetation on this side until you got to the higher elevations. The islands have been undergoing a drought and you could see a lot of the lower-elevation vegetation was brown and dried out. We saw a beautiful bay called Hanamenu along the way, but continued on for another few miles towards Hanaiapa. Before entering the bay, we were treated to a huge 250′ free-falling waterfall. It must be really awesome to see when they aren’t under drought conditions. But, seeing this water coming out of the rocks into the ocean with several large caves nearby was simply stunning. We then could see a large stunning rock in the middle of the bay called Po’onika which we had to steer around.

It was as we were entering the bay, and looking at the 6 boats at anchor, that I said it would be funny if one turned out to be our friends on “A Small Nest”. As we approached one of the boats, suddenly some kids squealed and yelled “Tahina!” and there was “A Small Nest”! We quickly found a spot to anchor and Willem and Haika rowed over to talk to us. They were leaving for Niku Hiva making a night passage over. While talking to them, we decided we would do the same the next night – after we visited some of the places they recommended. While they were still there, I pulled out the VideoRay and we did a quick run around the bottom below Tahina. Our anchor was set fine, but there were some coral behind our boat and a fair number of fish.

After, Willem and Haika left, we got out our snorkel gear and took the dinghy out to scout around the bay. We finally decided to jump in near the shore. The sun was already “setting” behind the huge mountain cliffs surrounding both sides of the bay. So, the lighting wasn’t great for underwater photography. We saw a lot of common coral fish, a fair amount of fire coral, and some unusual conical-shaped corals which kind of looked like pointy orange mushrooms.

Back at Tahina, we prepared some dinner while admiring the beautiful bay scenery in the setting sun. We could see people and houses up in the valley behind the bay. After dinner, we put the VideoRay back in the water and did some scouting at night. I realized later I should have pulled out the new SmartTether we got from KCF because it helps you know the position of the VideoRay in conditions like this. Next time, I will do that for sure because we kept losing our sense of direction. Anyway, we spotted a beautiful lion fish and managed to get it to move by scaring it with the ROV. We also found a puffer fish, and by poking it a bit with the rounded grappling arm we got it to puff up! That was funny and I hope to share a video clip of that!

There was another bay 2 miles east of Hanaiapa (I haven’t found the name of the bay yet) that looked beautiful in Google Earth. The next morning, we took the dinghy and motored over to this bay. It really was beautiful! It also had awesome cliff walls on both sides, but the water was beautiful turquoise and dark blue. It also had an awesome white sand and coconut-tree lined beach. We found a spot along one of the cliff walls and anchored Coconut and then went snorkeling. We saw the usual variety of coral fish, but also a couple of grouper, a school of tarpon, and I spotted a very large coronet fish (about 6 feet in length!).

Next we took the dinghy over and anchored off the beach and swam to shore. We were in awe of the beauty of this place, but didn’t forget to take some pictures. There was a mountain stream pouring into the ocean around some rocks near part of the shore. We saw some fishing boats under some trees and realized there were some shelters/houses nearby. We spotted a few locals there, and greeted them with our broken French. They were actually putting palm fronds and coconuts in some piles and burning them to keep the beach clean. But, there was no signs that this was a tourist spot at all. Just fantastically beautiful!

On the way out of the bay, we saw some large gray and brown streaks moving under the water straight towards us. They looked like torpedoes and made me nervous for a moment. They were really fast! Suddenly they swerved and jumped out in front of our dinghy bow – they were dolphin! I have NEVER had dolphin come out to me while in a dinghy. They just stayed a moment and then took off as we continued out of the bay. Amazing!

Back at the boat we had some lunch and then Jason, Lara and I walked into the village above Hanaiapa. We had heard there is a house called “William Yacht Club” which we should visit. William is an old local who for years has invited boats anchoring at Hanaiapa to come visit him. He has learned enough English from sailors to communicate just fine, and he invites you to sign a log book. It turns out he has many of these log books and people from all over the world have written in them. Jason was glancing through one of the books and found a boat card from “Bumfuzzle” which is a boat I followed when they were doing a circumnavigation a few years ago. William gave us some cold water and some fruit when we sat down at his porch. He also gave us a couple of large papaya, some bananas, and some hot peppers from a tree in his yard. A very nice man, who has probably met many more sailors than I have over the years.

We really enjoyed walking through the village which is nestled in a very small valley between huge mountains. In front of William’s house you could see where a water fall would normally come out of a cliff wall and fall into the valley. But, he said it has been dry for a few months now. Most of the houses had fruit trees and many other plants which have been cultivated into beautiful gardens around their simple houses. Many of the houses don’t even have windows since the climate rarely changes here.

Back at the boat we prepared to leave before the sun set. We got the sails up once out of the bay and were soon making 7 knots in the setting sun. Further out the winds picked up and we were soon making 8-9 knots on a beautiful broad reach. It was perfectly clear out with no clouds in sight and no moon. Soon the stars were out and they were incredibly beautiful. Jason and I were stargazing near the helm and talking when suddenly we both saw the most amazing sight. A huge streak of bright green light, like a laser beam, was suddenly split into two streaks, and then grew very bright yellow and orange and broke into more streaks. It was as bright as a full moon, or really more like fireworks, and was suddenly punctuated by several loud bangs. It was the most amazing meteor I’ve ever seen! It may actually have impacted the sea only a few miles from us (considering the sounds we heard came so quickly after the strike). We were simply stunned with what we had seen!

Unfortunately, the winds died off before midnight, and we were soon going much slower for much of the night. Around 2 AM, Jason and I put the sails away to motor for a while. We had the deck lights on to help us see, when suddenly an object flew onto the deck and tumbled onto the side deck. It was a tropical bird who sat there completely stunned after his rough landing. He seemed very tired as well. He stayed there all night and then left at dawn. Weird! The winds picked up again before dawn and we sailed the rest of the way into Nuku Hiva right at dawn.

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