Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hawaii / Tahiti 30 Day Cruise - Day 24 Nuku Hiva

Monday Day 24 – Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Island 

Nuka Hiva is part of the Marquesas Islands and although more isolated than Tahiti and the rest of the Society Islands, it is still part of French Polynesia.  Here is what our guidebook said of Nuku Hiva.

“Although about a third of the island is actually called Terre Desert and it’s the second largest island in French Polynesia after Tahiti, this huge, sparsely populated island offers an astonishing range of terrain, ranging from windswept cliffs to lush river valleys and deep bays.  The main town of Taiohae, which acts as the administrative and economic capital of the Marquesas, has an enticing atmosphere of both a colonial port and Stone-Age art hub.  The archaeological sites are some of the most impressive in French Polynesia.  The topography and lack of good roads make the smaller villages feel isolated and fresh – this is what Tahiti and the Society Island must have felt like some 50 odd years ago.  No one passes you without a smile.”

We wouldn’t be arriving at Nuku Hiva until 10:00 AM so we slept in this morning.  By 9:00 we could see the outline in the distance and we were soon tendering our way into Taiohae Bay where our ship was anchored.  We would be going to the town of Taiohae, which is home to 2,000 of the 2,650 inhabitants of the island.  Today we had a 4-wheel drive tour arranged by Nancy, a member of our Cruise Critic roll call.  We met our group of 30 onboard the ship and made arrangements to go ashore, but things didn’t go as planned.  Tendering was going to be extremely slow today because of the limited space and facilities on shore.  Instead of waiting for the rest of the group, Val and I decided to tender-in on our own as our stateroom class gave us priority tendering privileges, so we went ahead with a few others in the group who had the same privilege.

Baie Harbor and Taiohae.

When we arrived on the island we were greeted with drummers and young boys in traditional grass skirts dancing and chanting on the deck.  The island has many horses, which were descended from horses the early Spanish explorers brought a long time ago.  Some boys and girls were racing them up and down the beach and riding them into the water.  It was really fun watching them.  There were also tables set up with the local people selling their crafts.  The island is known for its carvings and there were many on display and for sale.  We located our tour guide and told him the rest of the group was going to be delayed and then we wandered around taking pictures and shopping.

Despite the looks on their faces, they really seemed to be enjoying themselves
as they chanted and stomped around to the rhythm of the drums.

Lots of horses on the beach with young boys and girls riding them.

It turned out we would be waiting for two hours for the rest of our group to make it on shore.  Just after noon everyone was there and we were ready to go.  This was originally supposed to be a seven hour tour including lunch, but since we had to be back before the last tender at 5:30, the tour was reduced to fit our schedule.  Because this island is so small, the only vehicles available for the tour were the trucks, jeeps and SUV’s of the local inhabitants who were also our drivers.  Most of them spoke none or limited English, but we made frequent stops where the tour guide gave us background information and told us what we were seeing.  I have to say, I was a little worried as I walked around the area before we left seeing pickup trucks with tires in the back for seating, but the vehicles we used for the tour all turned out to be very nice.  We sat in the backseat of a truck with a crew cab, which even had air-conditioning, these were the best tour vehicles we’d had so far. Plus, we had a really nice local woman as our driver. She spoke very little English, but she was a great driver.

Here is our driver with her car in the background, very comfortable for us.
Our caravan gets underway.
Baie Bay where the Westerdam is anchored.

Nuku Hiva is a beautiful island, it is very rural with lush green hillsides, flowers and trees.  As we drove we saw many horses just grazing along the road side.  This is a mountainous area with the highest peak being over 4,000 feet so we were either going up or down steep roads.  Some of the roads were very good and others were just dirt tracks, but all easily passable and the lady that drove our truck was very good and cautious, maybe because it’s her own vehicle.  We made stops at several viewpoints looking down at the bay where our ship was anchored and Tai Pi Bay, and then we were off into the back country where we made a stop to see how copra (the dried meat of the coconut) is processed.  We visited several interesting archaeology sites where we learned about the history and culture of the island.  The beauty of the surrounding mountains and lush green forests was stunning.  As we drove we passed through several small villages including one where Herman Melville stayed during his brief time on the island which inspired his book “Typee". We also visited a spot overlooking the bay where one season of the TV show Survivor was filmed.  Our last stop on the tour was the village of Houmi, which featured a picturesque church, a beautiful beach and almost as important… bathrooms!  After our stop in Huomi we made the long drive back to Taiohae and the tender dock.  We made it back before the last tender and were soon on our way back to the ship for a welcome shower and dinner.

The town below is where Herman Melville stayed while he was on the island.
Tai Pi Bay
Copra drying sheds.
Drying copra.  They light a fire under the opened shells on the tray to help
with the drying.  The smoke is from the heat of the fire.
We trek on.

Our guide Philippe.
An old and very large banyan tree.
Ancient carvings

We loved our visit to Nuku Hiva today, the island is more developed than Fanning Island, but it is still not nearly as “touristy” as a couple islands we have visited.  The people were friendly and we had a great time on tour.  We did get rain for the first time during one of our island visits, but it was only brief showers and it had no negative effects on our day.  Nuku Hiva will go down as one of our favorite spots.

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