Written by Cathy Siegismund
French and French Polynesian Flags
The Marquesas Islands are one of the five island groups that
make up French Polynesia.
Hiva Oa was a wonderful sight. The island came into view just after sunrise,
and we motored the last 15 miles along the southern coast to the entrance to the
bay at Atuona, the town where we would check into the Marquesas.
We were astounded at the beauty of the islands. They remind you of Hawaii,
but with almost no signs of civilization.
Dramatic southern coast
During our 15 mile motor we rinsed the outside of the boat with fresh water
while we ran the watermaker, we showered and cleaned up below so we would have
less work after we dropped anchor.
Approaching Baie Tahauku, the bay that serves the town of
This bay was small and had close to 30 boats anchored in it. The close
quarters and swell that rolled in each day required the use of a stern anchor.
As we arrived Drew and Jason met us in their dinghies and showed us to a spot
they had scoped out for us. We anchored and then I immediately headed in to do
laundry with Tam while Ken finished stowing the boat.
This was my first experience of doing our laundry by hand. I would have
preferred a laundromat, but at the top of the dock was a concrete counter with
water faucets with clean water and great water pressure. It was a huge relief to
get some of the clothes clean.
The laundry wiped me out, so I spent the afternoon hanging out on the boat. I
put the sail covers on, put up our awnings, relaxed and read.
View of Baie Tahauku from Felicity
View out of Baie Tahuaku across a channel to the island of
The bay is a sunken volcanic crater with mountains jutting up all around us.
The foliage ranges from dark forest greens to almost neon greens with tropical
While I lounged, Ken went on a hike with several of the other cruisers
looking for a nearby waterfall. That evening there was a cruisers' potluck on
shore. We met a number of non-West Coast cruisers for the first time. There were
some East Coast boats and several European, Australian and New Zealand boats.
Ken and I hit the wall at about 1930. We returned to the boat and had a great
The next day. we went ashore with 12 other cruisers including Rainsong,
Layla, Velella, and Green Ghost (Nick and Jen - new friends from Vancouver) for
our island tour.
We piled into two trucks with our Marquesan guides, Joseph and Peperu. Joseph
was our guide, he was very nice but bore a striking resemblance to Jaba the Hut
in his size and the sound of his laugh.
After a drive up to the top of Hiva Oa, we enjoyed a
Tam at the top of Hiva Oa
Dramatic Hiva Oa coast
We spent the whole day touring the beautiful island which included a stop at
an ancient archeological site.
Tiki at Hiva Oa
More stone Tikis
Ken and Cath with the worlds largest Polynesian Tiki
After we visited the archeological, site we were treated to a traditional
Marquesan lunch. This included our introduction to breadfruit - prepared
deliciously like french fries, 4 different banana dishes, star fruit juice, and
goat. The guys were also given a Marquesan war cry lesson after lunch.
After our passage, we were all somewhat deprived of fresh food, so our tour
guides took us to a friend's farm where we were allowed to pick pamplemousse.
These are wonderfully sweet green grapefruit that look like they've been given
Garth picking pamplemousse
Our guides also stopped the trucks by the side of the road a few times to
allow us to pick guavas and to cut down stalks of bananas.
Nick and Peperu with a stalk of bananas
We finally made the 2-mile walk (over a hill) into the town of Atuona where
we very painlessly checked into French Polynesia and the Marquesas. After
25-days of no almost no movement, the walk left us pretty sore.
When you initially check into French Polynesia you have to post a bond (or
have plane tickets leaving the country) unless you're a member of the EU; you
then have to buy 3 month visa stamps at the post office, and then you can check
in with the police (Gendarme). The process was very easy and everyone was
friendly. You are required to check in and out of every island that has a
Gendarme, but it is painless usually only taking a couple of minutes and not
requiring a fee. If you wish to request a visa extension so you can stay an
additional three months in French Polynesia, you have to formally do so in
Tahiti before the end of your first two months in the country. We had heard that
there may have been some changes in the granting of extensions this year so we
sent a letter requesting our extension from Atuona. However, to play it safe we
also plan to be in Tahiti before the end of our second month here.
Atuona was a cute town where we shopped in the small shops, magasins, where
you can get most staples, but where they rarely sell fresh produce. For produce,
you have to ask the locals to buy, trade or take fruit from their trees or visit
one of the few produce trucks that make morning stops in the town.
Vernita at the local produce truck
We enjoyed town life after our crossing with luxuries such as ice cream and a
visit to an internet cafe in a local restaurant. We also visited the main
tourist attraction of Hiva Oa, Paul Gauguin's grave, which is a short but steep
and hot hike out of Atuona.
Atuona cemetery where Paul Gauguin lies
Paul Gauguin's Grave
Terry and Gayl joined us for one of our Atuona tours
The rest of our time in Atuona was filled with projects. Ken fixed the water
pump and the galley fan - yeah! We exchanged money, got a reciprocal Ham radio
license so we can use the Ham radio in French Polynesia. I finished our laundry,
bought a few provisions and cleaned up the boat.
Our evenings were filled with visiting friends; we enjoyed catching up with
Wendy and Garth (Velella), Drew and Vernita (Layla), Tam and Jason (Rainsong),
Terry and Gayl (Tamarac II), Tanya and Thor (Meeshach) and getting to know Nick
and Jen (Green Ghost).
After about a week in Atuona, we were ready to move on. The anchorage was
great after being at sea, but it was crowded, rolly, and the water was murky
with shark warnings so you couldn't swim.
We decided to move over to the island of Tahuata a short 10 mile trip across
a channel. We joined Rainsong and Velella at a beautiful bay called Hana Moi Noa.
Our route through the Marquesas Islands
The bay was lovely and the water was a spectacular turquoise. We swam, played
in the surf, and snorkeled every day.
Hana Moi Noa Bay
We also did a much needed waterline scrubbing on Felicity after our passage.
Tahuata is a sparsely populated island with beautiful scenery and very nice
We enjoyed more socializing with our little group including snorkeling trips,
potlucks, movie and game nights. A real highlight of our stay in Tahuata was a
day sail we took with Tanya and Thor on Meeshach.
They took Wendy, Garth, Jason, Tam, Ken and I on a sail in their very fast
48-foot trimaran down a few bays to a small village in the bay of Vaitahu, the
largest town on Tahuata.
Tahuata coast as we sail down to the village
Wendy, Tam, Tanya and Cath on Meeshach's trampoline
Garth and Jason
Ken and Cath
Looking aft on Meeshach
Ken on bow watch as we enter the bay
Entering the bay
Making our dinghy landing with help from the local kids
Looking toward the town from the dinghy landing
The local women playing bingo
After landing our two dinghies, we were immediately followed by the village
Local kids pose for us in a small outrigger
The town was small, but had a large beautiful church. As we explored the
outside of the church, we discovered a choir practice. The Polynesian singing
was phenomenal, and we were invited to sit and listen to the choir practice.
After we left the choir practice, we explored the village. We found an open
magasin where we bought cold drinks and ice for our planned evening potluck back
at Hana Moi Noa.
As we left the town, we met some of the locals heading over to Hiva Oa with
their dogs for a goat hunt.
Off to the goat hunt
Hana Moi Noa had mountains at the head of the bay which provided an almost
constant breeze which brought some relief to the heat of the Marquesas Islands.
We were really enjoying the Marquesas Islands, the people are incredibly nice
and proud of their heritage and the islands offer breathtaking scenery. The only
downsides we've found are the heat and the bugs. The island group sits about 9
degrees off the equator so it is very hot. Rain squalls are frequent, usually at
least one a day which keeps the boat clean and will cool things off a bit. The
bugs are another issue. There are mosquitoes and these horrible things called No
Nos which are tiny bugs that come out during the day and you can't see nor feel
them bite, but they cause a very itchy bite which is extremely prone to
infection. They seem to target the more fair people. I was bothered more than
Ken, but not nearly as bad as Tam and a couple other fair skinned people we met.
Two of which had to go to the local clinic for creams for the itching and
Fatu Hiva is a cruising Mecca with what is claimed to be the most beautiful
bay in French Polynesia. It is however an overnight beat into what can be high
winds and steep seas and would require us to double back to then visit the rest
of the Marquesas. That and the fact we heard that it was extremely crowded with
cruising boats arriving from the Galapagos, made us decide to skip the island.
We instead headed northwest up the chain.
Our first stop was a short sail back up to a bay on the northwest corner of
Hiva Oa. The bay was supposed to have a lovely waterfall and be nice and
secluded. We arrived to find one other boat in the bay, Fair Hippolyta, a UK
boat, with Joy and Richard aboard. We joined them for drinks and found them to
be a wonderful couple, who had owned a pub in the UK, have been out cruising for
12 years off and on, have 40,000 miles under their belts and are only half way
around the world.
Rainsong joined us later that afternoon and we made an attempt to find the
waterfall. Ken and Jason discovered it, but Tam and I felt it wasn't worth the
battle with the swarming bugs and we all made a hasty retreat to the boats. We
spent a rolly night and all left the next day. Rainsong decided to head back to
Tahuata and on to Fatu Hiva.
We left the following evening for an overnight passage to Ua Pou, which we
had heard was a great place to find wood carvings.
We had a lovely overnight sail to Ua Pou making the passage on a nice beam
reach in 15 knots of wind. After talking to a number of other couples, we had
learned that we were one of the few doing four hour watches, and that the
majority were on three hour watches. We tried this on this overnighter. It is
hard to tell after only one night, but we did like the three hour watch schedule
and will try it on a longer passage.
Arriving at Ua Pou after sunrise
Felicity anchored at Ua Pou
We dropped the hook in a small but picturesque bay off the main town on Ua
Pou. There were only three other boats in the bay so we were able to anchor
behind the breakwater, which protects part of the bay from the rollers that
affect the rest of the bay.
Felicity and Alderbaran with the surreal backdrop of the
spires of Ua Pou
The town is lovely there were lots of kids playing in the water and swimming
off the large pier for the supply ships. We explored the town, which we found
charming and the people very friendly.
Mural on the side of the canoe house depicts the traditional
tattooed Marquesan warrior with a war club/neck cracker weapon.
We found the town very lovely, each home having a well tended tropical
Replica of traditional Marquesan home
Lush garden at a local home with colorful pareos on the
There are only a few stores on Ua Pou. One shop did have some nice pareos
where I purchased a couple. However, our main goal was finding wood carvings.
There weren't any carvings we liked in the one store, so we started wandering
into backyards where we heard chiseling and sawing.
We found several carvers, but after stumbling over our French and lots of
pointing we discovered most of the carvings were going to Tahiti.
Ua Pou wood carver
We then met a fellow named Joseph who had us follow him to his house where he
let us select several of his personal carvings that we bought. We bought a great
carved turtle and some carved hair sticks.
We were treated to daily outrigger canoe practice around the
bay. Some of the paddlers no doubt practicing for the upcoming Fete competitions
During our stay at Ua Pou we met a group of cruisers who had come through the
Panama Canal and the Galapagos – Phil and Carol on Capers (Australia), Pat and
Olivia on Alderbaran (Ireland) and Susa and Richard on Voyager from FL (Susa and
Richard worked at Cape Canaveral and know my brother David – small world)
After enjoying the choir practice so much on Tahuata, we decided to get up
early on Sunday and go to church on Ua Pou. We again were treated to incredible
singing with all of the women in their Sunday best of colorful dresses and
flower bedecked straw hats.
Our last day in Ua Pou we explored the town some more with Pat and Olivia,
did a small grocery shop, and bought some wonderful homemade loaves of bread.
The next day we left for the large island of Nuka Hiva. We left at about 1100
and had a nice sail with 10-15 knots of wind on the beam for the 20-25 mile
sail. Our first stop was at Controllers Bay. This is a multi-lobed bay at the
east end of the island. We chose an uninhabited bay which looked like Desolation
Sound without the trees. It was a deep bay with steep green hills on all sides.
We had the bay all to ourselves for 2 nights, which we enjoyed by reading,
watching movies, and watching manta rays swim around in the bay.
After a couple of days of relaxing, we were ready to move on to the largest
city in the Marquesas. We motored 10 miles down to Taiohae Bay. Taiohae Bay is a
huge bay in a sunken volcanic crater which could easily house over 100 boats.
There were 35 boats in the bay when we arrived, but during our two weeks there
the number rose to over 60.
We went exploring our first night in town and walked around the entire bay.
One of the many horses seen tethered around the Marquesas
Ken in front of one of the large churches
View into the church courtyard
Marquesan woman weed whacking the lawn in front of the local
Town cemetery overlooking the bay
Ken and a large Tiki in the waterfront park at Taiohae Bay
Tiki sculptures line the waterfront park
After walking the length of the bay, we decided to explore what we heard was
a very nice hotel overlooking the bay. After a short but hot and steep walk, we
were rewarded with a fantastic view of the bay.
We treated ourselves to a pamplemousse daiquiri by the pool.
Ken enjoying our lavishly priced cocktails and the view
This was going to be our last stop in the Marquesas, so we caught up on our
town chores during our two week stay in Taiohae Bay. We did a little grocery
shopping, went to the bank, and did laundry.
During our stay one of the large supply ships arrived which also carries
about 100 tourists. One morning, to cater to the tourists, the local artisans
filled a tent where some high school girls performed Marquesan dancing and a
number of artisans displayed their wares.
Marquesan band playing during the craft fair
Local girls performing for the tourists
Some of the well endowed tikis. Apparently, most of the
large stone carvings shared this trait before the missionaries got a hold of
them during colonization of the islands.
One of the wood carvers tables
We found two additional wood carvings we liked at the fair, a spear and
Marquesan war club, which we added to our carved turtle from Ua Pou.
Green Ghost, Velella and Meeshach caught up with us in Nuka Hiva, so we
enjoyed catching up with friends and exploring the town together.
In preparations for heading to the Tuamotus, we needed to provision with
fresh produce as little can be purchased there. Since not much is sold in the
stores, we were required to get up for the Saturday morning market. Things start
early in the Marquesas, so we got up at 0430 and dinghied across the bay in the
dark to the wharf. There it appeared a good bit of the town was out to either
sell or buy at the market. Fisherman were selling fresh lobster, crab and tuna.
Trucks pulled into the parking lot with fresh pastries and produce. We stocked
up on fresh fruit and veggies and treated ourselves to a couple lobsters.
We got fuel, stowed the boat and after really wonderful month in the
Marquesas we headed for the Tuamotus.