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Marquesas Islands

Written by Cathy Siegismund
May 2001


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.

Hiva Oa

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 Atuona

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 Tahuata

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 flowers everywhere.

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 night's sleep.

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 spectacular view

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 steroids.

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 people.

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 children.

Village children

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.

Village church

Choir practice

Accompanying band

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 infections. 

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.

Canoe house

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 garden.

Replica of traditional Marquesan home

Lush garden at a local home with colorful pareos on the clothesline.

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 in Papeete.

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 Islands

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 bank

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.

Taiohae 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.

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