Part III: 4 Days In Nuku Hiva
Nuku Hiva is the most impressive of the Marquesas Islands (at least the ones I’ve visited). Though definitely sounding like an overused travel cliche, Nuku Hiva does often remind you of scenes from Jurassic Park. It’s the largest island in the chain and the second-largest in French Polynesia, home to multiple microclimates that give your visit a diverse flavor. Nuku Hiva is the perfect destination if you enjoy hiking, road trips, and learning about the ancient past.
Nuku Hiva Travel Guide Video
Watch this video to see what’s expecting you in Nuku Hiva (you might need to disable your ad blocker).
Where to Stay in Nuku Hiva
For a pampering stay, the Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge is your only option. For the local experience, Pension Kuku’u is your best option. Hosts Claudine and Alvane Alvarado will take excellent care of you and Alvane is one of the best guides on the island. Other descent options albeit with much less character include the Hee Tai Inn and Pension Mave Mai.
Day 9: Scenic Airport Transfer & Taiohae
Nuku Hiva’s airport is located in a relatively flat and arid section of the island known as “desert land”. The challenge is that it takes over an hour to get from the airport to Taiohae, the main village. But have no fear because the transfer to Taiohae is essentially a beautiful scenic drive. Depending on how into their job your driver will be, you should make several stops in worthwhile spots, including “the grand canyon”, the Swiss-looking Toovi Plateau, and Taiohae overlook.
Taiohae is beautifully squeezed between the mountains and the ocean on the shore of a horseshoe-shaped bay. Start your walking tour of the village at Notre Dame Cathedral with its beautiful exterior, followed by the restored Tohua Temehea with its stone platforms and mix of original and modern sculptures.
Work your way to the main quay and check out the small market and crafts center. It’s now time for a short climb to see giant Tiki Tuhiva. This commanding spot is the former site of Fort Madison, built by the Americans in 1813. Nowadays, it’s a panoramic lookout and a picnic spot from where you’ll get the best views of the village.
Wrap up the day back at the main quay. If the stars align, you might see local fishermen cleaning their catch and feeding the sharks with whatever is not needed. Grab a table in one of the snacks (local eateries) for a drink or a meal. If it’s your lucky day, there might be some live music in one of the restaurants nearby.
Day 10: Hakahui Valley & Vaipo Waterfall Hike
Prepare for a day that you’ll never forget. Hop on a boat in Taiohae and depart on a 40-minute ride to the southwest of Nuku Hiva. The cruise might be choppy but the scenery is superb, especially the close-up views of sea cliffs where the layers of time can easily be spotted.
Things calm down when you enter tranquil Hakatea Bay. By now, you can see the jagged basalt cliff ridge that is the signature mark of Nuku Hiva. These cliffs form one of the barriers that hide the Hakaui Valley from the outside world. At the end of this village lies Vaipo Waterfall, the highest in French Polynesia and your goal for the day.
The hike is fairly easy and your guide will point out important trees and plants as well as reminders of the ancient tribe that used to live in the valley. Evidence of their former habitat is all over the rainforest though banyan and mape trees are taking over.
From time to time, clearings in the rainforest offer the chance to admire the jagged cliffs and even get a sneak peek of the waterfall. Ancient burial caves puncture some of the cliffs. Depending on your guide, you might get a chance to hike all the way to the base of the Vaipo Waterfall. Carefully swim through the opening for a splash you’ll never forget.
Before heading back, you might have the opportunity to have lunch at a local resident’s home. Few families still live in the family and artsy couple Ana and Tangy from Cannibal Art welcome hikers on tours of the valley and lunch in their traditional Marquesan home. Tangy is also a gifted artist, happy to show visitors some of the tricks of the trade.
Day 11: Taiohae to Anaho Bay
It’s hard to top yesterday’s itinerary but this day is quite a close match. Rent a car or join a guided tour for a very busy day of road tripping to the island’s northeast. Begin the scenic drive at Taipivai Overlook. This is the best spot to properly see Comptroller Bay and Taipivai. In 1846, American author Herman Melville published Typee, an adventure book based on his experience of living with the natives in Taipivai Valley.
Drive down to the valley and check out the large ceremonial site. It was restored for the Marquesas Arts Festival and features stone sculptures from some of the island’s top artists. Nearby is the Taipivai crafts center where you can purchase original souvenirs at very reasonable prices.
The stretch of road from Taipivai to Hatiheu is breathtaking. You need to keep your eyes peeled for waterfalls in the distance and watch out for horses, especially in narrow stretches of the road. At some point, the stunning cliffs of Hatiheu will come into view. This is one of the most famous frames in the Marquesas Islands.
Drive into Hatiheu Village but detour left to Aapaka. A narrow dirt road leads to this tiny hamlet but you can just drive to the lookout and see for yourself the jagged cliffs that resemble a giant dinosaur.
Head back to Hatiheu and explore this magical village, with its tranquil vibe, scenic church, and famous beach. Can you spot the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top? Hatiheu is a good place to buy lunch. There’s a good restaurant here but you can also buy a sandwich and eat by the beach or save it for later.
This busy day continues with a hike to Anaho Bay. Pick up the marked trailhead from just outside the village and hike through a thick forest of mango trees to the overlook. This has to be one of the prettiest sites in the Marquesas, a perfect-looking bay, infinite coconut palms, and perhaps a yacht or two moored in the calm waters.
If you’re making good time, hike down to the beach. There’s a small settlement and the beach is safe for swimming though watch out for the waves. If you haven’t had your sandwich yet, now is the time.
From Anaho, it’s a short walk along the path to neighboring Ha’atuatua Bay, with its soft golden sand and commanding cliffs. It’s best, however, to view this bay from a safe distance and not stroll on the sand as this beach is crawling with nasty nono (sandflies). It’s better to have a look and head back to the safety of Anaho Bay.
This day is not over yet! Hike back to the car and as you drive back to Taiohae, stop the Hikokua and Kamuihei archeological sites. These are the finest ancient relics in Nuku Hiva, impressive by every measure.
By now, the sun has set so you’ll carefully drive back in the dark to Taiohae and get a good night’s rest!
Day 12: Toovi Plateau or Colette Bay Hike
It’s your last day in the Marquesas Islands and there’s no better way to bid farewell to this magical archipelago than with a hike. For a DIY hike, pick up the trail from the back of the Pearl Lodge to Colette Bay. It’s about an 8 km round trip and don’t forget to pack some lunch and mosquito repellent.
For a more adventurous day, join a guide and explore the Toovi Plateau. You drove through this high altitude plateau on your way to Taiohae from the airport. This lush and cooler area resembles somewhere in Europe rather than a remote tropical island. Several hiking trails can take you to different areas of the plateau and even beyond it.
This Marquesas Islands itinerary should give you a good taste of what’s expected in French Polynesia’s wildest island chain. For more travel resources about French Polynesia, check out these guides.
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