Nuku Hiva Island Travel Tips
Listed here are specific travel tips for Nuku Hiva. Be sure to also read the French Polynesia Travel Guide, filled with general travel tips to paradise.
What Do You Want To Know?
- 1 Recommended Reading
- 2 How Many Days Do You Need In Nuku Hiva?
- 3 Is Nuku Hiva Worth Visiting?
- 4 When Is the Best Time To Visit Nuku Hiva?
- 5 Time Difference
- 6 Language
- 7 What To Pack?
- 8 Money
- 9 Internet
- 10 Mobile Phone
- 11 Nuku Hiva Average Costs
- 12 How To Get To Nuku Hiva
- 13 Getting Around Nuku Hiva
- 14 Where To Stay In Nuku Hiva?
- 15 Diving In The Marquesas Islands
- 16 Hiking & Excursions In Nuku Hiva
- 17 Hiking Guides In Nuku Hiva
- 18 Beaches
- 19 Drinking Water In Nuku Hiva
- 20 Eating
- 21 Safety In Nuku Hiva
- 22 What To Buy In Nuku Hiva
- Who Knew Jurassic Park Actually Existed?: personal account of my 5 days in Nuku Hiva
- French Polynesia Travel Guide: everything you need to know before heading to paradise.
- Lonely Planet: ‘the bible’ for any independent traveler. For such a dreamy yet challenging destination, I recommend grabbing one of these for the road to go along with this travel guide. After all, it’s not only super useful but also makes for a great souvenir!
- Tahiti Tourisme: the official site of the local tourism office. You’ll find relevant information about Tahiti and the outer islands.
How Many Days Do You Need In Nuku Hiva?
The Marquesas Islands are truly fairytale islands, far from Tahiti and expensive to get to. I would strongly advise spending a minimum of 4 nights in Nuku Hiva and a recommended week if possible. If you’re planning to see more than one island in the archipelago (Nuku Hiva goes very well with Hiva Oa), plan for at least 10 days. If you are super stretched and still want to make it out here, 3 nights will give you a decent taste of the island.
Is Nuku Hiva Worth Visiting?
The answer to that is simply: hell yes! Nuku Hiva was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It is wild beyond imagination and there’s hardly anyone around. It is a place you come to if you like outdoor discovery, and while it does have gorgeous beaches, it’s definitely not a beach holiday destination.
When Is the Best Time To Visit Nuku Hiva?
The closest islands in French Polynesia to the equator, Marquesas Islands climate is pretty much opposite to that of Tahiti and the Society Islands. The best time to visit the Marquesas Islands is between October to April, when the islands get less cloud cover and rain. From May to October, there’s a greater chance of storms and strong wind. I personally visited Nuku Hiva at the end of February. I had mostly sunny weather but the last two days were cloudy and rainy. With the recent climate change, the weather in this part of the world has become unpredictable.
That said, Nuku Hiva is a very diverse island where you can experience 4 seasons in one day. It can be cloudy and cool up on the plateau and warm and dry by the village.
There is one special event on the calendar that is worth planning around (if possible). Every four years, one of the islands in the archipelago hosts the Marquesas Arts Festival. It’s a weeklong celebration of the incredibly unique ancient culture of the islands. The next one is in 2019, but there’s a ‘mini-festival’ planned for 2017 on one of the islands.
Yet another proof of the archipelago’s remoteness, the Marquesas Islands are 30 minutes ahead of Tahiti time. Don’t forget to adjust your watch!
Though mostly speaking French these days, the native language in the archipelago is Marquesan and not Tahitian. So replace ia orana with ka oha (hello) and manuia with maitai roa (cheers).
What To Pack?
Nuku Hiva is a tropical destination, and as such – I recommend packing clothes that dry quickly and keep moisture (a.k.a sweat) out. Have a look at the X Days In Y Packing List for recommendations on what to pack for Nuku Hiva based on my experience.
There is an ATM in Nuku Hiva, in the main village of Taiohae. Keep in mind that most ATM’s on the outer islands have daily/weekly cash withdrawal limits. I was only able to take out a maximum amount of 30,000F. Inquire with your hosts if they accept credit cards and factor in for excursions, transportation and shopping.
Surprisingly, the internet in Nuku Hiva is not bad at all. My pension had free wifi but just in case, you can get online at the local post office.
I highly recommend getting a Vini prepaid SIM card (see this article for more information). If you just happened to get a Vodafone SIM card (like I did), be sure to have enough credit before leaving the Society Islands, as it’s impossible to find any shop that sells Vodafone top-up cards in the Tuamotus and Marquesas Islands.
Nuku Hiva Average Costs
Here’s a breakdown of costs during my 5 days in Nuku Hiva. I stayed half board at a simple family pension and went on 3 excursions.
How To Get To Nuku Hiva
By Air: by far the most convenient way to get to Nuku Hiva, with 5 flights per week from Tahiti (3:15 hours). Air Tahiti also connects Nuku Hiva with Hiva Oa, making the two islands easy to explore on a single trip. Flights to any island in this archipelago are expensive, but if you’re visiting multiple islands in French Polynesia, consider buying one of the Air Tahiti Passes and adding on the ‘Marquesas extension’. This will allow you to visit both islands for a more reasonable price. Bring something warm for the plane and as always, be sure to grab a window seat for the memorable views!
Pro Tip: if you have to catch a flight (domestic or international) or a boat to Moorea, give yourself a buffer and take into account delays. Weather can be foggy and flights can be delayed for hours.
By Boat: the luxury liner/cargo ship – The Aranui, visits pretty much all of the Marquesas Islands as it resupplies the locals and picks up exports back to Tahiti. Trips aren’t cheap but you’ll spend the day on each island. The ship also stops in Rangiroa and another atoll in the Tuamotus. I personally would not enjoy this, as you have such little time on such gorgeous islands. Nonetheless, the Aranui usually books out very quickly.
UPDATE: Nuku Hiva is also a gateway to some of the smaller islands of the group, such as Ua Pou and Ua Huka (not Fatu Hiva). These short connections by air are done via small Twin Otter single-engine planes operated by Air Tahiti. In June of 2018, the Twin Otter began to experience repeated maintenance issues and was grounded for several weeks, stranding locals, students and tourists alike. The local government began boat service between the islands (approx. three-hour journeys that can be rough). This service may or may not be in operation by the time you visit and it’s worth to inquire with your local hosts.
Getting Around Nuku Hiva
To/from the airport: the Nuku Hiva airport is located in a remote part of the island known as ‘desert land’. It’s a very scenic 75-minute drive to and from the main village of Taiohae, with the road snaking its way up to the plateau and down to the village. All pensions will arrange transportation for you, either picking you up personally or arranging a taxi service. Due to the distance, expect to pay 3,000F each way. This is totally worth it as you’ll be stopping frequently for sensational views.
By Car: if you’re not exploring Nuku Hiva as part of an organized excursion, you can rent your own 4X4 and drive around. Moana Nui Pension in the center of Taiohae rents a Suzuki Jimny for 10,000F per day and a Toyota pickup truck for 12,000F per day. The vehicles look to be in good condition. Keep in mind: while the major points of interest are accessible via sealed roads, drive with extra care. The roads sharply bend, animals may be present and always watch out for falling rocks.
Where To Stay In Nuku Hiva?
Accommodation in Nuku Hiva mainly consist of small family owned pensions, one lodge, and one hotel. I personally hit the jackpot with my selection, which I strongly recommend – Pension Koku’u. Hosts Alvane, Claudine, and their family live in a simple home on a hill overlooking Taiohae Bay, just a 15-minute walk from the center of the village.
Accommodations consist of three simple rooms, some large enough for a family. All units are ensuite, with a cold shower that shouldn’t be an issue with the kind of weather in Nuku Hiva. Wifi is free, with excellent reception throughout the pension, as is filtered water (which you’ll definitely need especially after it rains on the island).
Half board is the way to go in this pension. Breakfast includes a selection of baked goods: baguettes (of course), sweet bread and donuts – all served with homemade jams and fruit from the tropical garden. The fun really starts at dinner, with Claudine serving delicious traditional island dishes. If goat in coconut milk isn’t on tonight’s menu (it’s surprisingly delicious), then it’s probably Tuna night, and I mean the fresh red kind! How about some tartar, carpaccio, tuna steaks and the ‘national dish’ of French Polynesia – the poisson cru? Always delicious, always with the friendly family around the table and always with a side of rice or my favorite – breadfruit french fries!
Claudine and Alvane will take excellent care of you and ensure you’re having the time of your life while visiting their beloved island. Alvane’s family name is Alvarado, and you’ll have to inquire about his incredible family history (or read this post). Alvane is in charge of showing the tourists around, picking and dropping you off at the airport (3000F each way), taking you road tripping and hiking in the island, and even hunting. Lots more on that in the ‘things to do section.
Bottom line: stay at Pension Koku’u if you prefer authenticity over luxury, and getting to know real Marquesan Islanders over the usual tourist experience!
Diving In The Marquesas Islands
The Marquesas Islands have no protective lagoon. It is possible to scuba dive here, but expect challenging conditions and poor visibility due to the currents and plankton. That said, you might get to see whales, dolphins, and sharks. In Nuku Hiva, inquire at the dive shop right by the yacht services in the main pier. A minimum amount of divers is required and you’ll need to have a CMAS level 2 or equivalent certification. You’ll head out on your own, with only the equipment and boat provided.
Hiking & Excursions In Nuku Hiva
Nuku Hiva is all about nature. While the hikes to Anaho Bay and Colette Bay can be done on your own, you’ll need a guide for everything else. I strongly recommend booking excursions, tours, and hiking guides in advance of your visit to Nuku Hiva. Why? (1) The island isn’t that developed in terms of tourism so there might not be a guide available on the day you planned to go. (2) some excursions require a boat or a 4X4 so a minimum amount of passengers is required. (3) When the Aranui arrives, all guides, boats and 4X4’s are dedicated to showing its passengers around the island. For guided tours, inquire via your local hosts or get in touch with Jocelyne Henua Enana, who has been operating on the island for several years.
Hiking Guides In Nuku Hiva
If you don’t want to hike on your own and/or want to hike the challenging and unmarked signature hikes of Nuku Hiva – get in touch with either Pako Tamarii (email@example.com, +689-8723-2249, +689-40-920635) or Christian Taata (+689-87-221640). Both can take you hiking and hunting. A very interesting option for exploring the Hakaui Valley and the Vaipo Waterfall is offered by Tangy and Ana from Cannibal Art. Apart from local Marquesan crafts, the couple offers numerous ways of exploring the valley and the waterfall, from day hikes to multi-day camping trips.
Nuku Hiva has amazing beaches, but it’s definitely not a beach holiday destination. There’s no protective reef, no lagoon and nasty sandflies known as nono are everywhere.
Drinking Water In Nuku Hiva
Do not drink tap water in Nuku Hiva! Pipes are rusty and fill up with dirt after the rains. If you see murky water coming out of the tap, this isn’t necessarily your pension’s fault. It’s best to drink and brush your teeth with filtered or bottled water.
Taiohae has a couple of food shops (also open on Sunday mornings), a small fruit & vegetable market and a handful of snacks. Your best bet for breakfast and dinner is at your pension, while for lunch it’s best to pack a sandwich from one of the shops.
See the ‘places to eat & drink’ section for specific recommendations.
Safety In Nuku Hiva
For general safety tips in French Polynesia, have a look at the ‘safety’ section of the French Polynesia Travel Guide.
As for Nuku Hiva specific safety tips:
- Bring comfortable hiking gear, especially shoes and waterproof sandals.
- If you’re renting a car, drive with extra care. Keep your eyes open for sudden bends, animals, and fallen rocks.
- Be prepared for the nono. These are tiny black or white sand flies that are actually not native to the islands. They leave a nasty bite that itches for days, and if scratched – can leave a lasting mark. The best way to avoid getting bitten is by applying layers of monoi oil (the Citronelle kind).
- If you’re hiking in the forest, bring with you strong mosquito repellent that does not wash away with sweat. Consider hiking with long sleeves.
What To Buy In Nuku Hiva
While Papeete is the place to buy black pearls, the Marquesas Islands are the place to buy authentic arts and crafts. Marquesans are considered to be among the best wood and stone carvers in the South Pacific. Highlights include tiki statues fashioned from wood or volcanic rock (~3000-10,000F), wooden bowls (~5000-10,000F), sandalwood ornaments (~5000+F), bracelets, bone carved weapons and plenty more. Tapa can also be found, but it is super expensive. The best place to buy tapa is in Samoa.
Check out the artisan center (fare artisanal), right behind the tourist office and next to the market. Open daily except Sunday, prices are far better than its counterpart in Hiva Oa. Bring plenty of cash and don’t worry about customs. I had no issues with bringing wood, dried vanilla and monoi oils through Australian, New Zealand and Canadian customs.
Nuku Hiva is also a good place to get a tattoo. Marquesans aren’t only exceptional at carving rock and wood, but also skin. A large tattoo on your arm or leg should cost between 20-40,0000F.