Nuku Hiva Travel Guide

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Nuku Hiva travel guide panoramic view anaho bay

From the aerial view as you land, to the scenic ride from the airport, to pretty much every second of every day – Nuku Hiva will leave you speechless. The capital of the Marquesas Islands, Nuku Hiva is just about as remote as one can go in the South Pacific. The island is dramatically beautiful beyond imagination and it is completely yours to discover with hardly anyone around. With action packed days filled with outdoor adventures, nature lovers will have their wildest fantasies come true. With the help of this Nuku Hiva Travel Guide, join the few independent travelers who venture to this fairytale of a destination, and prepared to be wowed!

About This Guide

I spent three months in French Polynesia, as part of a six-month backpacking trip across the South Pacific Islands – with 5 days in Nuku Hiva. This travel guide to Nuku Hiva was written based on my experiences and is meant to help you make the most of this destination. The Nuku Hiva Travel Guide is geared towards independent travelers, but any visitor will find it useful.

Traveling to French Polynesia? Start your reading with French Polynesia Travel Guide, where you’ll also find similar travel guides to 11 islands in French Polynesia!

French Polynesia Travel Guide

Visiting other South Pacific destinations? Get expert advice on how to island hop in the South Pacific and check out these travel guides to the Cook IslandsSamoa, American Samoa and Vanuatu

Why Should You Visit Nuku Hiva?

Very few independent travelers make it to Nuku Hiva, so consider yourself in the excellent company of authentic explorers. In fact, many locals on other islands will tell you it is their dream to make it someday to the Marquesas Islands.

With so much to see and do in Nuku Hiva, you don’t come all the way out here to recharge your batteries or lounge by the pool. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, love the outdoors and curious about ancient cultures – Nuku Hiva is not to be missed. Fear not the stories of present-day cannibals, local islanders will welcome you with open arms to their paradise. On the menu? Hiking, scenic drives, whale watching, ancient temples and did I already mention hiking? Nuku Hiva is so diverse, you’ll double check if you’re really in the tropics. And it’s so beautiful, you’ll be lost for words every minute of every day! If time and money allow – do not miss the opportunity to visit the Marquesas Islands.

Here’s a quick teaser of what expects those who make it all the way to Nuku Hiva

What’s Included In This Guide To Nuku Hiva?

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Nuku Hiva Travel Guide Map

Click on the image to open in Google Maps. The map features all the highlights mentioned in this guide.

Nuku Hiva Travel Guide Map

Facts & Brief History

The Marquesas Islands

Of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia, the Marquesas Islands are the closest to the equator. The archipelago’s 12 islands are among the most remote in the world, lying over 1,000 km’s from the capital Tahiti and over 4,500 km’s from Mexico – the nearest continent. The high volcanic islands have no protective reef and are decorated by jagged peaks of basaltic rock.  

Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia from the air

Known as ‘The Land of Men’ and ‘The Mysterious Islands’, Polynesians somehow arrived here in the 10th or 11th centuries on massive outrigger canoes, probably after colonizing Samoa in the west. The isolation of the islands led to the creation of a unique and rich culture, with its own language, religion, art and even physical features.

Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia from the air

The first contact with the ‘outside world’ took place in 1526, with the arrival of a Spanish vessel, but it wasn’t until Captain Cook’s landing in 1774 that the islands were ‘fully discovered’. Admired for their rich culture and easy way of life, the local population was decimated with the influx of foreign guests, who brought with them diseases for which the islanders had no immunity. From a population estimated at over 100,000, less than 4,000 Marquesans survived the turn of the 20th century!

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike tiki Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Today, islanders live very peaceful lives, primarily living off copra production, farming, fishing and small-scale tourism. Though not faced with the threat of disease, population decline is an issue, with young islanders seeking employment (and excitement) in the big island of Tahiti.  

Anaho Bay local kids Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the group and the second biggest island in French Polynesia. Its capital Taiohae serves as the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands, where well over half of the island’s 3,000 residents live. With incredible natural beauty and the slowest possible pace, quite a few renowned artists found inspiration on the island throughout the years. Among them, are Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, Moby Dick author Herman Melville, and American novelist Jack London.

Taiohae Village volleyball Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

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.

Recommended Reading

  • Lonely Planet French Polynesia_new versionWho 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?

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike Hakatea Bay Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaThe 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?

anaho bay beach nuku hiva marquesas islandsThe 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.

Road from airport Toovii Plateau Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaThat 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.

Time Difference

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!

Language

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.

Money

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.

Internet

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.   

Mobile Phone

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

Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia from the airBy 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.

Aranui ship Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaBy 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

nuku hiva airport marquesas islandsTo/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.

Toovii Plateau road from airport Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaBy 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.

Pension Koku’u nuku hiva - marquesas islands - view

Pension Koku’u view Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

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).   

Pension Koku’u nuku hiva marquesas islands - room

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!

Pension Koku’u nuku hiva marquesas islands - food

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.

alvane alvarado Pension Koku’u nuku hiva marquesas islands

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

Hakaui Valley approaching Vaipo Waterfall Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaNuku 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.

If you don’t want to hike on your own or want to hike: the ‘Big Z’, Tehaatiki or the Toovii Plateau – get in touch with either Pako Tamarii (pako.tamarii@gmail.com, +689-8723-2249, +689-40-920635) or Christian Taata (+689-87-221640). Both can take you hiking and hunting. You can also contact Rahu on his Facebook Page. Another option for guided tours on Nuku Hiva is Jocelyne Henua Enana, who has been operating on the island for several years. 

Beaches

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.

Eating

nuku hiva snackTaiohae 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:

  • nuku hiva marquesas islands wild horses on roadBring 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.   

tiki statues arts market nuku hiva marquesas islandsCheck 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.

Things To Do & Places To See In Nuku Hiva

Check out this 4 days in Nuku Hiva sample itinerary to see how to divide your days on the island

Ride From The Airport

The only suitable place for an airport in Nuku Hiva is well over an hour northwest of the main village of Taiohae, in an area so remote it is simply known as ‘desert land’. While in the past the only way to reach the airport was by boat, a sealed road now winds its way through the mountains and lush plateau. It’s the most scenic airport ride you’ll ever have, well worth the 3,000F price of admission.

The ride begins with a climb up the ridge and a quick stop to see the island’s version of ‘the Grand Canyon’. You’ll then descend through thick forests of incredibly tall pine trees, double checking if you’ve actually landed on the right island. Look out for cattle and wild horses along the way and just pray there’s no fog because if there is, you’re totally missing out!

Grand Canyon Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Giant pine trees Nuku Hiva French Polynesia

Driving from airport Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Your 4X4 will then reach the top of the Toovii Plateau, a huge expanse of lush land that’s used these days for cattle grazing. The road somehow manages to snake down to the plateau before reaching the final ascent to Taiohae – the climax of your journey.

Toovii Plateau Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

As you start to descend from the plateau, the weather changes once again. Nuku Hiva is so diverse, you’ll sometimes encounter the four seasons in one day! After a few sharp bends, Taiohae is revealed down below in all its glory. What a view!

Taiohae village panoramic view Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Taiohae

The main village in Nuku Hiva and the capital of the Marquesas Islands, Taiohae is simply gorgeous. The village is tucked between a beautiful crescent bay and lush mountains. You cannot find a more picturesque spot for a village in the South Pacific. The natural harbor is very popular with yachts, especially those arriving from the Americas en route to Australia, or those just passing the cyclone season in the safe confines of the bay.

Taiohae Village beach Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaTaiohae nuku hiva marquesas islands - harborTaiohae village main road Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaTaiohae nuku hiva marquesas islands - colonial buildingTaiohae nuku hiva marquesas islands - tikiTaiohae nuku hiva marquesas islands - tropical flower

With charming colonial style municipal buildings, Taiohae offers all the services you need (food, post office, ATM etc.) but it also has a few highlights:

The Port: the most happening place in the village. During the day, there’s a small snack that’s popular with the yachties who must also enjoy the free wifi, while before sunset, locals come here to catch some fish (do not miss this).

Taiohae village fishermen Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Taiohae village cleaning fish Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Artisan Market: the best place in the Marquesas Islands for local arts & crafts. The market is open every day but Sunday and it’s cash only.  

Marquesan artwork Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Fruit & Vegetable Market: you can easily pick your own fruit pretty much anywhere in Nuku Hiva, but the covered market offers all the island’s produce under one small roof. It’s open weekdays until 4 pm.

Nuku hiva Fruit & Vegetable Market

Notre Dame Cathedral: Taiohae’s fairytale looking church looks like it belongs somewhere in King’s Landing. Do not miss Sunday church service (starts at 8 am), where pretty much the entire village gathers in prayer. Post service, the plaza outside the church comes to life with food stalls selling packed portions of Polynesian classic dishes.

Taiohae village sunday service Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaTaiohae village catholic church Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaNotre Dame Cathedral nuku hiva marquesas - entranceNotre Dame Cathedral nuku hiva marquesas - exteriorNotre Dame Cathedral nuku hiva marquesas -sunday service

Hakaui Valley & Vaipo Waterfall Hike

guide to Vaipo Waterfall nuku hivaDo not miss the opportunity to embark on what will no doubt be one of the most memorable days of your visit to the South Pacific. Get in touch with Thiery Tekuataoa (+689-87791969 Skype:tht1966) who will take you on a hike to Vaipo Waterfall, the highest in French Polynesia. If he’s not available, Francois Mayol is another option (+689-87260472, pepikatfm@gmail.com) and so is Rahu (Facebook Page).

Your trip actually starts with a scenic 40-minute boat ride from Taiohae to Hakaui. This is a great chance to admire Taiohae from the bay, be jealous of all the lucky yacht owners just chilling and to get a close view of exposed cliffs clearly showing millenniums of volcanic activity.  

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike volcanic rock Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike boat ride Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

As you enter Hakatea Bay, you’ll seriously be lost for words: emerald waters meet a white sand beach that’s welcoming returning fishermen, and the signature basaltic cliffs of Nuku Hiva rise deep in the valley as if leading the way to Vaipo Waterfall. That’s exactly where you’re headed!

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike baslatic cliffs Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike Hakatea beach Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall fisherman Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

You’ll then begin to walk in the valley (~4km each way), crossing rivers and walking along parts of the ancient royal road. The valley was once the home of thousands of islanders, and you can still see the stone platforms that are these days overrun by the magnificent roots of the mape trees. These platforms (tohua and pae pae) were used in ceremony, the ground pits for storing fermented breadfruit for drought years, and the tiki statues to keep the bad spirits away. The royal road is miraculously flat despite the changing elevation, a testament of the ancient Marquesan ingenuity.  

Hakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike crossing river Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike walking along river Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike cliffs Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike mape tree Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike ancient structure Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHakaui Valley Vaipo Waterfall hike ancient village Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

vaipo waterfall hike nuku hiva - tiki statue

After stopping for lunch by a river crawling with giant eel, you’ll reach a clearing in the rainforest where it’s paramount to look up at the giant cliffs. If you look closely, you might even spot the canoe of an ancient chief that rests outside a cave at a cliff’s edge. Then, like some Hollywood special effect, the Vaipo Waterfall gently cascades from the cliffs. At 350 meters, it is the highest waterfall in French Polynesia.

Vaipo Waterfall Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

A further walk inside the creek will bring you to a freshwater pool at the base of the waterfall. Splash around before heading back to the boat and back to Taiohae, capping off a memorable day.

Vaipo Waterfall pool Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Logistics: boat departs at 8:30 am and returns at 5 pm. For the easy 8 kilometer hike, bring: lunch, waterproof sandals, hat, water and plenty of mosquito repellent. I would also recommend wearing long sleeves as the mosquitos in the forest can be ferocious. Cost is 6,000F with a maximum of 6 people. DO NOT miss this. I highly recommend booking this for the first full day in Nuku Hiva as tours might be: fully booked, underbooked or canceled due to bad weather.

vaipo waterfall hike nuku hiva - ancient royal road

Taipivai Valley

Hatiheu to Anaho Bay land rover Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaA visit to this incredible part of Nuku Hiva can be combined on a full day road trip together with Hatiheu, Anaho Bay and everything in between. Have a look at this 4 days in Nuku Hiva itinerary for more info. You can visit the valley with your own car or book a spot with Alvane from Pension Koku’u (highly recommended, you’ll later see why).

The valley is home to a sleepy village and a reconstructed ancient temple used for the Marquesan Arts Festival. On one of the nearby hills, you’ll also find the Paeke archeological site – home to a few me’ae (Marquesan for marae or ancient temple) and tiki statues. In the wetter part of the year, you might even spot a few waterfalls in the far distance.

Marquesan Arts Festival site - nuku hiva statues

Marquesan Arts Festival site - nuku hiva venue

The real highlight is actually the view. As you descend from the Toovii Plateau, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of Comptroller Bay. If it weren’t for the humidity, you might think you’re somewhere in the Norwegian Fiordland.

Controleur Bay Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaComptroller Bay nuku hiva marquesas islands - taipivai valleyComptroller Bay nuku hiva marquesas

Hatiheu

Together with Hakaui Valley, Hatiheu Bay is not to be missed. The bay magically comes into view as the road emerges from the mountain pass just beyond the Taipivai Valley, offering breathtaking views of the rolling hills, sharp basaltic cliffs and the tiny village on the bay’s shore.

Hatiheu Bay mountains Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hatiheu Bay village Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hatiheu Bay nuku hiva

You’ll be seriously contemplating parking it up here for an hour or snaking your way down to check out the village. What a sight!

Hatiheu Village is as charming from level ground as it is gorgeous from up in the mountains. Its black sand beach is protected by tiki statues and capped on its western end by the shark-toothed cliffs. Somehow, islanders hoisted a statue of the Virgin Mary to the clifftops in 1872.

Hatiheu beach Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

There’s a small grocery shop that’s open for the better part of the day, but if you’re wondering where the locals are – they’re either fishing out at sea or tending to their copra plantations. Spot the coconut drying ‘shack’, a contraption used to dry the flesh ahead of the extraction of oil.

Hatiheu Village copra Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

No matter how small the village is, the local Catholic church is always something to marvel at. If it happens to be closed, ask one of the locals to lead you inside.

Hatiheu Village church Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Archeological Sites

Nearly every French Polynesian island has at least one ancient marae complex, with some of the finest in Huahine and Raiatea. However, these pale in comparison to what you’ll see in Nuku Hiva (and neighboring Hiva Oa for that matter). Just prior to reaching Hatiheu Village, you’ll be passing by four of the finest archaeological sites in the South Pacific: Hikokua, Kamuihei, Tahakia and Teiipoka.

Hikokua Archeological Site

This massive complex essentially consists of a central ‘square’ surrounded by stone platforms. I refer to this as a ‘square’ since it served for large gatherings and community ceremonies. Dating back to the 13th century, the site is believed to have been in use until the early 19th century.

Archeological site parking jeep Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaHikokua Site nuku hiva marquesas - tiki statueHikokua Site nuku hiva marquesas - tiki statue 2Hikokua Site nuku hiva marquesas - tiki statue 3Hikokua Site nuku hiva marquesas - human sacrifice stone

Around the large grassy square, examine from up close the stone statues, some depicting polygamy and human sacrifice. Speaking of that, climb atop the human sacrifice stone and imagine the terrifying thought that passed through the minds of so as they were about to lose their head… If you need a little help with that, here’s Alvane showing us how it would have been done, with the help of one brave volunteer (that would be me). Have a look at the video

As mentioned, this site was mainly used for community gatherings, where song and dance played a key part of Marquesan life. To show us what it would have looked like, Alvane performed a traditional haka dance that would have been used to welcome guests. Alvane is not only an excellent tour guide, but he also proudly displays Marquesan culture during the highly acclaimed Marquesan Arts Festival. If you’re nice enough, he’ll put on a show during your tour of the site.

Kamuihei, Tahakia and Teiipoka

These three complexes are further down the road from Hikokua, and form the largest archeological site on the island. Take your time and stroll amongst the centuries-old giant banyan trees, tiki statues, petroglyphs and sacrifice pits.

This place is so big, you might find yourself all alone at some point and it can feel incredibly strange. Locals say you can really feel the mana, spiritual energy, which radiates for eternity. This feeling is further amplified by the nonstop sounds of the crows (or some other bird that makes similar sounds). They congregate here in large numbers, terrifying the roosters, especially towards sunset.

This place is eerie, chilling and should not be missed!

Archeological site giant banyan tree Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaArcheological site tall tiki Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French PolynesiaKamuihei Tahakia Teiipoka archeological sites nuku hiva - petroglyphKamuihei Tahakia Teiipoka archeological sites nuku hiva - platformArcheological site food pit Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hike To Anaho Bay

Most organized tours will stop at Hatiheu before returning to Taiohae, but Alvane’s tour continues with a hike to Anaho Bay. This moderate hike offers yet additional sensational views, and can be done without a guide in case you’re exploring Nuku Hiva at your own pace.

hike to anaho bay nuku hiva marquesas islandsThe trail begins at the edge of the village, where you’ll park the 4X4 and begin to climb through the mango covered rainforest. After about 30 minutes, you’ll reach the mountain pass – one of the most scenic spots in Nuku Hiva.

From up here, Anaho Bay simply looks like paradise. Gently wrapped by sea cliffs and radiating with blue, the bay also has the only snorkeling spot in Nuku Hiva thanks to a tiny reef. Plan to stop here for a while because it’s simply gorgeous!

view of anaho bay from hike - nuku hiva marquesas islands

Another 30 minutes of hiking down from the pass brings you to Anaho Beach. Surprisingly, few families actually live out here. There’s no electricity and no running water, but there are plenty of coconuts for the production of copra. With the government subsidizing copra farmers, this is actually a pretty decent business, though extremely labor intensive.  

Anaho Beach Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Once you’ve greeted the locals, find a spot along the beach and enjoy paradise. I suggest applying a thick layer of monoi oil to prevent the nasty nono from biting (sandflies). As for the swimming, you have the small reef on one end and crashing waves on the other. In any case, take it easy when swimming as there’s no protective lagoon. It’s also possible to hike for another 30 minutes to the neighboring Haatuatua Bay.

Anaho Bay rear view Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Logistics: the trail is clearly marked so you can definitely hike this on your own from Hatiheu. It’s a moderate 90-minute hike (return) but add plenty of time for the view from the pass and for chilling on the beach. Bring everything you need including: plenty of water, monoi oil, food, beach gear, walking sandals and a change of clothes.

Hunting In Nuku Hiva

Want to really get full Marquesas experience? There’s one word that really fires up every man on the island: chasse. This means hunting, and no islander will refuse the chance to take you on a hunting trip. Hunting is a way of life on the islands, with the animals caught used for feeding a family for a month or even longer. Despite the infamous story of the German tourist who was ‘killed by a cannibal’ during a hunting trip, I was intrigued to do something totally off the beaten track.

Lucky for me, I stayed at Pension Koku’u, where Alvane was totally up for a 48 hour hunting trip. Have a look at the ‘hiking and excursions’ section for more guides that can take you hunting in Nuku Hiva.

Alvane on the beach Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Alvane took me to his family’s valley (that’s right, they have their own valley), where we camped for the night in a shack that used to be his home before he married Claudine and became a decent man. We brought all the supplies with us, chilled during the day on the empty beach and watched the stars at night.

Alvarado Valley Nuku Hiva coastline Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Hunting shack Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Alavarado beach lonesome coconut Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Night sky Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

During dusk and dawn, we would venture out into the riverbed to try and stock goats. Our particular hunting expedition yielded no results, which I was perfectly happy with. The time I spent in the middle of nowhere with Alvane is something I’ll never forget, and you can read more about it in this blog post I published from Nuku Hiva.

Alvane hiding Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Alvane hunting Nuku Hiva Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

Logistics: the price will really depend on your hunting buddy and you’ll negotiate this at the time of booking. Plan for an overnight stay, though you can totally squeeze this into a full day or even stretch it out longer. Bring with you rain gear, comfortable and waterproof shoes, long pants and flashlight. Be prepared for A LOT of mosquitos during the wetter days. Hunting isn’t for everyone, so come with a sense of adventure and lots of mental toughness.

Horseback Riding & Whale Watching

I personally went horseback riding in Hiva Oa, but it’s totally recommended to join a tour in Nuku Hiva as well. For whale watching, inquire locally about the opportunity to watch hundreds of melon-headed whales gathering off the coast of the island.  

Places To Eat & Drink In Nuku Hiva

If you’re staying at a good family pension, chances are you’ll be treated to wonderful breakfasts and dinners as part of your half board stay. Nonetheless, here are a few other options I’ve tested out:

market snack nuku hivaThe Market Snack: possibly also know as Snack Tuhiva, you’ll find this where else but inside the market. I found it to be the ‘liveliest’ joint in Taiohae, a good place to grab a cold Hinano beer, lunch or dinner. Traditional dishes of poisson cru, tuna and seafood are always on the menu, with prices starting as low as 600F. If you are extra lucky, there might also be some live music playing until the wee hours of the night (11 pm that is). If this happens when you’re there, can you please ask the band to play my absolute favorite song from French Polynesia?

Cafe Vaeaki nuku hivaCafe Vaeaki: a favorite spot with yachties, right on the main quay. Come here for breakfast, lunch, sandwiches and free wifi! Before sunset, you can even watch the local fishermen cleaning the day’s catch with an ice cold Hinano beer in your hand!

Moana Nui: a pension that also triples as a car rental agency and restaurant. Mains are between 1200-2000F and range from grilled chicken to seafood.

Now It’s Your Turn

I hope you’ve found this Nuku Hiva Travel Guide useful. If you have any questions or your own Nuku Hiva travel tips, leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation started!

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4 comments

  1. Hi, I am reading your blog because I will visit the Marquesas Islands (+other ones) this year. Thank you, your blog is very helpful!

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