It's easy to explore the town of Taiohae on foot, since its main street follows the curving shoreline of Taiohae Bay for about 3.5km (2 miles).
While most other cruise ships anchor out in the harbor, the Aranui 3 docks at the main wharf on the eastern side of the bay. The town hall, wharf, post office, visitor information office, and hospital are in the original French settlement on the eastern side of the bay behind Tu Hiva, a hill where U.S. Navy Commodore David Porter built a fort in 1813. Porter used Taiohae as a temporary base from which he raided British shipping in the Pacific during the War of 1812. He named this outpost Fort Madison, in honor of then U.S. President James Madison. The French renamed the spot Fort Collette after they took over in 1842. Nothing remains on the hill today except wild goats and a navigation marker.
Most commercial activity is in the middle of town, or just east of where the airport road comes down off the Mount Muake cliff. The junction is marked by a large seaside cross in honor of the first Catholic mission here.
Follow the next road west inland into the Meau Valley and you'll see the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame des Marquises (Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas). The gate to the compound was part of a wall from the original 19th-century church, but this modern version was built in 1977. Be sure to go inside and see the marvelous stone carvings and woodcarvings that each island donated to the cathedral. The pulpit and Stations of the Cross are elaborately carved from single trunks of tamanu (ironwood, or Australian pine). The artists gave the biblical stories a Marquesan touch. St. Paul holds a spear instead of his Sword of Damascus, the breadfruit substitutes as the olive tree, and Hinano beer is depicted as one of the seven deadly sins!
Farther up the valley is a restored me'ae.
On the west side of the bay, you'll pass a large park and then the Monument de Herman Melville (Herman Melville Memorial), a terrific wooden sculpture executed in 1991 by noted local artisan Kahee Taupotini. There's a fine view from here back along the bay. This side of the bay is skirted by a black-sand beach, where locals go swimming and launch their racing canoes. For a bit of refreshment and another excellent view, head up the hill to the Keikahanui Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge.
The Taipivai Valley
My most memorable day on Nuku Hiva was spent traveling to the rugged northeastern side of the island in the company of a tour guide. Although it's hardly more than 25km (15 miles) to the end of the road, this excursion required a full day, a good part of it spent just getting from place to place. This is the top trip for anyone to make, since most of Nuku Hiva's key sites are here, especially Melville's Taipivai Valley and the highly picturesque northeast shore village of Hatiheu. From Hatiheu, you can hike or take a boat to one of the few coral reefs in the Marquesas, at Anaho on the island's northeastern corner.
After climbing up Mount Muake out of Taiohae (there's an unbelievably beautiful view of Taiohae Bay from the top), the road follows a mountain ridge, from which you can see one of the beaches used in Survivor. It then steeply descends down to Taipivai village, at the head of Controller Bay. From there, another coastal road goes southeast to Hooumi, a small village on yet another bay. Since access across Hooumi's white-sand beach is easy, some cruise-ship passengers land here rather than at Taipivai, beside the shallow Taipivai River.
The paved road retraces Herman Melville's footsteps up into the steep Taipivai Valley. Your guide will stop about halfway up the valley at restored paepaes (stone platforms), the only remnants of the village where Melville reputedly stayed for a few weeks after he deserted an American whaler in 1842. In Typee, Melville has his protagonist fall in love with a local beauty, Fayaway, after being captured by the powerful Taipi tribe. Instead of sticking around, he escapes after watching a cannibal ceremony. In reality, the Taipi were friendly and treated Melville well. You'll see several waterfalls off in the distance as you climb higher into the valley.
Once out of the valley, you will soon be looking down at Hatiheu, one of my favorite villages in all of French Polynesia. It sits in a little bay beside a curving black-sand beach. A Moorea-esque ridge topped by basaltic stovepipes dramatically looms over the western end of the beach, creating a quintessentially South Seas scene. Dating to 1872, a white statute of the Virgin Mary stands atop a cliff overlooking the bay. The best view of the bay is from the stone wharf on the eastern side (follow the dirt road along the shoreline).
Like me, Robert Louis Stevenson was quite fond of Hatiheu and its spectacular setting when he sailed here in 1888. (Great minds do think alike!)
Hikokua, Kamuihei & Teiipoka Me'aes
Among several restored me'aes in the Marquesas, three of the most impressive are Hikokua, Kamuihei, and Teiipoka, on the Taipivai road above Hatiheu. Hikokua is a large open area used for ceremonies, dances, and human sacrifices. Restored for the 1999 Marquesas Festival of the Arts, it has impressive tiki statues. The Kamuihei and Teiipoka sites flank the road higher up in the valley. The expansive Kamuihei part is definitely worth exploring, for it has well-preserved tikis, petroglyphs carved into huge boulders (no one knows what they mean), and a pit under an enormous banyan tree, in which human sacrifices were said to have been restrained prior to being dispatched (it's more likely they were used to store food for feasts or to ferment breadfruit poi, one of the Polynesians' favorite desserts, which kept well in times of drought). Dr. Robert Suggs, the American archaeologist who often serves as guest lecturer on the Aranui 3 and the Paul Gauguin, discovered human skulls and leg bones in the banyan tree when he excavated the site in 1956 and 1957. The large sizes of these structures are a testament to how many people once lived in this now-deserted valley.
Be Careful Around this Tiki -- If you are thinking of infertility treatments, you can save a bundle by visiting Hikokua, the restored marae near Hatiheu village. Hikokua has a carved tiki in the shape of a phallus. Any woman who touches it, legend says, will soon become pregnant.
Across a ridge east of Hatiheu, the small village of Anaho sits beside a palm-fringed, white-sand beach in yet another bay visited by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1888. Anaho is unusual, however, because it has one of the few coral formations in the Marquesas, a fringing reef off the beach over which you can snorkel. The sand beach has the usual contingent of biting sand flies, so I wear both insect repellent and sunscreen.
Although seldom used by ships these days, Anaho Bay is one of the best natural harbors in the Marquesas. In October 1943, an accidental fire severely damaged the cruiser USS Concord, which anchored here while carrying Rear Admiral Richard Byrd -- of arctic exploration fame -- on a mission to find World War II anchorages and potential airfields for the U.S. Navy. Byrd and the Concord survived, but 26 American sailors killed in the fire were given seamen's burials in the bay.
You can hire a boat at Chez Yvonne in Hatiheu for the 10-minute ride around to Anaho, or hike over the saddle between the two bays. The path starts at a crossroads about 100m (328 ft.) east of the restaurant. The rather strenuous hike takes about 45 minutes each way, but you'll have a nice view of Anaho Bay from atop 218m-high (720-ft.) Teavaimaoaoa Pass.
Hakaui Valley & Ahuii Waterfall
Over Mount Muake to the west of Taiohae, the Hakaui Valley is home to the Cascade Tevaipo, one of the world's highest waterfalls at 350m (1,159 ft.). The waterfall pours off a high plateau at the head of the valley. This area was a prime set for the Survivor television show. The trail from Taiohae into the valley is too dangerous for hiking, but your accommodations can arrange a boat to take you around to Hakaui, from where an ancient stone trail goes upriver to the falls, about a 2-hour walk. Or you can ride horseback from Taiohae. Bring food, water, and insect repellent, and wear shoes suitable for fording the river.
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