The island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas
Ah, the Marquesas, every time I have the opportunity to set foot there, I really feel something deep inside me. It’s the Polynesian archipelago that I love the most, along with the Gambier. In the middle of this year 2019, when I was already familiar with the islands of Hiva Oa, Ua Pou, Fatu Hiva and Tahuata, I had the opportunity to travel to the island of Nuku Hiva for a week. By the way, would you like to know more about traveling to the Marquesas Islands, the land of men as they call it?
I must admit that I wasn’t too sure what to think about it at first. I had heard of it but nothing more and Nuku Hiva remained for me the capital island of the Marquesas. I purposely did not want to search the net to see what the island looked like. I wanted to keep that part a mystery.
So here I am, leaving on a 4-hour flight from Tahiti, direction Nuku Hiva, the main island of the Marquesas, 1600Km away. I’ll tell you about my week in the form of a short travelogue and give you all the practical information at the end of the article.
Here are some things to know about this beautiful Polynesian island:
- The island of Nuku Hiva is located in the Marquesas archipelago, one of the five archipelagos of French Polynesia. As a reminder, the other archipelagos are:
- The Tuamotu archipelago (mainly composed of atolls, white sandy beaches, coconut trees, a turquoise lagoon, overwater bungalows, scuba diving, often a dream stopover during your stay),
- The Society Archipelago (Leeward and Windward Islands): there are a majority of high islands, and of course the famous islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, etc.). It is the most visited archipelago by tourists during a trip to French Polynesia,
- The Australes Archipelago: it is an archipelago set apart from the classic tourist circuits. Rurutu is particularly known for the possibility to swim with whales (which I had the opportunity to do!),
- Finally, the Gambier archipelago, my favorite, but which nobody visits!
- Like all the other Polynesian islands, Nuku Hiva is a recent volcanic island with a surface of 387Km2. Here, there is no coral reef, no lagoon, no reef, but mainly sharp ridges, majestic peaks, black sandy beaches, trails allowing you to discover the interior of the island,
- Unfortunately, few are the tourists who consider including the Marquesas in their Polynesian journey. The reason? It is far away, expensive to reach and it is not “a postcard” in the sense that most people think it is. Yet in my eyes, these places are truly wonderful, even breathtaking. Here, no overwater bungalows, no coral garden, no snorkeling, no cruises on the lagoons, etc.
This is the first time, and for this I apologize in advance, that I will only be using pictures taken with my phone for the article. I had taken some very nice shots, but unfortunately, couldn’t recover the photos from my hard drive, which in the meantime crashed… So, it’s not as nice as photos taken with my DSLR, but we have no choice…
The discovery of Nuku Hiva
Arrival and the road to Taiohae
The arrival on the island of Nuku Hiva remains, as on all the other Marquesan islands, spectacular. In the distance you can see an arid land, reason why the area around the airport is called “desert land”. You understand why when you land there. For those who will arrive there after 2019, part of the terminal has been redone and the whole thing is rather beautiful to me.
If you are coming for a vacation, there is a good chance that your guesthouse or hotel will come pick you up. Note that the airport is over an hour’s drive from the main village of the island, Taiohae. Once out of the desert area of the airport, you will enjoy discovering the beautiful landscapes of the island and I was surprised by the vegetation along the road, especially in the center of the island. Lots of ferns and pines, these having been planted at the time and have invaded the island ever since…
The driver stops the car at what the islanders call “The Canyon”. Rightly so, since it is a huge valley, almost deserted, that looms before us. It’s quite impressive to see. You can apparently go horseback riding in it, but I didn’t get the opportunity to do so.
The road continues to the pass, almost in the center of the island, and the greenery is still present. A second stop just after the pass lets us glimpse at a beautiful green meadow. The driver says to me “this is our New Zealand” and frankly he is not wrong. A few beautiful pictures before continuing the road that winds through the mountains. Some time later, we finally see the famous Taiohae Bay, the bay of the main village. Honestly, with the good weather I had during my visit, I find it really extraordinary, perfectly or almost circular in shape, splendid vegetation around, moored boats. The frame is set.
I take advantage of my late arrival in the village to go eat “at the quay” of the city, located right next to the market. This is the place where all the sailors arriving from South America meet, those who have crossed the Pacific Ocean. I think it’s the right place for those who want to eat (and even have breakfast in the morning) without breaking the bank. Henry and his team offer lunch/evening meals locally, and everything you need for breakfast in the morning. Even though when I was there, I still couldn’t eat any fish or meat because of the ciguatera, they were very accommodating, and they always made me something different to eat. Note: wifi is free and available.
The visit of Taiohae
You should know that the village of Taiohae is very scattered and extends over several kilometers across the bay. Nothing you can’t do on foot, but important to know. Among the things to really see in my opinion, the cathedral in the center, but especially the famous “Fort Collet” where stands a huge Tiki 12m high built in 2016. The site is really beautiful and offers beautiful panoramas on the bay. Judge for yourself.
As for the rest of the village, it is very nice to walk along the sea to stroll and watch the local life. Every morning, you can go to the wharf when fishermen arrive to watch them land the night’s catch. Everyone buys their fish on site and everything is cut up live, the leftovers being given to the sharks in the bay! There is also a pae pae at the back of the village which is quite nice to visit.
Hike to the ``Sentinelle``
I had heard about a nice walk to take from the village, the “Sentinelle Walk”. Thanks to Wikilocs, I was able to find the GPS track for the hike. It was honestly a great discovery. During my visit, the walk took you on a very well-maintained path (which is rare). The final climb is very steep but does not last too long. The panorama at the top is definitely worth a look and you get another view of the whole Taiohae bay. A hike that I recommend if you are on the island for a few days and are looking to get some height.
Another nice little stroll to do from the village is to go to Baie Colette. You can also find the track on Wikilocs. Otherwise, the path starts at the end of the bay, not far from the village hotel (Keikahanui Lodge). I say stroll because you are walking on a path and not a trail, but to go for a little drink or a snack for lunch, it’s very nice.
The North of Nuku Hiva
But what is most interesting in Nuku Hiva is to discover the beauty of the island through the roads and small villages lost north of Taiohae. So off I go to discover the first village in the North, Taipivai. The road leading to the famous bay is really nice. You have a beautiful viewpoint before descending the winding road leading to the village. Nothing exceptional to do here, but you can stop to observe the huge central pae pae (ancient historic site) just before the bridge. Moreover, for photographers and at the right time, you can take beautiful pictures of the bridge from both sides.
Thanks to my 4×4, I head in the late afternoon to explore the end of a path lost in the village. The atmosphere at the end of the valley is superb and I can even see a beautiful waterfall in the distance. I arrive there by foot after rolling a bit. It’s really impressive, wow. You can then continue the road along the bay in direction of the sea towards the small village of Hooumi. Nothing special to do in itself, but a beautiful Marquesan atmosphere on a small beach at the end of the world at sunset.
You can then continue the road as I did towards the village of Hatiheu, even further north. The road leading to the pass is really superb, winding and with views on the lush vegetation. A treat for the eyes and what an atmosphere. The arrival at the pass offers a beautiful view of the Hatiheu bay and its rocks, on the left side. I descend slowly towards the village and I must admit that I stop at almost every turn to take pictures as the views are so beautiful.
The arrival in the small village of Hatiheu does not leave one indifferent either. With its beautiful golden sandy beach, its impressive rocks along the beach and its natural casualness, the bay has everything to please my eyes. Locally, the little snack bar “Chez Tati Yvonne” is more than well-known. Everybody stops there, independent tourists, those who have chosen a guide for their stay and even the Marquesans. The restaurant is very well known, especially for its goat with coconut milk and its river shrimp. I really enjoyed myself there! It is also the ideal place to stop at midday if you left Taiohae in the morning.
To enjoy the afternoon, the beautiful sea views and beaches cut off from the world, a visit to the village of Anaho is a must. Continue along the path by the sea after Tatie Yvonne’s place and take the path towards “Anaho” (this is indicated by a sign on the mountain side). You can park just before the entrance of the hike, no worries.
It takes about 15 to 20 minutes of walking in a beautiful mango undergrowth to reach the pass. The view is really superb on the village of Anahoa and the surroundings. For a better view at the pass, don’t hesitate to climb on the left side of the ridge. The bravest, like me, will consider going down the winding path that leads to the village below Anaho. Some houses are scattered in the bay in front of a beautiful deserted white sand beach. The area is great for swimming even if it is famous for the nonos (a sort of small invisible mosquito, my calves still remember it…).
I really recommend that you continue along the white sand beach. No difficulty there, but the path allows you to reach the beautiful bay of Haatuata and its beautiful dunes. You will go back through a small pass on which you can climb on the left for a better view. Notice the imposing basalt cliffs with their peculiar shapes on the right side of the bay. I still remember the return by the switchbacks of the descent. It’s not very long, but it’s definitely a workout for your legs… In my opinion, this little trip will keep you busy for a day. No need to push further north on the same day, it’s better to cut in half.
On the second day, you can go back to the village of Hatiheu. If you didn’t stop there the day before, consider making a stop to admire the two pae pae (marae in Tahitian), at the entrance of the village, at the end of the valley. These ancient historical sites have been restored and the atmosphere is truly superb. When I was there, I was alone on these archaeological sites with the birds singing and the imposing banyan trees that seem to date from another era. I advise you to take an hour on the first site which is really beautiful and to wander through the place. If you look carefully, you can find petroglyphs on an imposing rock in the shape of a turtle.
In Hatiheu Bay, turn left towards the village at the end of the world, Aakapa. It can be reached by a more or less asphalted road which offers very beautiful views of the wild bays of the surroundings. We arrive after a good half hour on the track to the village of Aakapa. Time seems to have stopped here. Very few people, calm, nothing special to see except enjoy the atmosphere and the local life. Take the opportunity to go down to the quay by the sea.
What's left for me to see and do in Nuku Hiva
Sadly, I did not have the opportunity to go any further. The dirt road continues to reach the road leading down from the airport. According to the people I spoke with, the route is worth the detour and offers some beautiful panoramas. It will be for a next time though. But if you have the time and have rented a car, it will keep you busy for a second day without worries.
Among the places I haven’t had the opportunity to go during my week there, the famous Hakaui valley. The place is not accessible by road or track and you will have no choice but to go there by boat (40 minutes from Taiohae to Hakatea Bay) or during a horseback ride (I was told that it is possible). The valley is famous for welcoming the second highest waterfall in French Polynesia, the Vaipo waterfall. 350 m high, it is apparently very beautiful. This is one thing to do on my next visit and I would tend to try the horseback ride that would suit me better (quieter and slower). The waterfall is also accessible on a long hike. You can find the exact trail of the hike on Wikilocs.
These are the things to do and see in Nuku Hiva in my opinion.
Trip to Nuku Hiva, the practical aspects
As usual, here are all the practical aspects to know for a stay in Nuku Hiva.
How do I get to Nuku Hiva?
As for all the Polynesian islands, you will have no other choice to go to the Marquesas Islands than to take an international flight to Tahiti first. I suggest you look at this flight comparator that I have been using for a very long time to find the cheapest flights to Papeete, from France, Switzerland and Belgium. For the most part, flights will be cheaper from Paris to Europe. From Canada, I recommend splitting the flights and taking a flight from a major Canadian city to San Francisco and then taking a low-cost flight from SF to Papeete.
For tourists coming to French Polynesia, it could be very interesting to include the island of Nuku Hiva as part of an extension or an Air Tahiti Pass, if you want to visit several Marquesan islands (which I recommend). If you only want to visit this island, a return flight from Tahiti with Air Tahiti will do the job.
For the adventurers, the island of Nuku Hiva is ideal for finding people arriving and departing by boat, either to the other Marquesan Islands, or to Tahiti, or to continue their journey outside of French Polynesia. Don’t hesitate to hang out at the Hugues’ wharf to meet new people and find your way in Polynesian waters.
Finally, for locals or tourists on site, you can use the concept of “Séjour dans les îles” with Air Tahiti which offers combined flight + accommodation, which will in any case always be cheaper than booking things separately (I’ve already calculated it).
How many days should I stay on the island?
A few brief lines for those wondering. I like to personally take time for things. I would say that staying 4/5 days is a good compromise:
- One day to discover Taiohae (Tiki, pae pae, sentinelle walk and seaside, Baie Colette) and go to Taipivai and Hooumi (it could even easily be done in 2 days),
- A day trip to Hatiheu, then Anaho and Haatuata Bay,
- A full day to Aakapa and return by the track to the north,
- A day’s hike to see the Hakaui valley and the waterfall.
You can make it shorter of course, but between the 4-hour drive, the arrival time and departure time (late morning), I think that 4 days on site is really a minimum to take the time. If you can, a week would be ideal in my opinion.
Some bulk information:
- Taiohae is quite spread out as a village so it’s a bit of a hassle to even walk around. Bikes are a good compromise if you ask me,
- There are a few ATMs only in town,
- General grocery stores usually take credit cards in town,
- The Marquesas are famous for their craftwork, so don’t hesitate to support the local trade by bringing back with you a few small souvenirs (carving in stone, wood, bone, tapa, etc.),
- It is strongly advised to buy bottled water for your stay.
Where to sleep in Nuku Hiva?
I personally stayed with a friend, so I couldn’t really recommend a guesthouse. However, I can refer you to what I have heard and what has been recommended to me. There are several guesthouses in the village. I received very good feedback from the Mave Mai guesthouse in the town center.
For those looking for a little more comfort, there is the Keikahanui Pearl Lodge, southwest of the bay, high up. I went for a drink there one evening and the setting looks superb with a splendid view over the entire bay and a beautiful swimming pool on the terrace. I would definitely try it out! It is often the accommodation that is recommended for honeymooners who are passing through the Marquesas.
For those who like to sleep in the nature, I haven’t tested the spot, but I found an accommodation that accepts tents here in Taiohae.
How to get around the island?
As already mentioned, I suggest getting around Taiohae by bike or on foot. Whenever you want to get out of the main village, you will have no choice but to drive. I see two possibilities here. Either you rent a car directly in the village, from Tony Loc or Mave Mai, or you book day trips through your guesthouse. So you won’t need to worry about renting a car if you choose this option. This may limit your moves. So maybe one day of each?
To visit the Hakaui valley (even if I didn’t make the trip myself), I have a friend who paid 15000xpf for the boat and the hike to see the waterfall (without a picnic), for 2 adults and 2 children (2 and 5 years old).
For the day or for a horseback ride of a few hours, according to the information I have, there would be two providers who offer such outings: Sabine and Nui. I did not go for a ride, but I received much better feedback from Nui who does his excursion at Hatiheu and the Anaho Bay.
Where to eat?
For eating in Nuku Hiva:
- You are on half-board and you just have to take care of lunch: you can buy food in one of the shops in town or in certain valleys,
- On Nuku Hiva, you can eat at Henry’s, at the pier, it’s very good and cheap,
- At the market, just before henry’s place,
- At Tatie Yvonne’s in Atiheu (a must visit),
- I’ve heard good things about the meals at Moana Nui in town,
- You can also eat at the Lodge restaurant!
When to go to Nuku Hiva?
Generally speaking, the rainy season is said to be shifted in the Marquesas. It is recommended to go there roughly between December and March. But then again, seeing as the climate changes, you cannot be sure of anything. As for the temperature, nothing to fear, since it is always nice in the Marquesas and you will never be too cold. It can get chilly in winter, between June and September, especially in the evening.
Well, I’ll stop here, I hope you enjoyed this walk on the island of Nuku Hiva and that I made you want to go there? If you like discoveries, the authenticity of the Polynesian islands, the culture, the beautiful nature, then this island is for you. For those who love activities, parties and white sandy beaches, skip your turn! To continue the journey, I invite you to discover the magnificent island of Hiva Oa, famous for having hosted Jacques Brel and Paul Gauguin!
See you soon,
Hi. Is there good WiFi in the marquesas , for downloading and streaming? Does Vini work there? I need to work during my visit. I’m also wondering what happened to you with Ciguatera can you share details?
Thanks for your helpful posts I am enjoying reading them
Yes in all the main islands, you will find correct wifi in general, especially in guesthouses or hotels. Don’t expect miracles, but it works. Vini works well there, no worries. For the Ciguatera, I was intoxicated after eating fish in the Tuamotu. So one of the consequences of this disease is to have to limit as much as possible the amount of proteins (meat, fish, eggs) I eat.