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Flirting With the Islands

We are currently on Nuku Hiva, the last island we will explore in the Marquesas before we sail the 500ish miles to the Tuamotu atolls southwest of here and after that the Society Islands (Tahiti! Moorea! Bora Bora!).

Over the last four weeks we’ve flitted among these sweet little jems floating lazily in the warm South Pacific getting to know each one as much as one can in what feels like a rushed first date. But our short time on each has been long enough to get to know each beguiling girl just enough for her to steal our hearts.

Our first days on Hiva Oa left us feeling starstruck: we were bowled over with all the new sights, smells and tastes of this foreign land, especially made all the more luscious after nearly a month of sea and sky and salt. We fell in love with the people on Tahuata: so many smiles, so much generosity and kindness. And the singing!

Fatu Hiva, oh my, Fatu Hiva. She is the mystical queen lying in the southernmost corner of the islands. The breathtaking green pillars of her crown rise straight out of the sea. She can be a little difficult and doesn’t seem to welcome visitors; you have to anchor on a tiny ledge off one of her strikingly steep vales. But once you creep ashore and gaze upon her unbelievable beauty – towering peaks, deep dark green valleys, waterfalls, powerful rock sculptures – you know you are surrounded by magic. She is called the most beautiful island in the world. I believe that.

Hitching a ride is easy in the Marquesas, in fact the locals will practically demand you get in the back of their pickup when they see you walking with kids.

We pressed on to Ua Pou, sailing the 100 miles overnight directly from Fatu Hiva. In the little shallow harbor we dropped our bow anchor and then our stern, nice and snug for our planned two-day stop. Ua Pou taught us about island time: five days later our anchors were still happily buried in her mud. Each day there was spent doing just short of nothing, excepting just taking in the beauty around us (especially the outrigger paddlers that would practice around our boat every evening) and of course the lovely spires Ua Pou wears. We strolled to a magasin for ice-cream bars, splurged on a poisson cru lunch at the Snack Vehine, stumbled upon a traditional Marquesan dance show put on for the Aranui passengers. As the girls rolled around in delight in the quiet surf, we sat on the beach under the palms by the rowing club, chatting with Xavier, a most curious retired French ex-pat who now spends his days getting to know passing sailors. Despite the many excuses to keep spending easy days in this pleasant harbor we sailed on to Nuku Hiva.

After a week on this grand island, we’re coming to see that she is multi-personalitied and that alone is reason enough to love her. The town of Taiohae, where we are anchored now, is the metropolis of the Marquesas (though with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants still feels distinctly like a village). We are smack in the enormous crater of a volcano, so of course the bay is beautiful and greener than even the Northwest springtime. There are well-stocked stores here (about 1/8 the size of a typical Trader Joes), a hospital, a few exquisitely expensive restaurants (mainly serving pizza). Each time we walk along the waterfront boys gallop by on horses.

We counted 45 boats anchored along with us in the rolly bay; the fleet practically dwarfs the town. The sailors here – politely, but still – compete to connect to the few free wireless internet connections and grab heads of cabbage and bundles of carrots at the 0400 farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. But just when I think the village might do just fine without all us visitors we are stopped today by a man and his two small sons who insist Michael, myself, Holly, Leah and her friend Ruby get into the cab of his small Toyota pickup for a ride back to the village instead of hiking the 1.5 miles downhill in the rain with all the children, tired, wet, muddy from exploring an ancient sacred site up in the valley. They let us off at the quay and the two boys see us safely off in our dinghy.

Family tiki, Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva

Just when the busyness of Taiohae seems like too much, just head up and around to the opposite side of the island. Here you will find Anaho Bay which is opposite Taiohae in many ways: the anchorage is tucked inside a perfect notch of land, just the right amount to make the bay absolutely still. A few days ago we were anchored there, marveling at the fact that our boat was not rocking back and forth for the first time in over two months. But that’s nothing; just when we thought we’d seen the most beautiful harbors the Marquesas had to offer, here was one even more lovely. Once our anchor was set all we could see was land all around us, Anaho wrapped us like a hug. And what a view! Steep towering buttresses of rock, a perfect rim of brown sugar sand and palms trees, a handful of small tidy homes and beautiful gardens nestled amongst them. We would have loved to stay longer than the three nights we spent there but the cabbages at that 0400 Saturday market in Taiohae were calling….

We’re still getting to know Nuku Hiva. She might end up being our favorite of these island girls – she’s got a lot of uniqueness to love. Tomorrow we head around the corner to Taipivai (this is where Herman Melville’s Typee takes place) and then Daniel’s Bay (this is where the fourth season of Survivor takes place) and we’re anxious to experience our own stories at each one. After that, we’re going to leave these island lovelies astern and it won’t be easy, not at all.

Three kid boats, bathtub-warm water, beach sand like sugar - paradise, truly!


  1. Stephanie says:

    Beautiful post. I hope someday I will be right where you are.

  2. Brian H says:

    Spectacular, entrancing…thank you for the inspiration.

  3. What?! Here I thought you were in an amazing place, but I read your post and I realize those Marquesas ain’t got nothing on San Diego (where we are). To wit: we’ve got a sweet little man-made beach right here in the harbor…beach sand like sugar, check (have you seen the bags of play sand they sell at Home Depot?). Plus, there is an OSHA-approved playground. Oh, our Trader Joes? Yep, 100% the size of a Trader Joes–and their nautical kitsch and the tropical island shirts they wear–so Marquesian. Cabbage at 4:00am? Check–there are two Ralphs grocery stores open 24 hours. In fact, cabbage at 4:00 pm anyone? Towering peaks you say? Have you seen the Dowtown San Diego skyline? You want to be absolutely still, you want to marvel at the fact your boat is not rocking back and forth? Come by and check out the cleats on our slip on C dock. And you think 45 boats is a lot? We stopped counting when we reached four digits. Did you know Top Gun took place here?

    1. Sara says:

      Oh my goodness we miss you guys!! I bet you wouldn’t guess that we even have Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream down here (and at $16 per pint worth every penny!)

  4. Deborah says:

    As usual, Sara, a lovely post. Your experiences there sound enchanting.

  5. Dani says:

    Love hearing all about these islands. You are giving us a picture of what life will truly be like one day when we are there.

    Thanks for sharing

  6. Fatu Hiva difficult and unwelcoming? Does that refer to the island’s challenging landscape, topography, and anchorage or the its’ inhabitants? I’ve always heard the Marquesan people are a pleasure. In any case, great update! Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the contrasts of the Tuamotus.

    1. Sara says:

      Sorry for the confusing description! I was referring only to the anchorage at Hanavave (or “Bay of Virgins”) — there were quite a number of boats (10 I think) when we were there and only room enough for four or five of them to anchor in close on the 30′ ledge. The rest of them were anchored in 100′ of water! Other than that the people and island were not difficult at all — both incredibly beautiful, warm and welcoming!

  7. Kyra says:

    Oh Sara, you write beautifully…. I love following your wake – and dream of our own journey there (soon)… The Sea of Cortez is beautiful in a stark way, but stories of lushness and loveliness, ah, those are dreamy… 🙂 hugs to the whole family!