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French Polynesia, Marquesas: Nuku Hiva In Five Days

By SY Kandy — last modified Mar 10, 2017 02:47 PM
Leslie, our two sons (Bryce (14) and Trent (12)), and I arrived in Nuku Hiva aboard Kandu in late June of 2015. Intending to stay only a few weeks, we instead became certified residents of Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, so our sons could attend the local college (secondary school), the first Americans to do so. Having been here ten months, we’ve developed some favourites about what to see and do on Nuku Hiva.

Published: 2017-01-22 00:00:00
Countries: French Polynesia

French Polynesia, Marquesas: Nuku Hiva In Five Days

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. We anchored in the little inlet for almost a year: June 2015-May 2016.

With so many wonders throughout the Marquesas archipelago, it may be helpful to provide cruisers with a "Nuku Hivan short-list of things to do", in order of priority, were one to only have 1-5 days to spend.  This is not meant as a boat owner’s description of all available services, but as a cruiser’s tourist guide for getting the most out of Nuku Hiva in the shortest time period.

If you want additional details of the surrounding sites, Rose Corsair sells a guidebook at her shop on the west side of the bay.  Wearing bug spray and a good pair of hiking sandals you can soak in mud, seawater, and streams, plus carrying a roll of toilet paper in a Ziplock, make for a more comfortable Nuku Hiva experience.  Of course, spending more time at any one of these locations is preferable, but if you just don’t have the time, here are our recommendations:

1st Day, Taiohae, from east to west

Petit Quai dinghy dock (pronounced “per-TEET KAY”), in order of appearance:

Chez Henri (Henry speaks English and can help solve most any problem the Marquesan way) (meals $8-$10): Internet WiFI with food purchase, mostly Marquesan menu, including the classic Marquesan poisson cru (lime-marinated fresh fish in fresh squeezed coconut milk), fresh squeezed fruit juices or citronade (lime-ade), and bananas you pull off one of the bunches hanging along the tent’s edge to eat with your meal (just as Californians eat tortilla chips with Mexican food).  For dessert: gateau beurre (butter cake), ice cream, or firi-firi (French Polynesian donut). No alcohol served (BYOB from Kamake, see below).

Boutique selling nice shirts, skirts, caps, and Hinano stickers.

Dive store, filling tanks and taking you out, but no classes.

Yacht Services Nuku Hiva, Kevin can help you check in and/or with boat problems (the American way).  He sells Marquesan courtesy flags, souvenirs, and houses one of the island’s premiere tattoo artists: Moana.   YSNH can also set you up with one of their many island tours.  Laundry and WiFi are just some of the services he offers.

Trash and oil dump.

Fresh fruits and vegetable stand, daily 6am-3pm except Sundays. (4 a.m. Saturday if you want tomatoes!!!)

Chez Celina, in the market place at the end of the quay, serves local dishes, ($6-$10), cold beer, and Wi-Fi with a purchase. Serves standard Marquesan fare as well as Marquesan dishes with international spiced variations

Quay restrooms are now payable ($1, or free when you eat at Celina’s), but not yet well maintained.  We “lobbied” to improve this circumstances, asking that they have toilet seats, doors, toilet paper, soap and drying towels. Would also like to see the showers working too. There’s a place to hand wash clothes behind the building near the toilets.  During rains, the non-potable water is brown with sediment and stains clothes.  Currently no potable tap water in Taiohae, except one of the three free filtered water stations.  None close to the quai.

Communal artisan center, more active when a cruise ship passes through.  If you see something you like, buy it.  It might not be there tomorrow. When larger cruise ships pull into port, Ua Pou arrives to sell inexpensive black pearls.

Tourist office, with maps and information about the Marquesas.  Speak English.  Can set you up with tours: Richard Dean and Jocylene speak English.  Average tour cost $65 pp plus lunch.  Tourist office has the best public restrooms on Nuku Hiva!!!!

Saturday morning flea market (marche de puce), 5-6:30am, fresh seafood and prepared foods. Tuna, wahoo, etc. $5/kilo.  Live lobster, $15/kilo (out of season Feb-April).

Magasin Kamake and Magasin Larsson Stores.

Taiohae has 5 general stores and 2 hardware stores.  Larssons, next to Kamake sells higher-end items like curries, coconut oil, etc.  The store furthest away, past the pharmacy, is open 7 days a week.  The one behind the bank, across from the stadium field, is open during lunch, Monday-Sat.

Cold anything, including soft drinks, beer ($2.50-$3/can), wine, chocolate, meats, cheese, and ice cream

Fresh baked baguette bread ($0.70) and pastries daily except Sundays and holidays.  Kamake open 5:30-11:30am Mon-Sat, 2-6:30pm Mon-Fri, Larsson’s opens later.

Fresh vegetables and inexpensive casse-croute (sandwiches) sold in front of Kamake until 11:30am.

These stores offer free truck rides to the Petit Quai if you have a heavy or large purchase, but you have to ask.

Kou’eva - Inland ceremonial grounds, restored for traditional cultural festivals. Turn right up the center street, between Magasin Kamake and Magasin Larsson. Walk about a mile up, super small sign on the right side of street marks right turn toward Taiohae’s reconstructed ceremonial grounds.  It’s further than you think and not evident which way to turn . . . ask.

Walking back to the seafront.  As you descend, Chez Bigo hardware store is to your right, just before the bus stop, across the small bridge.  They serve cold drinks and packaged snacks like candy bars.

Moana Nui Restaurant, Pension, and Car Rental - More European than Marquesan menu ($12-$30).  Great steak. Serves French-style pizza, beer and wine and mixed drinks. More expensive than Petit Quai “Snack” cafes, less expensive than Pearl Lodge.

Cathedral Taiohae - Ask permission to enter building.  Strict protocols. Rose Corsair, on the westside of the bay, sells a guidebook for Nuku Hiva that includes descriptions of elements within the cathedral. Beautiful woodcarvings inside and out.
Sunday mass begins with meditative chants at 7am, regular mass at 8am, ends 9-9:30am.
Look for the Marquesan version of the Christian cross (previously Marquesan symbol for southern cross, I think). Butted together, the Marquesan cross looks like a pattern of men.

Tohua Temehea - Seaside ceremonial grounds, built for traditional cultural festivals since 1989. Read the informational sign on-site (in French and English) for details

Melville Monument - Tucked in on the shore side, neighbouring the western cemetery.
Wonderfully carved tree stump with weathered roof top and missing elements, shows the path he hiked out of Taiohae and over to Taipi Vai. This is where Melville reportedly jumped ship and headed for the hills.

Joel’s Bella Pizza
Great pizza, ($12.50-$18; $3 delivery to Petit Quai), a less expensive alternative to Moana Nui Restaurant’s pizza.  The “Indian” and “Petit Quai” are our favorites. Better than the pizza are the desserts, tiramisu and cheesecake ($4, large slices)

Restaurant and Marquesas Museum at Chez Rose’s (American cruiser, arrived in 1972, moved here in 1977.) Far west side of bay.  Never know when it’s open.  Knock.  Great exhibit. Sells a great Nuku Hiva guidebook in multiple languages. Restaurant serves an excellent hamburger.
A more casual Friday night happy hour than Pearl Lodge, Kevin sometimes sets up a taxi from his YSNH shop to transport cruisers to and fro.
Free WiFi, password free (some anchor their boats at this side of the bay to closer to her wifi).

Pearl Lodge - Nuku Hiva’s gorgeous (expensive) bar, restaurant ($18-$40), hotel ($225/night).  Very nice! Beautiful view of Taiohae Bay. Friday evening Happy Hour, half off beautiful $14 cocktails (or as I see it, two for the price of one!)

Remember in the Marquesas, beach equals no-no’s. They breed in the sand between fresh and seawater.  Usually, the whiter the sand, it seems, the greater the no-no’s.
Kouvea beach to the east, in front of the French Administrator’s residence
Beach to the west, in front of Rose’s place, but more no-no’s than Kouvea
Colette’s Bay, see “Hikes” below.


  • Cleaning boat bottoms and swimming in the bay have not been a problem for us or anyone else.  Locals say sharks are a problem, but Kevin from Nuku Hiva Yacht Services and the Fire Dept. haven’t heard of an incident.  Kevin says he is never concerned about jumping in to the bay to fix a boat.
  • Not advisable to swim near the Petit Quai as sharks feed on fishermen’s scraps.  That said, many cruisers have dived here for lost items without incident.

Hikes (Randonee, in French)

Moderate, but sometimes steep.  Bring water and toilette paper.
Between 1.5 and 2 hours R/T at steady pace.
Leave early in the morning, before it gets hot, before 7 am is best.

Sentinal/East bay mouth, take upper road above fuel station to maintained dirt path.  Ask any locals how to get to the start.

Taiohae overview vista, walk up the center road, as done for Kou’eva, until you get to the top for a stunning view (hitch hike if you don’t want to walk).

Colette’s Bay, over the ridge on the other side of the bay’s west side, . . . path starts above Rose’s motel. Turn right above the motel, then another immediate right, walking down and curving left.  Stay on main dirt road until your reach top of saddle/ridge.  Turn left, opening and closing the barbed-wire gate.  (If you turn right, you’re on your way to Hakaui Bay, a much further hike, so ask in advance where the paths turn). Colette’s Bay is where Survivor Marquesas filmed their challenges. Great swimming beach.  Remember, beach equals no-no’s.


2nd Day, Car Tour

Hire a guide for a driving tour ($50-$120pp). Richard, Jocylene, and Kevin speak English.  Ask Tourism Henri, Rose, or Kevin to help you find a guide.  Or go solo, diesel 4x4 rental is about $120/day plus fuel.

Taipi Vai, Tohua ceremonial grounds (toilets often available) w/modern stone tiki.

Hoomi, see church and visit with Pena, a sculptor (toilets available in Hoomi).


  • Road from Taipi Vai to Hatiheu and beyond becomes rough dirt, requiring 4x4.
  • Once arrived, visit the archeological ceremonial grounds, see petroglyphs
  • Check out the Marquesan history exposition. Great history of Anaho too.
  • Virgin Mary statue atop pinnacle southwest side of bay.
  • Chez Yvonne’s for lunch (toilets available). Feed baguette piece to the fresh water eels adjacent her restaurant.
  • Aakapa vista point, beautiful Attitoka mountain ridge. From Hatiheu to Aakapa and especially beyond, requires 4x4 driving skill.  If it were raining, I’d pass on going to Aakapa and/or beyond.
  • Some drive from there (Aakapa) directly to the airport, but told it can scratch cars.
  • Drive across central plateau toward airport (or from airport, depending on how you drove there).  This area is called ‘Too Vii’ or as some call it, mini-New Zealand, with its fresh air and pines. Stop at vista points at the top of the mountain ridge, including Nuku Hiva’s Grand Canyon.



3rd Day, Hakatea Bay and Hakaui Valley

Buy fresh baguettes to give to locals as gifts the same day you buy it.

Leave Taiohae, sail west to Hakatea and anchor on the eastern bay (“Daniel’s” Bay, where Survivor was shot.  Daniel passed away a few years ago) (1-1.5 hr motorsail).  Careful, lots of no-no’s, some even fly to the anchored boat.

Walk west along bay’s north shore to Hakaui Bay.

Wade through river to other side (good place to run your dinghy to give it a fresh water internal rinse)

Along the way, make lunch reservations for your return trip (4 hrs R/T) with one of the valley families.  Teiki and Kua, as you enter the village, are favorites, but all meals from any family here are great.  $10pp.

Walk to one of the world’s most breathtaking waterfalls, following a not so carefully marked path.  Walking through the stream is sometimes safer than negotiating slippery rocks and tree trunks over the stream.  After three trips prior, we went with a guide, Thierry, and saw three times as much, and more safely.

WARNING: Rocks can fall from atop, esp. open field close to falls.  Move quickly and quietly when adjacent cliffs.  Don’t attempt this hike if raining, or rain predicted.  Swimming to fall’s base places you in danger of falling rock.  Fresh water eels live in pond and in stream. Not harmful, but they nip.

Wear bug repellent and re-apply after swimming in waterfall pond.


4th Day, Anaho Bay

Sail to Anaho, on the northeast corner of Nuku Hiva. About a 6 hour motor-sail. Careful the rock on the SE corner of the island, off Controller Bay and Tikapo pt.

One of the most scenic and protected bays in the Marquesas.  It’s where Marquesans go to vacation.  Can’t help but sing the Bali Hai song from the musical South Pacific.

To protect the coral, anchor south of the coral carved dinghy path.

Good snorkeling, safe (no sharks, sometimes jellyfish), clear, often times manta rays. Don’t eat any fish caught there. (Ciguatera).

Fresh spring water available on the beach for drinking and bathing.

Careful, no-no’s on the beach and more so to the east.

Good surfing and a plantation on the beach over the small hill to the east, but be warned—mega no-no’s on this beach, so run to the surf.

Many artisans live in this bay, including a well-known Marquesan tattoo artist, Moana, when he’s not in Taiohae.

Another Moana, Moana Sr., owns the neighboring fruit and vegetable farm and has re-opened a small pension that serves meals. This makes two pensions that sometime serve meals, but difficult to count on.  Usually about $10 a large plate of local fare.

Nice hike up and over western ridge to Hatiheu and back (2.5 hr R/T), start early as it gets hot. Easier coming back than going.  Some say they walk it in half the time.


5th Day, Controller’s Bay (Taipi Vai) or Hanapani

Northern Swell = Controller’s Bay’s Bays to the southeast of Nuku Hiva

Sail south along the east coast, sharp turn around the SE corner of Nuku Hiva (careful, there’s still that killer rock off the point to worry about)

Hoomi to the east, Hakapuvai to the west, Taipi Vai in between.

Coral surrounds these bays, so anchor down the middle of each bay.

West side bay only good if no swell.

Hakapuvai & Hakapaa (anchoring), the other Survivor beach.

  • We anchor in Hakapaa, the bay to starboard, more easterly, where there are pigs roaming the beach and a pretty waterfall (easy, short hike) in the back, to the west (left when facing inland from your cockpit).
  • Hakapuvai, to the west, has a beach of shells.
  • Snorkeling over coral in both bays.
  • Occasionally no-no’s can reach the boat.

Southern Swell = Hanapani Bay to the northwest of Nuku Hiva

Haven’t been here yet, but told that . . . .

When the swell allows, for those who prefer remote white-sand beaches and clear water without other boats nearby, this is the place for you.  Just west of Aakapa.  Aakapa is not good for anchoring.  Pua, to further west than Hanapani, is quiet as well, but a landscape just a tad less “magnifique.”

Eric Rigney - SY Kandu
A family's sailing adventure into global immersion

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