May/June 2022: Exploring The Marquesas Islands of Ua Po and Tahuata.

The Marquesas Islands are some of the most remote islands in the world. The nearest continental land mass is Mexico which lies 3,000 miles (4,800 km) to the east.  According to Wikipedia, these islands are thought “to have been formed by a centre of upwelling magma, called the Marquesas hotspot.”

Geographically, the Marquesas Islands are the youngest of the five archipelagoes in French Polynesia. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the Marquesas were the first of the five French Polynesian archipelagos settled.  Sometime around 200 BC (BCE) western Polynesians; Tongans, Samoans or Fijians,  arrived in the Marquesas.  These Polynesians then migrated to Hawaii around 300 AD (CE) and to the Society Islands by the 9th century.  

Wikipedia photo of the Polynesian Triangle.

Based on the geography of Polynesia, I would have expected the Society Islands to be settled earlier than the Marquesas Islands, though the trade winds probably influenced exploration direction. Needless to say, all of these islands have a long history that reflects beliefs and traditions that are centuries old.

We spent a mere six weeks exploring the Marquesas with the assumption that we will return again before our time in French Polynesia ends.  The last time I wrote about the Marquesas, I only wrote about our time in Nuku Hiva, and my intention was to cover the remainder of the Marquesas Islands we visited in just one more post.

However, the three other islands we visited hold too much beauty to skim over it so quickly. Plus, how many pictures can I reasonable include in one blog post? And the pictures are probably more interesting than my rambling thoughts.

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva was filled with activity, so we departed for quieter places.

We left the bustling anchorage of Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva and headed toward Ua Pou (pronounced “whop-oh) with our sights set on a wide open anchorage called Baie d’Hakahetau. We had read about a man there who makes his own chocolate and Amelia and I thought that was a worthwhile stop! 

The spires on Oa Pou are beautiful!

We enjoyed a quick 32 nm reaching sail then entered Hakahetau where we glimpsed the vibrant, undulating hills along the shoreline. As we approached, the clouds pulled back and revealed the spires that so dramatically litter the islands. These huge spires are basaltic columns that are often named after legendary warriors such as Poutetaunui and Poumaka.

If you want to read about some Marquesan legends, please follow this link:

Unfortunately, that day Baie d’Hakahetau was exposed to wind and waves and Amelia, Frank and I were looking for a calm place to drop anchor after the hustling arena of Taiohae Bay.  We chose to move 3 nm further to Baie de Vaiehu which we thought would offer more protection. 

The waves against the rocky shore were mezmerizing.

We dropped anchor in Vaiehu and were the only boat for the first 24 hours.  The surrounding shore was too rocky to climb onto from the water, but it was captivating from the anchorage.  The sight and sounds of the water slamming against the rocks, then cascading back into the sea were hypnotic.  

On shore goats grazed on green tufts near steep edges without regard for a possible fall.
SlipIns look funny but offer UV protection and some protection from stingers.

I had bought some silly looking one piece suits for Frank and myself to protect us from the sun and from stinging things in the water and Vaiehu is the first place we tried them out.  While not meant to add warmth in the water, these SlipIns do add a degree of protection from stinging things.  After Frank was stung by a large jellyfish while swimming at Nuku Hiva, we were happy to have them as a shield.

The visibility while snorkeling was less than great because the waters are filled with micro-organisms which are excellent food for marine life. As a result we saw several manta rays doing loops in the water as they fed on the plankton. 

A beautiful, pastel sunset.

We spent two nights in Bahia Vaiehu, swimming the rocky edges, enjoying the birds and goats, relishing the solitude, watching the water ebb and flow and reveling in the sunset paintings.

We moved a bit further down the coast of Ua Po and dropped anchor in Baie Uapo for one night to shorten our sail to Tahuata (pronounced: ta ha wa to). The 62nm sail to Tahuata with a heading of about 115 degrees would be upwind in the trade winds.  Once again we were thankful that Ticket to Ride sails so well! 

We lifted anchor around 5:30 am and headed toward the sunrise and the island of Tahuata. Our planned anchorage was on the west side where three indentations into the island offer reasonable protection; Baie Hanamoenoa, Anse Ivaiva Iti and Anse Ivaivanui. Ticket to Ride sailed like a champ and we didn’t have to use the engines until it was time to drop sails and enter the anchorage.

True wind angle 49°, 13.1k true wind speed, 8.8k SOG and 9.0k of boats speed. Go TTR.

This trip, the fish prevailed in the fishing game as we lost a “big one” when the line snapped just before Frank and Amelia could land it.  Little did we know that our 40 lb test line would be much too light for fishing in the Marquesas.  (Spoiler alert: we now have 80 lb test line, but we have had very few hook ups in the Tuamotus!) 

Frank and Amelia moments before the line snapped.

Although there is nothing on shore in the way of developments, the first two fingers for anchoring were pretty crowded, so we chose to anchor in the southern most one, Anse Ivaivanui.  Ivaivanui had one other boat when we arrived but by the end of the day there were 4 other boats anchored with us. 

Anse Ivaivanui was a quiet, undeveloped stop.

Happily we met up with friends Doug and Nan of s/v Paseo and Alene and Bruce of s/v Migration. It was very fun to touch base with them and make some tentative plans to celebrate Amelia and Alene’s shared birth date of June 10th.

After a day or two of water activities, Amelia, Frank and I were ready for some land time so we moved TTR to Baie Vaitahu, just a few miles away. This would be our first town since Nuku Hiva and while we didn’t need anything, we wanted to hike a bit and see some of the foliage up close for a change. 

Baie Vaitahu is a quaint village.

The dock at Vaitahu is quite a challenge. Initially we were hoping to use the dinghy wheels and leave Day Tripper on a shallow area near an inlet. But the tide was rising too quickly so Frank dropped us off, then anchored the dinghy and swam in. The dinghy dock in Vaitahu is documented as actually being dangerous at times due to swell and tide changes.  Once we realized we would have to use the dock, we decided to make a very full day of exploring on shore as we would probably not risk our dinghy and ourselves twice on that dock.

Many local kids gathered to chat, but this young man had quite the crush on Amelia.

We took a long stroll to see the village and gape at the fauna. The soil in the Marquesas is so rich that fruit and flowering trees are abundant. It is easy to get lost in the variety and beauty of trees, fruits and flowers. Once again Amelia shared her vast knowledge of plants and taught us about vegetation we encountered.

We did not see many farm animals, but we did see a few chickens, goats and pigs. Several times we saw a pig tied up near a water source or run off area.

I thought the old truck and the cochon (pig) tied up made an interesting photo.

Most of the population in the Marquesas is Christian due to missionary activity, especially by the Catholic Church. As a result, many islands have beautiful churches that are designed to take advantage of the weather, meaning they are very open and well ventilated.  We did attend Mass while in the Marquesas and it was very interesting to witness a Catholic Mass with strong intermingling of Polynesian tradition.

Our final stop on Tahuata was Baie Hanatefau. There were several boats anchored in Hanatefau. There aren’t restaurants, but we learned that often locals open their homes to boaters and will cook traditional lunches or dinners. Amelia, Frank and I enjoyed lunch on a porch with seven other cruisers. The woman served poisson cru, chicken, fried fish, rice and breadfruit for 3,000 xpf per person (about $28 US). The food was delicious and it was fun to chat with other cruisers and compare their activities and experiences.

We spent a couple of days in Baie Hanatefau walking around town, hiking a little, snorkeling and visiting with friends.

Our last evening in Baie Hanatefau, we gathered on Ticket to Ride with s/v Migration and s/v Paseo to celebrate Amelia and Alene’s birthdays a few days early.

Birthday ladies Alene and Amelia!

Everyone donated to the potluck dinner. We shared stories about how we celebrated birthdays during our childhoods and as adults. Not surprisingly, Alene and Bruce seem to make the biggest celebrations around birthdays. They have a special playfulness that spills into most of their events.

Our time on Ua Po and Tahauata was an excellent combination of solitude, water, land and friends. We even had an opportunity to make an “exchanger” with a local man. Fruits are so plentiful in the Marquesas that often cruisers can trade goods for locally grown fruit. In our case, we traded parachord line and a t-shirt for some pamplemousse, mango and bananas. The gentleman was as happy with his trade as we were with ours!

We hung the bananas in the cockpit to allow them to ripen. They lasted quite a while!

While Ua Po and Tahuata were beautiful stops and we had a great time, we were ready to see what our next island, Fatu Hiva, would hold. Little did I know that Fatu Hiva would become my favorite Marquesas Island.

A gratuitous sunset, just because it’s gorgeous.

Thanks so much for reading our blog. I hope you enjoyed this journal and have a tiny glimpse into these beautiful islands in the Marquesas. Wishing you good health and fun adventures!

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