French Polynesia

Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa

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We arrived in Fatu Hiva after a 19-day sail from the Galapagos.  Our plan was to stay two nights in Fatu Hiva before heading on to Hiva Oa.  After a good nights sleep (10 hours!) we woke up prepped and ready to get our feet on the ground. The biggest thing to do in Fatu Hiva is the waterfall hike, so we packed up for a hike and took off.

About Fatu Hiva & Hiva Oa

These two islands are actually part of France.  They are islands in the Marquesas group of French Polynesia, in the South Pacific.  Both islands are inhabited, but Hiva Oa is much more populated than Fatu Hiva.  This is the southeastern edge of the Marquesas.

Getting to Fatu Hiva & Hiva Oa

For those without a private boat, getting to Fatu Hiva is fairly limited.  However, don’t give up hope!  Aranui Cruises operates a small supply & passenger cruise ship.  We saw them often around the islands, including Fatu Hiva.

Hiva Oa is much easier to get to.  There are flights operated by Air Tahiti out to Hiva Oa, and plenty of pensions or guesthouses to stay in.

If you really want to get out to Fatu Hiva on a boat, try hitching a ride.

Further reading:  Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia: How to get to the world’s most remote islands

Fatu Hiva Waterfall Hike

The books called it a landing…I would have called it a wharf I suppose. The Bay of Virgin’s landing is a sheltered, concrete wall. We weaved LD through the many aluminum long boats tied up to the wharf with stern anchors. We did not use a stern anchor, nor did we lock the dinghy. Just off the wharf was a big sign in French about Fatu Hiva. We walked through the town, passing a bulletin board with typed signs and a handwritten map of how to find the waterfall, which was handy.

Many Marquesan people bid us bonjour as we passed. We also passed fruit trees everywhere!  Limes, coconuts, mangos, bananas, breadfruit. Almost every tree bore something edible, and many of the bushes were fragrant jasmine or colorful hibiscus.

The walk led us through town and then off the paved road into an unpaved lane. That lane was under construction – a muddy track of heavy tire marks. There was even a backhoe working. Fortunately, we picked the right place to veer off from the mayhem and followed a heavily overgrown track. That track led us down to the water and over a small dam. We followed the river for a little while, and across the stream, we could see the road we had abandoned led to the actual construction project – a hydroelectric dam.

We continued on our way, passing a cow tethered to a tree, before finding the trail up to the waterfall, which was marked with cairns. The path so far had been partially shaded and hot, but the path from here to the waterfall was significantly cooler and sometimes even dark. The path was rocky and littered with fallen hibiscus blooms. The cairns were persistent little buggers, almost every ten feet or so. Our first sign of the waterfall was a mist between the leaves of the canopy.

The waterfall, at 200 feet tall, is a beautiful sight. In fact, the whole walk was stunning. The landscape feels prehistoric, like Journey to the Center of the Earth. The pool at the base of the waterfall was fresh and cold. I went for a swim and you can’t touch or see the bottom.

David flew Phoenix, although he had some trouble getting high enough to snap a picture of the whole thing.

Our whole hike took about 3 hours.

The grocery store is on the road, and we took a peak while passing by.  It’s well-stocked with staples.

Back on Starry Horizons David and I jumped in the water to cool off. We swam between the hulls, where the water flowed a bright electric blue, much lighter than we’ve seen before. We scoped out our underwater growth – lots of mussels on our waterline!

The Fatu Hiva waterfall is one of our Top 10 French Polynesia Experiences.

Hiva Oa Island Tour

We had talked to Jose that morning and wavered back and forth about touring the island in the rain, but eventually decided to go for it. And boy are we glad we did!

We rented a car from Make Make, a cute little 4WD guy. It was $100 for a 9 am – 7 pm rental. Make Make provided us with a map and Jose took the wheel!  We left to go all the way out to the east side of the island.  It took us hours, and the roads were anything from paved to dirt to gravel to rock. We climbed up and down and over the mountains, enjoying the scenery and the overlooks. We even drove through clouds!

Finally, we reached the first archaeological site, the home of the largest tiki in French Polynesia.

Along the drive back we stopped at a beach and had lunch. There were picnic benches around the coconut trees so we all shared a bench and ate. I pulled out a pamplemousse and started peeling. Jose picked up a coconut and hammered away at it. We shared with Gina and David, although Jose and I did all the hard work!

We somehow missed a turn for one of the archeological sites, and couldn’t track down one of the tiki stops.  But the whole island is beautiful, and we saw more beaches and a small village. On our way back to Atuona, we kept a close eye for the turn off for the Smiling Tiki. The car rental place told us where to go, but the signs get worse as you go and we had to ask for directions several times. We finally found it after some insane mud 4×4 driving.

From there, we continued on past the town and to another archeological site. This one had no tikis, but was a ceremonial ground.

Back into town, we stopped at the cemetery to see the graves of Gauguin and Brel.

Finally, it was 6 and we were all hungry and tired. We grabbed a quick pizza lunch at a hotel and restaurant between the town and the bay.

Making Coconut Milk in Hiva Oa

Throughout the day of our car trip, we had stopped to pick produce – coconuts, limes, peppers, and bananas. When we returned the car, we met Nike and Hereiti. Hereiti is half Polynesian and half Australian, and Nike is Marquesan.   Hereiti lived in Hawaii for a while and speaks beautiful English. When Nike saw our coconuts, he offered to hold them overnight for us and in the morning we could come by and he would help us process them for coconut milk.

The next day, Tuesday the 3rd, Jose, Gina and I went over to Nike and Hereiti’s (David opted to work on our water maker). Nike stuck a stake in the ground and showed us how to husk the coconut. Once all five nuts were husked, he pulled out a machete and Nike and Jose cracked the coconuts open. We all tasted the water, which is good but not as good as green (young) coconuts.

Next, Hereiti pulled out a grating machine. We each took turns holding the coconuts to the grater and grating the white meat. Next, the meat was placed in a cloth strainer which we squeezed to press out the milk. The milk was so good – much richer and creamier than canned milk. Hereiti said that although there are tons of coconuts on the island, many locals buy the canned products instead of making their own. She said that whenever they want curry, they make their own milk for it.

Hiva Oa’s Gauguin Museum

Back at Starry Horizons, I whipped up a batch of cookies to bring Nike and Hereiti as a thank you. After lunch, I walked into town and after dropping the cookies off, I went to see the Gauguin museum. While there are no originals, the museum contains reproductions of a lot of his work. Gauguin lived in France and was friends/mentored by many impressionist artists. However, he lived in FP for many years of his life and died in his home in Atouna. The works were organized by where he lived and it was interesting to see the Polynesian influence in his work. Also, his house was part of the museum complex.

On my way back, a local woman and her kid gave me a ride to the bay. As we’ve found in many countries, people tend to say they don’t speak English, but her English was good enough for a conversation with me!

At the bay, I stopped at the convenience store to do some provisioning, including buying a large chunk of fresh tuna. I invited Jose and Gina over for dinner and we made poisson cru for dinner.

Customs Legalities for Cruisers in Fatu Hiva

Technically, we weren’t supposed to be in Fatu Hiva as there are no customs offices there. However, due to the location of the islands, it makes more sense to stop at Fatu Hiva first instead of stopping at Hiva Oa and then backtracking. Also, many blogs that I’ve read stopped for a few days in Fatu Hiva and had no problems. We kept our visit short and sweet for that reason, but Fatu Hiva was spectacularly beautiful and will be hard to beat.

Sailing From Fatu Hiva to Hiva Oa

The next morning we picked up to head to Hiva Oa.  We took about 7 hours to sail to Hiva Oa, and along the way, we hooked a sportfish (probably a marlin), but it dropped the lure before too much fighting.

Clearing into French Polynesia in Hiva Oa

We pulled into the bay near Atuona on Thursday the 28th. The bay behind the breakwater was pretty full, and the boats on the north side all had stern anchors out. The boats on the south side were technically in a no anchoring zone. We decided to anchor outside of the breakwater. Throughout our stay, there were occasionally a few boats out there with us but sometimes we were alone.

Upon our arrival, we contacted Hiva Oa Yacht Services via the VHF and coordinated meeting with Sandra the next morning at the Semaphore, which is a small shack overlooking the bay, opposite of the town. Hiva Oa Yacht Services has a wifi signal available there for 500 CF for 24 hours (9 am – 9 am, you have to meet Sandra in the morning to get the code, one device only, not strong enough to be seen from the boats).  That was good because the other wifis weren’t working and were 500 CF an hour.  When we arrived Friday morning, Sandra didn’t really seem to be expecting us. Of course though, no worries, we will try again tomorrow. Island time!

The next day we met Sandra down at the dock and this time she told us there was an issue with our paperwork. We decided to use an agent to clear in for two reasons: 1) we don’t have to pay a bond and 2) we get a duty free diesel certificate. We did the math and if we fill up our tank, the savings more than cover the cost of the agent. The problem we had was that our health insurance card wasn’t proof enough that we had active coverage. Fortunately, we found some other paperwork that satisfied the requirements.

Instead of hanging around on the boat, Sandra said it was ok to go to town, so we climbed into a taxi with a bunch of other cruisers and headed in. As we chatted, we discovered one of the couples was Couch Sailors!  We had messaged with Jose and Gina before, but not very much. There were many cruisers from the west coast of the states, and Gina and Jose are from San Francisco. We chatted with them a bit and decided to try to rent a car and tour the island together soon.

We poked around town a bit, bought some groceries and then started the walk back to the bay. It’s about 3 km, but most of the time a local will pick you up.

Sunday we relaxed around Starry Horizons and via VHF organized to have sundowners with Gina and Jose. We had a blast chatting with them, and it was late by the time they left.

Monday morning was rainy and overcast. We got together with Sandra, who drive us to town and got us cleared in. It took less than an hour and everyone was friendly.

Watch our Video

Next Island:  Tahuata

The next day, we upped anchor to head next door to the island of Tahuata.

13 Comments

  1. Your pictures look so different from what is usually seen when “French Polynesia” is in the sentence! So much of that jungle green and lush vegetation! I have been dreaming of going to these places for a really long time (I even bought a guidebook!), but don’t have any specific plans in place yet.

  2. So interesting as its somewhere I’ve never even heard of before! Making your own coconut milk also sounds so interesting! Your beautiful photos remind me of Hawaii in many ways – definitely another addition to the bucketlist!

    1. There are so many similarities between the Polynesian Islands, but after spending quite a bit of time there, we can see the differences.

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