26 Aug – 12 Sep 2015: Tahuata to Hanavave Bay, Fatu Hiva ~ 09 54S 139 06W
After a week in Atuona on Hiva Oa it was time to go troppo again and we moved the 9 miles back around to Hanemoenoa Bay on Tahuata. There were some stronger winds and high swells forecast so this was the best place to sit them out.
On arrival this time there was only one other yacht and it left early the following morning, but we were never alone there, a few boats came and went. We ventured ashore one day by dinghy, managing a successful landing and departure in the surf. Steven (one of the 2 permanent residents) invited us back for a late lunch, along with a French boat at anchor with a family onboard. They have taken 4 months off their jobs in Switzerland and chartered a catamaran out of Tahiti , spending the 4 months cruising French Polynesia with their 2 young daughters (7 & 4).
So it was quite a novelty for them to have freshly caught fish made into Poisson Cru with limes just picked and coconut grated and pressed into cream minutes before, followed by wild pork and whole roasted breadfruit cooked over an open coconut husk fire, fresh island oranges and bananas for desert – another perfect day in paradise!
After a few days the weather settled so we headed, along with Mezzaluna who had rejoined us in Hanemoenoa, the 40 miles south to Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island in the Marquesas and reputed to have one of the most spectacular settings for an anchorage in the world.
The Beauty of Nature
We have set Balvenies anchor in a fair number of stunning locations over the last 11 years so our expectations might well be higher than the average cruisers but we can honestly say that Hanavave Bay (aka The Bays of Virgins) is right up there with the wow factor. It is not a great anchorage ~ not much room, very deep, can be rolly and if the winds are up the bullets whizz down the valley ~ but for sheer natural beauty its 10/10.
With only 2 other yachts at anchor upon our arrival we nudged our way in to the best spot we could get, dropping in an acceptable 14 metres but once settled we were laying in well over 25 metres. This is really not ideal but wind conditions were forecast to be light for the coming days so hopefully we would get none of the infamous “bullets” down the valley bringing gusts of over 30 knots.
The vista was exceptional, the dipping sun accentuated the layers and folds of the sheer cliffs, as we looked from one rock pillar to the next we could see faces in the contours with the shadows, it was just magical.
The small village lies at the head of the bay, and a compact breakwater tries to protect the dock from the surging swell. For the first couple of days we were there the swell was up, surf was breaking along the beach and over the breakwater. The local boats (aluminium runabouts about 4 metres long) still came and went, they had much more powerful engines than our dinghy and local knowledge. We watched the action from Balvenie and waited patiently for conditions to improve.
Once the swell settled we ventured ashore to visit the small tidy village and to do some hiking. First up was the waterfall hike, a pleasant walk through lush vegetation, rewarded with a dip (for skipper) in the very cool swimming pool at the base of the waterfall. Another beautiful natural setting and just us with Jeff and Katie there to enjoy it. Our next hike was on the road to the southern village of Omoa, you can walk all the way there and back but we decided just to go to the highest point then retrace our steps back down, even this was about 5 hours roundtrip with some seriously steep inclines then declines.
The road twisted and turned, up, up and up some more, the views below were unspoilt and every now and then we would get a peak at the yachts at anchor, far far below. We were passed by only one vehicle so it sure wasn’t a busy road, most of the traffic goes by sea – a much quicker option, not too sure just why they built the road really.
The paved road eventually ran out at the top and a rough dirt track wound along the mountain tops, an abandoned front end loader sat rusting at the summit for skipper to play on while I took photos of Balvenie and our neighbouring yachts looking like tiny white specs, far below – yes it really was quite some climb up there!
You could see the wind shadow of Fatu Hiva for miles out to sea, the glassy waters below us were sheltered in the lee of the island, Tahuata and Hiva Oa were visible in the distance under fluffy trade wind clouds, it was a glorious day and the vista was outstanding.
One day the Aranui III was scheduled to arrive in neighbouring Omoa so we arranged return transport by tinnie (local aluminium boat) with Poi one of the local carvers and went to Omoa for the day. The Aranui III is a combined Coastal Trader and Cruise Ship and plies the waters of French Polynesia on a regular schedule, offering a life line of inbound goods to the communities and an opportunity for all the copra and noni to be shipped out regularly, (copra is dried coconut meat used for its oil and noni is a bumpy fruit a little smaller than a mango which is used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, both are major export crops) thereby creating cash flow for the locals. Additional income is made of course by having the visiting cruise ship passengers ashore giving them an opportunity to purchase local crafts.
While all the freight is being unloaded and loaded the paying passengers get brought ashore in what could only be described as war time landing craft (think of the first scene from the epic movie “Saving Private Ryan” of the beach landings but without the gunfire!) There was a considerable swell running and we watched as the landing craft came surfing in, make a sharp turn between the incoming rollers to get behind the breakwater and then surf right to the dock, quite entertaining.
If you don’t actually think that looks too bad take a look at the photos below with the surge coming in and out and the surf on the beach. Then take into account that dockworkers were all wearing lifejackets in case they got washed in, and the meeting point for all the passengers kept going underwater - it was lively! We are happy to report that all goods and passengers appeared to make it ashore unscathed although we suspect not completely dry.
We joined the throng of tourists and wandered up to the local Community Centre where all the local craftspeople were presenting their wares. There was an excellent display of wooden, bone and shell carvings along with a varied selection of printed tapa cloths. There was jewellery, ornaments, bowls, traditional weapons, wooden and stone tikis, all absolute works of art.
Cutting the branch, peeling the bark back then pounding it out, the different trees provide varying colours
This island is one of the last to still make tapa cloth, made from the inner bark of either mulberry, breadfruit or banyan trees and the local women did a presentation showing the skills they have in peeling the bark from the branches, pounding it to ease the fibres and stretch the fabric. In the right photo see how wide the piece has become already.
The Aranui III spent the evening anchored off our bay, funnily enough the Paul Gauguin (the only full cruise ship to visit this region) had passed by the evening before at sunset. This is the most remote island in the archipelago, both geographically and commercially as there is no airstrip, and the passenger ships don’t visit often but they both swung by while we were there. Balvenie sitting at anchor with the soft light of the setting sun on us, silhouetted against the steep sided lush mountains will forever be in hundreds of tourists photos!
We Agree ~ A Truly Spectacular Setting