Ua Huka, Marquesas, French Polynesia

We intended to sail out of Tahuata in the morning, but then looked at our charts and realized we’d mis-planned: for some reason we were thinking it was 32 miles instead of 64. So to arrive in daylight, we had to wait to depart until a little after sunset. Oops. While we waited, we had some fun in the kitchen: we found that crabs from our hull were climbing up into our sink. And, finally out of fresh butter, we broke out the canned butter we’d been saving. And we found that all four cans had gone rancid: apparently its shelf life is somewhere less than four years. Live and learn, and then cook with coconut oil.

We took off around 9pm, and it was, for the most part, a lovely sail. Jazz went to bed the moment the sails were up. It got a little spicy where the wind funnels between Tahuata and Hiva Oa, and then we had to motor through Hiva Oa’s wind shadow. After that, it was a friendly 12-15 knots from a little behind the beam through the night, with Jazz taking over at 11:30 and holding out until the sun started to rise at 5. As light picked up, we could faintly see the island in the distance, and some small squalls that would force a couple of sail changes on us before we arrived.

Our first stop was Hane bay, where we were the only boat. It’s a pretty place, with relatively clear water and big sweeping hillsides. A huge turtle came up to say hello as we dropped the anchor! But there was enough roll coming into the bay that we couldn’t find a safe place to land the dinghy without risking some more aggressive surfing than we were prepared for. Since we wanted to walk around the island, we hauled anchor and headed to the next spot.

We were almost inside the narrow entrance to Vaipaee, Invisible Bay, when we spotted the ropes stretching across the harbor mouth from either side of the supply ship Aranui 5. It was a good thing we saw them when we did, or we’d have had a fun time turning around in a tight and choppy spot.

That left one last option in the guidebook, which was Baie Haavei. We took the short motor around the corner of the island, enjoying a close pass by the cliff walls with their crashing waves; very different than the scenery we’ve been seeing on the last few islands. We dropped anchor, once again the only boat, and watched the moon rise over the island. We were joined right around sunset by another sailboat and the Aranui, which anchored way offshore but was still a huge part of the skyline.

Haavei is pretty, but still had some surf, and even if we’d gone to shore via the reportedly private beach, we’d have been far from everything. We debated bailing and going straight to Nuku Hiva, but we did want to see the island, and we knew the Aranui had left. So in the morning, we hauled anchor and motored back to Invisible Bay. We once again passed between the mainland and Ilot Tevava, where the sea birds were flocking and putting on a great show for us. Supposedly the rope leading down into the water is for collecting tern eggs, which are a local delicacy.

We made it into Invisible Bay without incident, aside from some protest from Captain about the motor being on. There, we anchored between steeply sloped cliffs that remind us a little of Red Rocks. We packed some snacks (as we didn’t think we’d find a restaurant), dropped the dinghy, and headed to the concrete landing. Once ashore, we found a nice poster about rats, and a pleasant walk towards the town of Vaipaee. Along the road are low huts, which we puzzled over until we saw an open one: the covers slide from side to side, to keep the rain off of the coconuts drying beneath.

We stopped along the road at the town’s church, which has tiki-style statues of Peter and Paul guarding the doors. And we found a welcome sign in the center of town, in front of the (closed) maritime museum.

We hadn’t walked far past town when a guy driving a pickup truck offered us a ride. We told him we were going to the arboretum, and he, Ernesto, told us that we should go to the museum instead, and visit the arboretum on the way back. We don’t quite have enough French to protest, not that we would have, so he drove us halfway back to Hane to the Communal Museum of Ua Huka. Along the way, we chitchatted about where we were from, and he told Andrew he looked like Joe Biden. Then he waved down another passing car to tell the driver that he had Joe Biden’s son in the car, and the two of them had a great laugh.

The doors to the museum were locked, but Ernesto had a key, which worked on the fourth door he tried. He let us in, opened a door on the other wall for airflow, and repeated the instructions for locking up when we were done before departing. It’s a nice little museum, full of model boats and wooden tikis. Jazz liked the butts.

We stepped outside and started walking half-heartedly back towards the arboretum, hoping to snag another ride. Along the way, we saw some of the wild horses which, along with goats, outnumber humans ten to one here. Andrew was just trying to shoot the horse when Jazz spotted a car, and we fumbled our way through negotiating a ride to the arboretum. We sat in the back of the van with an air compressor and a silent daughter, and tried to make small talk in broken French with the couple in front and their newborn.

The arboretum was peaceful and smelled good, but felt more like a working farm than a tourist attraction, probably because it is: it supplies citrus to several nearby islands, and does something to do with farming education that we weren’t really clear on. A worker who wasn’t sure why we were talking to her told us it was OK to pick fruit, so we snagged an orange and a couple of starfruit.

We hitched back to the town of Vaipaee, where we bought frozen bread and ice cream sandwiches in the Magazin, and walked the rest of the way back to the bay.

We got back to the dinghy to find honest-to-god man-o-war jellies snagged on its bow line. We learned, in attempting to remove them, that man-o-wars will pop like bubble wrap when you step on them, so now that’s something we know. The tentacles do not like to detach from rope.

We got back to the boat and had a nice, relaxing evening, hanging out outside and watching the sun go down over the red cliffside.


  1. Great post! Love the photos from the museum. Man-o-war jellies within a 100m bubble is a bit scary but they’re amazing looking creatures. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.