On Saturday we were woken around 4am by torrential rain which continued through breakfast time and beyond. Our plan together with Sean and Sabina (SY Chevaldy) was to hire a 4×4 pickup and drive the island’s few roads. Fortunately the rain stopped just long enough for the four of us to go ashore laden with a picnic and cameras. The first road we took heads north from the centre of Taiohoe, the concrete zig zagging up the mountain with glimpses of the bay below through the trees. Then at a junction on the plateau beyond, the right turn took us east to Baie du Controlleur and the village of Taipivi. By now we had realised that a 4×4 was the only sensible vehicle; for the most part only the steepest parts are surfaced with concrete the rest is rocky mud. The zigs and zags are almost vertical turns and we wondered why anyone actually thought it possible to build a road up here!
The village of Taipivi is scattered on either side of a river, with fruit trees and breadfruit trees gracing every plot as well as lots of flowers and chickens. We crossed the bridge and drove down towards the sea before retracing our route and heading up and out of the valley towards the north coast and Anahoe. Before we reached there we stopped to explore on foot an ancient settlement with its rectangular platforms built from chunks of black basalt. These are called paepaes (pronounced pi-pi) and were what the original Marquesan’s built their houses on, in fact we’ve seen several current homes built on paepaes too. Larger platforms were for ceremonial use. The jungle is gradually crowding in on this historic site but as we wandered around we were impressed by the building skills required to assemble such solid foundations. Walls also survive as do steps and a few tiki’s. The latter are carved stones in the shapes of fantastical animals or humans.
When Captain Cook came to Nuka Hiva he estimated the population as a couple of hundred thousand, today there is less than a couple of thousand as a result of European diseases and the later failure of the French plantations. However signs of the early Marquesians are everywhere and today efforts are being made to ensure their language which is quite different to Tahitian survives and that Marquesian traditions like tattooing, songs and dance are preserved.
With rain threatening once more we hurried back to the 4×4 and drove on to the quay at Anaho where with the weather drying up for a while we took the opportunity to picnic on the baguettes we’d bought before starting our road trip. After following the road as far as it went west from Anaho and spotting the virgin mary perched some 300m up on a rock pinnacle we headed back the way we’d come as far as the junction then took the left turn towards the airport.
Kevin at Nuka Hiva Yacht Services had promised us some special scenery and he wasn’t wrong. The central plateau, Toovii is rolling countryside with horses and cattle grazing. Beyond, the west side of the island is in the shadow of the mountains which keep back the tradewinds so gets little rain but first we had to climb up the and over the ridge of volcanic rock which divides the western edge of the island from the rest. What a transformation – as we climbed the heat of the tropics gave way to cooler air and the jungle to pine trees like shaggy bottle brushes. The landscape was like somewhere in central Europe! Up here we were above the rain clouds which obscured our views of the canyon but we enjoyed what we could see, stopping the car at intervals to jump out for photo’s. The roads aren’t that busy but there are places to pull over and stop at all the best views.
Dropping down into the western coastal plain, an area known as Terra Dessert as it has a much drier climate, was another contrast; scrubby and relatively flat all the way to western coast of Nuka Hiva and the tiny airport which was shut as no flights were due. Several families live out here growing vegetables, we even spotted some rows of ripening tomatoes! Perhaps there might be some for sale at Wednesday’s market in Taiohoe. The road ends at the airport gates so it was time to head back to Taiohoe. What an amazing island so many different landscapes wrapped up in a few square miles.