Hakatea Bay and the waterfall trek

On Sunday a group of boats headed round the corner to the westmost bay on the southern coast of Nuka Hiva; Hakatea Bay. Again the shear scale of the island’s heights had us lost for words, just five miles away yet Chivaldy’s yacht mast a mile or two ahead of us looked like a matchstick at the foot of the cliffs. Our first goal was a beach BBQ and our second the waterfall walk.

The crews of Enchantress, Chivaldy and Temptress were joined by Bruce and Kerry of SY Haven, Chris and Frances of SY Usquebar (means whisky in gaelic) and Hermin (spelling?) of SY Dortita, making the party a veitable mix of German, Irish, Australian, Scots, English and Welsh. With permission from the owners nephew who joined us later with his pair of cute young puppies named number seven and number eight we commandeered the bottom corner of the grassy garden that lay just behind the beach for our BBQ and ate and sang until darkness fell and beyond. At which point Kevin & I realised we’d not put up our anchor light so Temptress was swallowed up in the gloom of the bay. Later Bruce and Kerry kindly towed us back in roughly the right direction until we found our home as originally we’d rowed ashore.

The following morning six of us – Kerry, Bruce, Susan, Sabina, Kevin & I – were up early and on the beach for 06:30am as we at least wanted to start our walk in the cool of the early morning. Having tied the dinghies to a couple of trees in the lefthand corner of the beach and dusted the sand off our feet so we could don socks and walking shoes our first challenge was to cross the small river that ran into the sea between us and the little headland that divides Hakatea from Hakuai. Equipped with hats, backpacks and staffs we looked somewhat like extras from the set of the hobbit, certainly the scenery was similar! We wandered up the bank for a little way before realising the only way was to paddle through the almost knee deep water.

Around the headland and before we reached the village of Hakuai there was another fording to be made. Again the six of us tried to move from rock to rock to keep as dry as possible before giving up and wading on. By the time we returned from our walk nothing even deep mud caused us to pause before wading through and all of us confidently crossed even the fastest flowing stream with ease!

The walk proper starts in the village which today is perhaps half a dozen occupied homes but once was a much larger settlement as evidenced by the numbers of paepaes either side of the broad ancient road built up of yet more basalt blocks above the surrounding flood plain which runs straight and true for several hundred metres inland. It’s very pretty with colourful shrubs and flowers forming hedges around the gardens and small areas of coconut palms, banana plants and fruit trees. There was even a horse grazing. We were asked if we’d want lunch on our return at $10US per person. Sorry no but we will buy some fruit on the way back.

Eventually the road dwindled to a narrow path still with the massive block work supporting it on the downhill side as it wound its way gently up through the valley above the river. At times we were glad of the blocks to walk on away from the ankle deep mud. Green clad rock pillars like carefully tended oversized garden fir trees stuck up from the valley floor on the opposite side. Amazing thin, conical structures that rise several hundred metres. The whole scale of the landscape on Nuka Hiva is beyond anything we’ve seen.

We came across more paepaes that the jungle had all but reclaimed and in their midst what we believe was a breadfruit fermenting pit (read Herman Melville’s Typee or Jack London’s Cruise of the Snark for more on ancient Marquesian culture). Once this valley must have been a fertile populous place, now empty except for us and a local hunter we encountered. He was very friendly and smiley despite appearances; a rifle tucked under his arm, a pack of dogs, traditional tattoos and a boars tooth necklace. We chatted a while in Franglais, the hunting hadn’t been good this morning but he wished us well on our trek.

It was fairly gentle walking interspersed with tumbling streams to cross and as we headed upwards the path began to fade especially after the old settlement. Once or twice we got a little lost but soon regained the path. Sometimes it was easier to wade in the river than walk the banks. Eventually we caught a glimpse of our goal – water falling hundreds of feet down off the top of a cleft in the rocks to the west. We could only see the top third or so from our viewpoint but already we could hear its roar.

Everything is green except the flowers, the lichens and the fungi which come in all sorts of bright colours. I photographed some fluted black fungi on a fallen log that was delicately edged in white like a circle of crochet. Though it didn’t rain during our trek it had been raining recently and everything was damp. The hidden annoyance in this paradise is the no-no – unseen but with a voracious appetite for human blood; despite regularly applying jungle formula repellent I think we were all bitten many times during the morning. Mostly the bites don’t really reveal themselves until 12 or 24 hours later when extremely itchy blistered wheals appear. As I write this a day and a half afterwards I am still aware of itches round my wrists and knees. The only relief is antihistamine tablets and Fenistil gel.

The volcanic cliffs began to close in with a notice to beware of chute de pierre or falling rock. The path grew ever narrower then suddenly we rounded a corner and there it was. The air was filled with spray, below our feet was a large muddy coloured pool, ahead a tumble of boulders under which the water flowed. Above all of this the cascade of water and the towering cliffs. Sadly the angle is such that from the small flat meadow area we stood on it is not possible to view the full height of the falls only the lower half but it was impressive.

The cliff around the falls is cut back in a huge inverted bowl of an overhang; testament to the power of water. The scale of things is such that you really can’t estimate size, though Yves Cousteau apparently measured the fall from a helicopter and the longest free fall is three hundred metres which makes this one of the tallest cascades in the world. Kevin and Bruce weren’t perturbed by the murky pool, they swam across and threaded their way through the boulders for the magnificent view of the whole falls whilst we ladies partook of refreshments not really fancying the coffee coloured water. Even a 100m or so back we were getting damp from the spray.

From leaving the boats to arriving at the falls took three hours, the trek back was quicker as by now we’d got used to the many stream crossings and no longer cared about the mud we squelched through. Back in Hakuai we bought pamplemousse, oranges, bananas and breadfruit. The lady broke off from processing copra to serve us by picking the fruit fresh from her trees. 200CPF ($2US) for a whole hand of bananas (about 15 or so), 100CPF per pamplemousse or breadfruit and 50CPF per orange.

Then having wandered down to the shore and been surprised to find that this part of the bay had a shingle beach, we waded back across the river, rounded the headland via the rocky foreshore rather than the path as the tide was ebbing and forded the final stream back to the dinghies. Everyone was back aboard their respective boats by 1pm. A fantastic morning and one we’ll remember with pleasure for many years to come.

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