Our first Marquesan island was Nuku Hiva. Primarily, because we needed to refuel, reprovision, catch up on internetting, and just relax after our passage. But our goal was to get to Ua Pou, the island with the legendary pinnacles and the official host of the Marquesan festival that only occurs once every four years.
Marquesan Festival in Ua Pou
Matt and I had been doing recognizance in Nuku Hiva to try to determine how we can attend this once in a lifetime opportunity. We learned that there are only two small areas where anchoring is allowed for cruisers which will only hold 10 boats each. And there are issues with both locations. One has a horrible swell and is known as a “surf spot” and the other is actually located in part of the marine protected area.
The other bays have anchoring available but there is no way to get from there to the main village. The island only one main dirt road with only 10 licensed transport drivers. The main village will have 4 cruise ships (not sure where how they are going to fit into the small bay of Hakahau. So, at this point we need to head to Ua Pou to scout it out for ourselves.
Passage to Ua Pou from Nuku Hiva
Ua Pou is a short 28nm sail from Nuku Hiva. Before we pulled up the anchor, Matt spent some time cleaning up the bridle which was covered in muck. Nuku Hiva has some stuff in the water that dirties our waterline and makes a mess of the anchor chain. It gave us an idea of what to expect when the chain came up and it was spot on – gross! The pressure washer was needed to clean off the chain as we pulled her up and stowed her away. I mean it was disgusting!
With clean (or cleaner) chain, we raised the main with 1 reef and let out the jib with 2 reefs. We were sailing along at 8-9kts in 18-20kts of wind on a beam reach. It was a lovely sunny sailing day. About an hour out of Ua Pou we pulled in a 2nd reef in the main as we were seeing over 20kts of wind and 11kts of boat speed. We made it to Ua Pou in a little over 4 hours – excellent timing!
Ducking in and out of Anchorages
We swung into the main anchorage of Hakahau to try to determine the small approved anchoring area. There were 4 boats already in the harbor and only one of them was in the approved areas (and that was just barely in the corner). I’d say that half of the area is not safe to anchor in due to the swell. We also passed by the airport anchorage Baie Aneo but there was no way to get to shore. The next bay was Hakahetau which had another small approved spot. When we swung in it was really rolly and we decided not to stay there either.Sugar Shack dropped the hook in Baie de Vaiehu. There is no village in this bay, just beautiful, colorful mountains.
About Ua Pou
Ua Pou, has a very picturesque geology. It has been described as having a collection of 12 pointy pinnacles that soar like missiles from the basaltic shield. They form one of the Marquesas’ most photographed scenes even though they are almost constantly shrouded in swirling mist. In addition to these massive pillars are a few oasis-like valleys bursting with tropical plants and beaches.
Four high basalt pillars are in the center of the island. These pinnacles are Poumaka at 979m, Matahenua at 1,028m, Pouake at 1,034m and the tallest Mount Oave at 1,203m. Oave is the highest elevation in the Marquesas. They reach high above the surrounding mountains.
Legend of the Pinnacles
Legend has it that Ua Pou symbolizes the entrance pillars to God’s house. Huge basaltic columns reaching the sky and holding the names of legendary warriors: Poutetaunui and Poumaka. In 1888, they inspired poet Robert Louis Stevenson, who mentioned them as “volcanic arrows looking like a church bell tower.”
We are blessed to be visiting during a time when these majestic pinnacles are often standing tall and free of clouds. From what I understand, this is a rare treat. Yet, we have seen these giants at least 4-5 times per week since we’ve been here.
As we discussed in the history of the Marquesas’ islands, many inhabitants were ravaged by diseases introduced by European explorers and traders. However, the Catholic priests on Ua Pou were able to preserve the population by quarantining the native population in the churches whenever visiting ships arrived. Thereby reducing their exposure to external diseases and making Ua Pou one of the most populous of the Marquesas Islands until the 1980’s. Today, the population is estimated to be 2,300 inhabitants which is roughly 1/3 the population of Nuka Hiva.