Nuku Hiva

The Mountainous Islands of Marquesas

What a change of scenery!  It was so nice to wake up to tall, sweeping mountains against a brilliant blue sky.  Of course, I was still partially asleep being we just set the hook 4 hours earlier.  The mountain sides are not particularly green and lush in Baie Taiohae, but they are pretty.  Welcome to the Marquesas.

Most cruising boats plan to arrive to this archipelago when traveling from Panama and Galapagos.  It is a direct route with typically good winds allowing for an 18-30 day passage.  Number of days depends on the boats, sail trim, and wind obviously.  The cruisers we know that have made this passage tended to complete it in 25-28 days.  The exception was Barry with Adventures of an Old Sea Dog who took over 70 days as a single handler. 

Most of our cruisers friends stopped at the Marquesas first.  We, however, have never been here before.  As you might recall, we arrived in the Gambiers when entering French Polynesia.  So, these beautiful and majestic islands are all new to us!

The Marquesas Archipelago

There are five major islands, but a total of 15 that make up the Marquesas archipelago. The major islands include Nuka Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pu, Fatu Hiva, and Ua Huka.  The first settlement was in AD 900-1,000 by Polynesians.  It wasn’t until 1526 that it was later “discovered by the Spanish.  Today, over 9,400 inhabitants populate the Marquesas islands.

Marquesas Archipelago

Marquesas Archipelago

The Marquesas suffered a great population decline from endemic diseases carried by Western explorers.  The indigenous people suffered high rates of mortality as they had no immunity to the new diseases.  The population was reduced from 78k inhabitants to about 20k by the middle of the nineteenth century.  By the turn of the 20th century, the population was further reduced to just over 4k.  By 1926, it was a measly 2300 inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, the population took a turn and slowly increased to 8,500 in 2002 and finally to 9,400 in 2017.

In contrast to the other Polynesian islands, the Marquesas are all volcanic and high islands (except Motu One).  With steep volcanic mountains that plunge straight into the ocean.  They are also very dry islands, unlike its sister Polynesian islands that are lush and flowing with tropical vegetation.  View of Baie Taiohae the morning after we arrived.

Mountains of Nuku Hiva

Mountains of Nuku Hiva

The Marquesas’ islands are not surrounded by a protective fringing reef which is another difference between the archipelagos.  Coral is only found in one place in the Marquesas.  Coral is at the top of the island Fatu Huku, a rather strange location. 

Different from the Tuamotus

These islands suffer from frequent drought conditions because of their prevailing easterly winds that spawn from the Humbolt Current.  This has led to historical fluctuations in water supply, which have played a crucial role in the sustainability of human populations in certain sections of the various islands throughout the archipelago.

The islands range in age.  Fatu Hiva is the youngest island at 1.3 million years old and Eiao is the oldest island at 6 million years old. 

The Marquesas islands also known as Henua Enana, land of men has created a race of strong people of immense pride and fascinating culture.  The islands are full of natural wonders including 305 meter (1000’) waterfalls that cascade down volcanic cliffs and towering mountains.

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