Nuku Hiva – by Marike

Nuku Hiva didn’t have very clear water, but it wat GREAT to see land again!

Nuku Hiva is an imposing island, with shear walls curling around the sheltered valleys. Once we were anchored inside the little bay, we were almost surrounded by land, as the opening to the bay isn’t that big.

What do I remember of Nuku Hiva?

Huge pampelmoes (grapefruit that tastes exquisite), everyone wearing a flower behind the ear and also the steamy hot-house feeling in the late-afternoons after a rain shower. Nuku Hiva is part of the Marquesan group of islands, which in turn is part of the bigger French Polynesia. This, of course, means that there are subsidised baguettes for sale in the tiny little shops! Yay!

The food on Nuku Hiva is excellent. The combination of French and Polynesian . . . I really like it. You can buy fresh baguette every morning to eat with French quality cheese and local honey. Or even with paté, if you so wish. We supplemented this with great big pampelmoes or any of the other fruit that are available, such as banana or papaya. (All delicious.)

On Saturdays there is a mini-market close to the dock for the tourists. (One thing I LOVE about islands: everything important is within easy walking distance!) Vegetables sell out really quickly, so if you want vegetables you need to be there early. In the tropics there are more than enough fruit – it’s the vegetables that don’t grow so well.

At this mini-market they also sell some local … puddings. They would be cakes, I suppose, except they definitely jiggle. They taste really good. They had a sago-pudding like texture, but not quite. I think they were manioc puddings. They were yummy.

Another very interesting dish was the banana leaf-wrapped parcel. We were told this dish can be made using tin foil instead of banana leaves, but that’s not the traditional method. Basically its young bananas mashed up with coconut milk to form a kind of paste. This is then wrapped up in banana leaves and cooked in a pit. (I’m not sure if there are any more ingredients involved.) The result is quite delicious. ^_^

Banana all parcelled up and a tapioca pudding on the side

Banana mash…thing?

We read a book on our crossing from the Galápagos to Nuku Hiva: Typee by Herman Melville. It really enriched our experience of Nuku Hiva, by introducing us to strange words and concepts before we encountered them in real life. It’s an old book, describing life as it used to be for the Polynesians who lived on the island in the time before there were a lot of European people there.

Many of the things we learned from the book are only relevant to the history of the island, but there is one specific thing we learned from the book which is still quite prevalent: the eating of “pooey-pooey”. To my great delight, we actually had the opportunity to taste some!

Pooey-pooey is a kind of sticky goo made from fermented breadfruit. It tastes a bit like beer and none of us liked it especially. It was just very cool to know it really exists!

In the book, the hero is constantly mentioning pooey-pooey as a dish the locals eat. Typee is one of those older, really descriptive books where the setting of a scene takes priority over any action that might serve to keep a story line going. It seemed as though every meal had to be carefully documented and pooey-pooey was a major recurring theme.


We love coconuts! Nobody pays for coconuts on Nuku Hiva. You just pick them up from the ground.

We didn’t spend nearly so much time in the South Pacific as my Dad had hoped we would. We have learned the hard way that sailing is mostly being stuck in places you don’t specifically care for and skipping through the spots that are the stuff dreams are made of.

Some time ago we worked out that around a third of our time, we actually spend at sea! That is, actively moving from one place to another.

From top to bottom: France; French Polynesia; Nuku Hiva.

Even though Nuku Hiva wasn’t the diving utopia my Dad really wanted to get to, we still could have stayed in Nuku Hiva for a month! It was the island where we learned the most about the historical culture of the Pacific.

Many factors led to us having such a rich experience in the short time we were there. Nuku Hiva is a little out of the way – there are very few people actually living there. No big towns, only quiet villages. “Out of the way” also means that it doesn’t attract many tourists. Sure, quite a few yachts come by, but cruisers do NOT inspire the same hustle and bustle as holiday-goers would! Everything is relaxed. Overall people work on ‘Island time’.


The main thing we spent money on was the island tour.

Up to date the Nuku Hiva island tour has been the best we’ve ever had – mostly just because there is so much to work with on Nuku Hiva!

The island used to be rather over-populated before the European settlers arrived, so the island is choc’n’block full of … stuff. Old meeting grounds, pi-pis, shells and rocks used for tools, some old tiki – the list could go on.

We kicked off the tour with a lovely look-out over the bay and then headed to another part of the island.

Our guide, Richard, told us stories about when he was young. How everyone used to ride horses everywhere and how they trained dogs to smell out where the chickens were hiding their eggs. Now, of course, they don’t have to do those things anymore. The French government has built a lovely road for cars to drive on and there is now a chicken farm on Nuku Hiva.

Let loose in the museum. (We had the guide’s approval!)

The club my Dad is holding is specifically Nuku Hivian.

We did many various and wonderful things, including a visit to Typee valley, the place where Hermin Melville’s novel is located.

We saw many pi-pis. Pi-pis are large, rectangular blocks of piled rocks. The individual rocks are quite large and they are stacked carefully into these platforms that the people used to build their houses on. I have no idea how old they are, but I’m guessing pretty old.

A rather overgrown pi-pi

An example of what the structures on top of the pi-pi s could have looked like


All through the tour we were allowed to pick fruit! There were limes, avocado and we also picked some pamplemoes – so delicious and FREE! ^_^ It was pretty awesome.

Richard helping Sophia reach the pampelmoes

At some stage we also visited a souvenir shop, which had some pretty cool stuff in it.

Karin and I were really fascinated by the tattoos.

I remember hitting Rio de Janeiro for the first time and feeling overwhelmed by all the tattoos. Our circles back home has very few people with tattoos, so it was quite shocking. However, the surprise soon wore off. To tell the truth, I’m starting to wonder how I could ever have been shocked by tattoos at all.

But I do still really dislike tattoos that don’t compliment the person. Generally I like something small and flowing. Big and gaudy don’t cut it.

The Pacific tattoos fascinate us because they are geometric. Patterns and pictures, yes, but … complimenting. Of course, each symbol has a meaning: chess-board squared represent pi-pi rocks, certain lines are fish, many other symbols are specific to certain families.

Richards’ tattoos

On the other side of the island we enjoyed a very good lunch and then visited a little museum before returning to the boat with all our spoils.

(We bought the bananas)

Expensive trinkets and free fruit. ^_^

Nuku Hiva was a very good introduction to our time in the Pacific.

1 comment

    • Arno van den Bergh on March 7, 2018 at 7:30 am
    • Reply

    Free exotic fruit! Looks and sounds delicious. The island geography and landscape is breathtaking!

    Mat 5:14-16  Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. 

    Keep glorifying God, by being the light to the world. May you leave the gospel behind at every spot you go.

    Baie groete!

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