Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

May 01, 2019 - National Geographic Orion

We awoke this morning in the Marquesas Islands. After a pleasant crossing from the Tuamotus, we arrived at the northern end of the archipelago, on the island of Nuku Hiva. We spent the day in the village of Hatiheu, and our reception was nothing less than incredible. As we approached the landing site we could hear the beating of ceremonial drums—fashioned from the trunk of the breadfruit tree—after which beautiful seed leis were placed around our necks upon arrival. Taken through town, we were in awe of the incredible basalt spires that rose steeply above an intimate 350-person community and could see the white statue of Madonna of Hatiheu perched high on a spire overlooking the bay. Created in 1872, a Catholic missionary sought to build a church, but the villager who would be tasked with such work was at war with neighboring tribes and had no time to cut the stone needed to construct the building. Instead, he climbed Mount Heu, first carrying a large log from a breadfruit tree and then limestone to fashion the statue. Finally, he brought up pieces of coral to decorate the pedestal and fashion a crown for the Madonna.

Weaving our way up the road to the Kamuihei Ceremonial Site, we saw all the endemic birds of the island and some interesting plants. Our resident archeologist Heidy Baumgartner-Lesage and Madame Marquesa met us at the site where Heidy did the bulk of her work studying petroglyphs. At the Tohua we found shelter from the rain in a covered area traditionally used by singers. Heidy conveyed to us the significance of this site as an assembly area for feasts, dance celebrations, stilt races, and other ceremonial customs. Truly, it was amazing to experience a site like this one—and in the company of someone possessing such intimate working knowledge of it no less. Leaving, we descended the hill for a cultural performance, which was equally incredible. An interpreter shared the significance of the dances while the music resonated through the valley.

After lunch, some of us headed back to the village to hike Teavaimaoaoa Pass, which lent stunning vantages of Anaho Bay. Others reclined in the comfy quarters of the ship, learning the intricacies of the Marquesan tattoo before our big South Pacific BBQ feast. What an incredible start to a remote and wild voyage through the South Pacific!

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About the Author

Elise Lockton


Elise’s passion for travel and interpretation is evident when you learn about the places she has chosen to live, work and travel. A degree in environmental studies introduced her to the world of interpreting nature, which has evolved into both a passion and profession.

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