NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
September 15 – 27, 2003
Mission: Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO)/TRITON
Geographical Area: Western Pacific
Date: September 12, 2003
Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
I arrived in Nuku Hiva on Friday, September 12, 2003 after flying from Honolulu to Los Angeles, and from there to Tahiti. I spent one night in Papeete, Tahiti, then boarded another flight for Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands, 3 hours by air from Tahiti. From the air I could see many of the other islands and coral atolls that make up French Polynesia, and which are strung out over one thousand miles of ocean. The Marquesas Islands are one of 5 island groups comprising French Polynesia. The other island groups are the Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotus.
The plane landed on the southern end of Nuku Hiva, its landing strip right beside the ocean, as the island rises sharply into craggy peaks affording little flat, coastal ground. I was greeted by Jean Claude, who asked me if I spoke French, as he informed me, in English, that he would be my driver to the village of Taiohae, on the other side of the island.
We soon departed in Jean Pierre’s Land Rover, and it was to be a two hour ride over a very rough, unpaved road, definitely a four-wheel drive track. The road wound its way up into the mountains of the interior, and the views were spectacular. One particularly deep valley, almost at the summit, is called the Grand Canyon, and it aptly deserves that name. We bounced over the deeply rutted, twisting dirt road, and I was very glad that the rainy season was past, as I could tell that the road would have been absolutely treacherous under wet conditions. In many places, we were right on the edge of steep precipices, with no protection, but Jean Pierre was an excellent driver.
Along the way I was observing the plants and trees, and saw many that were the same or similar to what we have in Hawaii. We began to descend out of the steep crests of the interior mountains, and passed pastures with cows and horses grazing. All at once we came to a paved road, and Jean Pierre joked that we had reached the “freeway”. A young Marquesan waved to us from his horse. A freeway indeed!
Soon the village of Taiohae was laid out below us, nestled around the horseshoe-shaped bay, truly a delightful scene of tropical tranquility. We descended into the village and came to The Pearl Lodge, my accommodations while in Nuku Hiva. The grounds of The Pearl are a botanical garden, carefully tended by Rose Corser, an American woman who started the lodge with her late husband, Frank. The bungalows are built in the Tahitian style, faced with split bamboo, and most tastefully decorated. My lanai faced the bay, and at last, I could have a rest from my long journey, and drink in the serene beauty of Nuku Hiva.
In the afternoon, needing some exercise after two days of being on an airplane, I rode a bicycle from the lodge to the far end of the village, and stopped at the quay at the end of the harbor. Young men were just coming in on outrigger canoes and there were a number of people from the village there. On my way back to the lodge, I was hailed by some girls from the school, who said “stop” and indicated they wanted to talk to me. They soon brought their teacher over to talk to me in English, as my French is not very good. It was wonderful to meet these young people and to explain why I was on their island.
I had dinner that evening with Rose and Tom Nolan, a scientist representing NASA from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and who would also be joining the NOAA Ship KA’IMIMOANA. Tom endeavored to coax Rose into telling some stories from her adventurous past, as evidently she had sailed around the world and certainly had a wealth of tales to tell.
My first day on Nuku Hiva closed with the moon shining brightly over the bay, back-lighting the peaks of the mountains cradling the bay, and with the soft whisper of the surf a lullaby of the island.