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 14, 2003
Nuku Hiva: Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
A group of us from the Pearl Lodge signed on to make the day long trip back into the interior of the island to see a one thousand foot waterfall. We were to have Jean Pierre, a native Marquesan, as our guide, but first we had to take a boat over to Hakaui Bay to reach the trailhead. Once we reached the mouth of the bay, things got really interesting, with our pilot expertly navigating the moderate sea swells that seemed much bigger from our small craft.
We came well south of the bay passing sheer headlands that plunged right to the sea, and then entered into Hakaui Bay facing a gray sand beach fringed coconut trees, the perfect picture of a wild, tropical beach. As we all gathered on shore to begin the trek, an old Marquesan woman appeared with a dog on a leash, seeming to come out of nowhere. She reminded me of the stories of Pele back home in Hawaii. We soon started our trek, and found the very small village of Hakaui, and Jean Pierre, our Marquesan guide, told us that there had been many people living in this valley until 1942 when a malaria epidemic forced most of the inhabitants to leave. We also met Daniel, a spry Marquesan who’d lived in the village since 1927.
The hike to the waterfall first passed through some of the village’s cultivated cleared areas where they were growing bananas, coconuts, and papayas. We soon entered some dense tropical jungle, and were glad for the deep shade provided against the hot sun. We passed many stone foundations of houses, called in Marquesan “papais”, remnants of former human settlement. At one point, I saw a stone tiki sitting on top of one of these papais, and it seemed to be guarding some secret. Although there was a trail, we had to cross the river several times, and so we definitely needed Jean Pierre’s services.
Just before reaching the falls, we encountered several hunters on horseback, who had their kill wrapped in cloth and slung over their saddles. A little further on, spiky ramparts of needlelike rocks rose up five hundred feet, and Renault, our other guide, told us that there were the bones of human sacrifices hidden in the clefts of one of the needles.
We soon reached the base of the falls with its sheer cliffs rising up in a narrow gorge that reminded me of certain places in Utah. There was a spacious pool easily accessible, but further back behind some rocks was the pool where the cascade roared down. Several of us jumped into the cold fresh water, and eventually we found a way into the cascade pool, and discovered a hidden grotto behind the rocks. The water was very cold, but invigorating.
After our swim, and a bit of lunch, we started back , but took a slightly different route, arriving at the beach of Hakatea Bay where our boats were waiting. The ride back to Taiohae was exciting, and well, dangerous. The seas had kicked up to between 9 and 12 feet, and we were literally holding on for dear life to stay in the boat as it crashed into one trough and rose up to meet the next: and we had no life preservers! Jean Pierre was in my boat, and a few times had a worried look on his face, but I enjoyed it immensely.
We cruised into the harbor past the KA and piled into the back of an open Land Rover to go back to the lodge. It was satisfying to turn in early after the excitement of our expedition into the interior of the island, and to once again hear the soft sounds of surf at the close of a great day.