Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hiking Back Into Time

One of the classical places in the Marquesas is Hakatea Bay (known to cruisers as Daniel's Bay for the kindly Marquesan who used to live there). Daniel’s Bay was the scene for the Survivor: Marquesas TV series. The Maraamu tribe lived there in all of their chaotic and argumentative existence.  Tucked back behind towering mountain cliffs, Daniel’s Bay is a bit of tranquility in paradise. It’s located about six miles east of the popular Taiohae Bay and an easy downwind sail.

This beautiful beach was home to the Maraamu Tribe during the filming of Survivor:  Marquesas.
A couple of days ago we decided to hike up Hakaui Valley to Vaipo Waterfall, the tallest waterfall (at 1148 ft) in all of French Polynesia. The 6-mile round trip hike looked easy on paper, but not so in reality.

First you need to either walk from Daniel’s Bay, involving an extra distance and climbing a ridge, or if you are really adventurous you can dingy around the point to Hakaui Bay. We opted the “by sea” route and became alarmed as our 2 hp Yamaha outboard came loose on the transom. Normally it would be easy to tighten the mounting screws but we’d just attached a security bar and didn’t have the key with us. I kept one hand on the loose engine all the way in to bay. Once around the corner of the bay we had to navigate the surf break to find the hidden entrance of a small river. By getting fixated on the location of the river we neglected the rising surf and immediately got sideways on a small wave, enough to put the fear of God in us. It was low tide (the wrong time to be doing this) so we had to get out of the dingy and pull it over a sandbar to access the deeper part of the river on the other side.

Once we were done with that drama, we tied up to a leaning palm tree and walked through an open grassy area where several huts were visible. Traditionally the Marquesans preferred to live up in the valleys where it was easier to protect themselves from raiding tribes. Only the occasional fisherman lived in what we would consider prime waterfront property these days.

One of the few times the kitten was walking on his side of the path instead of between our feet.
The first of three stream crossings. The cool water was refreshing and cleaned all the volcanic sand off your feet.
The road through the village was easy to find and soon we were joined on the hike by a pregnant dog and a small white kitten. The kitten had the most unnerving habit of lagging behind then running at full speed to catch up, coming directly between our legs and causing us to do a Highland jig to avoid squishing it. The kitten made it about a mile and the dog about 2 1/2 miles. The hike follows an ancient royal road paved with volcanic rock that soon peters out to a trail on the same type of rock.  The irony of the hike is there is only one location where you can see the top 6th of the waterfall, while at the base you only see the last 40 ft. of the falls as they are hidden in a cleft in the towering mountain cliffs.
This is only spot on the trail where you can actually see the top of the spectacular 1,148 ft. Viapo Falls.
The trail continues up through a jungle-like terrain in a desolate valley that was once populated by over 8,000 Marquesans. Everywhere you look there are rock ruins of pae pae (stone house platforms) and other Marquesan dwellings. It's an archeologist's dream as nothing has been excavated or restored. One area we walked through looked like a large festival/dance ground similar to what we’d seen in Hiva Oa. It was easy to image all the tribes gathered watching dancing and feasting on roast pig. Many times these areas were lined with the skulls of conquered tribes. A nice touch by the priests to keep everyone in line.

Just after these ruins you cross the third steam (this is where the dog decided that discretion is the better part of valor and turned back) and walk through a narrow canyon (with warning signs of falling rock) and then open into a beautiful “Lord of the Ring” type grass covered meadow. You could tell that heavy rains had put this whole area underwater recently; you don’t want to be on this trail if it starts raining. The other concern was large areas that looked like they had been cleared to bare earth by some sort of device, but we quickly figured out it was where the wild boars were routing for food. According to the locals you definitely don’t want to run into these guys with their large curved tusks (used in the necklaces of the warriors). When they attack they slash their heads back and forth using the razor sharp tusks like swords. And they are usually not in a good mood if you interrupt their feeding time.
This beautiful meadow at the foot of the falls was like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
After hours of hiking you are rewarded by seeing the last 40 ft. of the almost 1,200 ft. Viapo Falls.
Your are seeing only the first third of the river eel, and they are amazingly fast when going after food!
As you break out of the jungle and approach the base of the falls you enter an expanse of grassy fields at the base of the vertical cliffs, a scene that looks out of Lord of the Rings. We had hoped to go swimming but as we approached the water we went eye to eye with a five-foot-long eel who looked very hungry. So much for swimming. We had some lunch and marveled at how fast the eel was when we threw food scraps into the water.

On the way back down much of the hiking was on softball-sized black volcanic rocks and the black sand gets in your Tevas working back and forth like sandpaper on your delicate skin. The way down was somewhat painful for both us in our Teva-type sandals as we hobbled along as best as we could. 

As we approached the second stream crossing we heard a meowing and saw the kitten curled up on a bed of grass, waiting for us I guess. Meryl picked her up and carried her across the stream and plopped her down on the ground where she continued to drive us nuts by weaving in and out of our legs when we were at full stride heading back.  

As we approached the village we were relieved to see our dingy still tied to a palm tree in the river that empties out to the sea. We certainly felt our age on this hike. Luckily it was now high tide and getting back was much less traumatic.  Truly a beautiful hike overall and highly recommended to cruisers in the area. 

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