Introducing Nuku Hiva
It's a shock to fly into Nuku Hiva and see that every visible part of the island below is desert; no trees, no houses, just grass and low bushes. Don't despair! Although about a third of the island is actually called Terre Déserte, this huge (the second largest in French Polynesia after Tahiti), sparsely populated island offers an astonishing range of terrain, ranging from windswept cliffs to lush river valleys and deep bays. The main town of Taiohae, which acts as the administrative and economic capital of the Marquesas, has an enticing atmosphere of both a colonial port and Stone-Age art hub.
The topography and lack of good roads make the smaller villages of Hatiheu on the north coast, Taipivai in the east, and tiny hamlets such as Anaho, Hooumi and Aakapa feel isolated and fresh - this is what Tahiti and the Society Islands must have felt like some 50-odd years ago. No-one passes without at least giving you a smile.
The American Captain Ingraham was the first Westerner lucky enough to see Nuku Hiva in 1791. During the first half of the 19th century sandalwood merchants and whalers put into port in Taiohae Bay. Catholic missionaries reached the island in 1839 and the religion took hold when the archipelago was seized by the French in 1842. During the second half of the 19th century the island was ravaged by disease.
With several flights a week from Pape'ete, Nuku Hiva is an easily accessible, active destination for hiking, horse-riding and diving. The archaeological sites are some of the most impressive in French Polynesia and local art and culture is alive and well. There are some beautiful handicrafts available of carved hardwood, sandalwood and bone.