Land Ho! And Welcome After Eight Days at Sea

Day 16, Grand World Voyage

Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023; Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia.

After eight days at sea with nary a sight of land, the mountains of Nuku Hiva rose in the darkness from the vastness of the ocean. At least that’s how I imagined it. By the time I awoke, rising with the sun, we were sailing into the bay at Taiohae, the major town on the island. This is not a flat atoll like the well-known Bora Bora, but a volcanic island with steep mountains rising from the coast.

I find it amazing that early explorers could cross such expanses of ocean and actually arrive at land. You wonder if many didn’t find an island, and so we have simply never heard of them. But the earliest sailors came from Southeast Asia across the South Pacific in seagoing canoes starting perhaps 3,000 years ago. Next came the Europeans starting with Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, with one of the best-known being Capt. James Cook, whose voyages coincided with the early days of the United States.

We have the benefit of state-of-the-art navigational equipment (and of course the skill of our officers) to arrive exactly at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands and right on schedule. It was our first tender port, with the ship using a combination of an anchor and thrusters to hold our position about a mile from the dock.

To be honest, I had never heard of Nuku Hiva before this cruise. It wasn’t even on my world map; I had to find its location using latitude and longitude. It’s the green arrow between South America and Australia.

Not many cruise ships stop here. In fact, the local tourist office calendar shows cruise ships stopping only 41 times this year. The dual-purpose passenger/freighter ship Aranui 5 stops 20 times, delivering people and supplies between the South Pacific islands. Our sister ships Volendam and Koningsdam will each stop here once, as will ships of Viking, Oceania, Seabourn, National Geographic and Paul Gauguin.

Most visiting boats here are yachts and sailboats, a couple of dozen of which were anchored in the bay today. The yacht owners can find basic boat services, provisions and a community of like-minded sailors.

My sisters and I opted to skip the single Holland America tour of the island. We walked around the port area, browsing the market with wood carvings, jewelry and local fruits. A number of passengers ventured farther around the bay, where they could enjoy lunch, have a pizza and beer or visit the small cathedral. Tiki statues are scattered all around.

We took the short, but steep, path up the hill behind the dock. It once housed the British Fort Madison, but today is a small park. Dominating it is the 40-foot-high Tiki Tuhiva sculpture, depicting a warrior protecting a female tika. The view of the harbor is stunning.

Once I reached the top, I was glad to catch my breath on one of several benches. Hoping my sunblock was working, I sat for a while to sketch, planning to add watercolor later.

Back on the ship, we skipped dinner in the main dining room and headed for the Lido for a night of glamping. It was the first theme night of the cruise, and the staff had transformed the pool area with camp chairs around fake campfires, and Coleman lanterns providing light.

Hotel Manager Henk paddled a full-size canoe back and forth, generally getting it stuck in the too-small pool. Waiters passed trays of snacks, ranging from bite-sized hot dogs to s’mores. The Ocean Bar band entertained and we were promised campfire stories by guest lecturer Andy Fletcher.

With the sliding roof open above the pool, we couldn’t hear a word he said, but understand he talked about black holes and aliens. We wandered out by the sea view pool to view the stars, but even with some of the ship lights dimmed, it wasn’t dark enough.