We arrived at Hiva Oa to the anchorage of Atuona on the S side of the island after our long trip from the Galapagos. Our thanks to Ivan and An from Vaguebond for the photo of us coming in. We soon had our first visitors on board as well. Kathi and Wolfgang from Plastik Plankton came to welcome us, carrying a wonderful batch of banana cakes and two baguettes, which were hugely appreciated.
The bay is a well sheltered spot with a large wall and a concrete jetty for the island supply boat that comes in every Thursday. It is the primary port for the island group. It can get pretty rolly, says our long term resident neighbour Chris. If there has been heavy weather in the S and a swell develops from there, it can get reflected waves bouncing in. We have anchored with a bow and stern anchor out as there isn’t a huge amount of space and there is a strange current circling the bay leading to yachts on one anchor all clocking in different directions. The holding is good with a thick mud on the bottom.
The water in the bay is not clear but this is because of lots of stream runoffs bringing soil down into the lagoon every time it rains, which is frequently. There are huge numbers of fish and small sharks and the dock has locals line fishing every day from dawn to dusk. We are loving the large numbers of baby Manta rays, about 6 feet across, that dodder along at the surface beside the boat. And the view? Just wow. Waking up surrounded by palm trees, the smell of green and the steep sided hills around you is fantastic.
Every morning from first light, there are adults and kids doing race training on the outrigger boats they have here. There are one, two, four and six man boats. They all go fast
Booking in to another country can be problematic and we had been told horror stories of booking in here, with customs getting upset, huge fines, alcohol being confiscated and all the rest. For us it has been a pleasant experience. It is the same paperwork that we had to do in Martinique and Guadalupe but handwritten rather than on the computer and done at the Gendarmerie, who carry out immigration responsibilities, rather than at a cafe. There is no Customs inspection, simply a declaration by you on the Entry paper.
It is all the normal stuff. Passport numbers, registration details, owners address, boat type and then a declaration of what you have on board. Then the nice policeman, takes a copy, gives you one for your record and to show at the other islands, staples the paperwork together and asks you to post it to the address on the back of the sheet. Took 10 minutes and all done with a smile. You get a sheet back that you need to take with you and show to the Gendarmerie at any further island you go to, to prove you have booked in. One thing – all the crew need to be seen by the policeman to check off the passports.
A note on your Custom’s declaration. Customs here own one boat. That’s it. And that covers the whole of French Polynesia so your chance of meeting them is slight. Their main concern is people loading up, under declaring and then selling stock to the locals. Duty within the island for alcohol is steep and seems to be a major tax money spinner for the local coffers. As examples, a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky is US$60, Bombay Sapphire gin – $80, crap rum – $50 – bottle are 70cl, not litre. Beer? A small bottle of Heineken – $2. The cheapest 1l box of wine was $10 and bottled wine is a lot more than that. Not cheap.
If they find you in their travels, Customs can come aboard you to inspect your stores. Just make sure that you have properly declared the alcohol you have on board on arrival. The Gendarmerie don’t even bother looking at the form beyond ensuring it is correctly filled out. If you declare less than you have, then if they find you, Customs will cut up rough with you. If you have declared correctly, there seems to be no question of being charged additional duty.
For all you non-European “foreigners”, there is a little more paperwork and of course your bond paperwork but again, no one here in the bay has had an unpleasant experience. The Gendarmerie are pleasant and professional.
The anchorage is home to the petrol station where fuel is around $1.30 a litre for diesel. It is possible to get it tax free with a certificate via an agent. The cost is $120 for the certificate then half price for our fuel. The annoying thing is that the certificate is free for foreigners but you must go to the Port Authorities to get it, which is in Tahiti. The agent, Sandra (call on ch09 for certificate, internet and laundry at stupid cost) can facilitate but at her price……. We are hoping Vincent with his new yard can do this work at a more reasonable better price in the future. They are looking at it. Note the certificate lasts 6 months and is cost effective as long as you buy more than 55 US gallons during that period. It covers you for the whole of French Polynesia.
The petrol station shop which carries very basic supplies, has baguettes available from 0700hrs daily Mon-Sat. As always in French run states, bread is at the national price and here it amounts to less than $1 a loaf. Be there early – it has all gone by 0900hrs. There is a food wagon that runs an open air kitchen on the jetty from 1800hrs on a Fri and Sat night. It is excellent value, especially first night in when you don’t want to cook on board, and has a mix of Chow Mein, local fish dishes and steak, all for 1000fr or about $10 a dish. They are big portions. Be there early to order or expect a long wait. It is very popular with the locals.
The other surprise we have had is that there is now a small yard here with haul out equipment able to take yachts up to 25 tons. The equipment is brand new and the yard opened last month. On the basis that we won’t find another haul out facility for 700miles, we have arranged to be pulled to repair the rudders. Cost for a cat is 11.23Euro a ft for a two day haul and clean. Monohulls are 9.43Euro a ft. See our separate blog entry on this.
You will notice that I have used two currencies so far, US dollar and Euros, which are quoted so you don’t need to convert in your head and to give you a feel of the initial costs. However, I’ll add in the main one used here which is the French Polynesian Franc (XPF). This is the everyday currency. As of Jun 16, the conversion rate is near $1 for 100XPF and 1 UK pound for 150XPF. Dollars seem to lose out here. The official rate is a little better than that but the locals are smart enough to round down to a whole number in their favour.
The main village of Atuona is about a 45 minute walk way. It is pleasant walk but if you stick your thumb out, the locals are perfectly willing to stop for you. There is a taxi, rarely seen, and John, the driver, charges a 100FPF a head going in. He is a good person to know as his wife does laundry at $1.50 a kg which is the cheapest around.
The greenery on the walk into the village is staggering. Everything grows here at a tremendous rate. We passed the normal palm and coconut trees then the bushes covered with red chillis, star fruit, pamplemusse (think big grapefruit but sweeter), papaya, bread fruit, bananas, the list goes on. And endless flowers. So rich an environment!
The post office is the centre of all things here. it provides the only ATM, Sim cards, free internet room (the best internet by far on the island), internet scratch cards for the national provider and of course the post office that you send your immigration papers in from too. Look for the yellow building on the left as you enter the town, just opposite the first super market you come to. The Pharmacy is next door to it too.
There are three supermarkets. The first, opposite the Post office is poorly stocked and generally expensive. The second, 100m past the Gendarmerie and opposite the internet cafe, doubles more as a hardware store. The largest supermarket is further W along the street and 200m on the main road beyond the corner with the bank. Have to say, it isn’t badly stocked but you will find items generally expensive. The quality is good, particularly if the boat has just been in which is on a Thursday. I was surprised to find leeks for sale. Watch out for the red label ticket pricing in all the shops which means the item has been subsidised. French butter is cheaper here than in the UK. They also have a great selection of wine. Just be prepared to gasp when you see the prices!
Hiva Oa is the resting place of Paul Gaugin. We visited his grave, high on the hill above the village and then the small museum.
The islander people are friendly and helpful, largely tattooed (some great, great ink work – no surprise as the Marquesas are supposed to be the origin of tattoo). We have enjoyed their company and they are rarely without a smile. Although we have been tied up with trying to get the boat repaired we managed to get in to town for the Junior School’s concert which was just a hoot. It opened at 1800hrs with a variety of BBQs open for business before the serious stuff of the kids performing starting at 1900hrs. The locals love their food and cakes and we saw a huge supply of calories being ingested!
The kids had a great time. If you were in the UK, the local PC crew would be up in arms as the dancing here is very definitely boy and girl distinctive. The wee boys doing the Hakka was brilliant and the girls? Well, I’ll let you watch the video once I manage to upload it (small trouble there at the mo – not sure why). The crowd loved it.
VIDEO of dancing to go here.
They are very, very keen on holding on to the traditions here. Note also the necklace decorations some of the boys have on. It is all relevant to them and integral to their family’s standing within the community. The girls had a lot of facial “tattoos” painted on to copy their mother’s art work. Photos are courtesy of E and H who sat down at the front with goggle eyes! Eat your heart out, Grateley!
Having had a week in Hiva Oa, most of the time on the hard fixing the boat, we left to go to Tahuata, a small island about 7 miles S of Atuano. The bay we visited, called Hanamoenoa is described by the Hitchcock’s as one of the three most beautiful anchorages in French Polynesia. I’m not sure about that to be honest. It is pretty and so nice after the muddy waters of Atuona but the barbed wire at the top of the beach and the signs saying private all over the place mean I’d take Shell Beach or the Lagoon (research the Outer Hebrides for all you non Scots) before it in a heartbeat. Endless white dead sand and an inability to land your dinghy due to surf doesn’t do anything for me either. Not quite Paradise, I’d suggest. We caught up with Sanuk, from Belgium who we had last seen in the Galapagos. Stefan and Ilsa came across for sundowners.
A pretty panoramic.
Perhaps I am just a little homesick at the moment. I hope to find better as we continue our travels.
We headed back to Hiva Oa, a short day sail, to pick up the gear cable which has finally arrived from Tahiti and then to head straight on to Ua Poa, 80miles to the NW, tonight.