We teamed up with Shalimar (our friends Ryan and Alex) to rent a little car and tour Nuku Hiva a bit. When I say 'little car', I'm not kidding. I actually had to bow out as driver because I couldn't operate the controls with the seat far enough forward to allow someone to sit in the back seat. Anyway, the car was adequate with me as a passenger and the island was beautiful. For such a small island (well, I guess its the second largest in French Polynesia but it's around 20 miles across at its widest) it has a lot of diversity. The southern coast where we've been anchored is all steep valleys, cliffs, and dense lush vegetation but it turns out there's a desert on the west side of the island (which we didn't get all the way into) and a plateau in the middle that looks like the foothills of the Sierras in California complete with heards of cows and some wild horses running around here and there. A twenty minute drive from hot and humid jungle put us into cool grassy plains and pine forests (pines were introduced after contact with europeans but have spread all over the higher elevations). Ten minutes later we were up on a cloudy windswept ridge looking down at a miniature grand canyon. It was a bit surreal but all of it was beautiful and completely uncrowded. Natural wonders that would have attracted bus loads of camera toting gawkers back home were completely deserted here.
After our tour of the central part of the island, we drove through Taipivai (Melville's Typee Valley) and up to the northeast coast. On the way we stopped at a huge archeological site. We thought we were the only ones there until an old Marquesan dude walked out of the jungle and started talking to us. Luckily, Alex was with us and could translate from French to English for us. It turned out the guy (Alfonse) was the care taker of the site and often worked as a guide for tour groups that sometimes come to the site. He offered to show us around the site and we eagerly accepted. The site was amazing and while it would have been good to see it even without knowing what anything was, it was much better with Alfonse there to explain and Alex there to translate. In addition to being a compendium of historical information, Alfonse was also quite the comedian. He made a number of cannibal jokes and offhand comments about eating tourists that I particularly enjoyed. He probably spent upwards of two hours with us and asked nothing in return. I asked him what he normally charged for tours and we gave him that as thanks. Even with the two dozen or so nasty mosquito bites I ended up with (I was having an allergic reaction to them but seem to be over it now) it was well worth it.
Well pictures are worth a thousand words and I suppose that pictures with captions are worth even more so take a look at the slide show. If you click through to the pictures, on the picasa website, you'll also be able to see a map that shows where each photo was taken.