Moby Dick's author, Herman Melville, jumped ship at Nuku Hiva, and we could understand why when we saw the spectacular scenery. He wrote that "nothing can exceed the imposing scenery of this bay," and he regretted that "a scene so enchanting should be hidden from the world in these remote seas." Luckily for today's visitors, the scene has barely changed since Melville wrote about it in 1842.
We were, in fact, anchored on the Aranui, (www.aranui.com) at the the same bay, Taiohae, where Melville and a fellow sailor decided they had had enough of meager meals and overly demanding officers on their whaling ship and escaped into the "Happy Valley" of the allegedly cannibalistic Typee tribe. The 23-year-old Melville changed the name of the whaling ship, The Acushnet, to the Dolly, and embellished his own stay among the Marquesans to include lots of heroics and romance. Some say the 23-year-old signed up for the whaling trip so that he could gather material for a novel. Whatever his intentions, Melville came back from his Marquesan adventure with the makings of a bestseller. His first novel, Typee, was a huge success both in America and England and launched his literary career.
The first site to see on Nuku Hiva is the Cathedral of Taiohae. Most Marquesans are Roman Catholic and it is fascinating to see the mixture of traditional Catholic icons mixed with the native influences of wood carvings and tropical flowers.
The Aranui's passengers are then taken by jeeps on winding mountain roads that follow Melville's escape route. First stop is at the village of Hatiheu with its archaeological site much like the village where Melville was kept as a captive "visitor" by the chief. Dancers demonstrated their ancient moves and showed off their warrior costumes.
Passengers are given a tour of the site with an expert guide and learn about the ancient rock carvings. Among the carvings on the huge boulders are petroglyphs of birds, sacred turtles and fish.
Next stop was at Yvonne's Restaurant, where the specialty is pig baked in an underground oven.
After lunch, the jeeps continue through the waterfall-filled valley of Taipiva (the old Typee). There are stone tiki gods and sacred ritual sites as well as the immense stone platforms where the Taipi built their houses.
After a long day following Melville's trek through the Happy Valley, visitors meet the whaleboats that have traveled down a river to meet them for the return trip to board the freighter. It was a perfect day traveling off the beaten path comfortably through Melville's "Happy Valley."