Controller’s Bay and a Hike to Tiki Paeke – 22/5/2021

After a quick top-up of baguettes and fresh fruit and vegetables, we finally left Taiohae behind and headed for Controllers Bay.  We anchored off the second lobe of the three in the bay before heading ashore.  Tristan, Andrew, and I decided to explore the town while it was high tide and went up the river for a walk. 

The view as you dinghy up the river.

The village of Taipivai is set in the lush valley of Taipivai which was once home to a formidable and feared tripe called Taipi.  When Merman Melville, the author of Moby Dick jumped ship off a whaling boat, he became a voluntary prisoner of the tribe for 4 weeks.  At the time of him imprisonment the tribe was known to have been cannibals, but Melville was well looked after during his stay and would later write the novel Typee about his experiences there.

We did not see any formidable tribe members only a quiet sleepy town, with the occasional passing car and one local collecting mangoes from his tree, the only other visible inhabitants were the four-legged variety: horses and dogs.  We did see a site with tikis and pae pae but the entrance gates were securely locked.  After looking at all the fruiting trees, noni, bananas, Pamplemousses, lemons and limes we returned to the boat.

By the time we had finished lunch we were radioed by Distant Star with a weather report of unfavourable winds in the coming days.  We decided to do the hike to the waterfall and tikis in the afternoon so that we were ready to head to Anaho Bay in the morning before conditions worsened.  We decided to risk it and go upriver even though the tide would be changing. It was a challenging river entrance with the tide and current, but we eventually docked the dinghies and were ready for the hike, except the tour guide (me) left her phone, with the map for the hike behind on the charger, failure number 1!

Distance Star brave the surf and outgoing tide to go up the river.

We bumped into Charisma and Alexis, Seth, Klein, and Leif joined us for our hike to the waterfall.  We figured how hard could it be to find, both sites are off the main road. The teen boys took it in turns of giving Leif a piggyback ride on the hike.  After 30 minutes walking on a slight incline, I flagged a passing local car for the waterfall and tiki directions.  The waterfall is straight ahead, and the tiki site was at his house, which we had already passed.  Mmmm what to do?

View of the valley on our hike

I flagged the next passing car, and we were told the waterfall was a 4-hour hike.  We quickly realised that Andrew and I wouldn’t make it, and neither would Leif (3 years old) or Kline (6 years old).  So, we inquired about the Tiki site and were told to go back 500 metres and look for the yellow house and it was an hour uphill.

We found the correct driveway and after asking a few of the neighbours we found the very overgrown pathway.  It was a bit of a hike uphill but nothing like the hike up to the observation point we had done two days previous.  Ashe and Kahlil led the way and found the overgrown tiki site.

The site dates to the 16th century and consists of several platforms and is home to a few largish tikis. The tikis have suffered years of erosion and their features are somewhat ambiguous. The Paeke Me’ae was excavated and restored in the 1950s by American archaeologists, to extract the ruins from the forest.  The path does not look like it is used very often and the site itself was very overgrown with grass.

Most of our group at the bottom platform

I had recalled that there were at least three platforms however we could only see two.  The first platform is on your left as you enter the site and is surrounded by several deteriorating tikis.  We took a few photos and some of the teens went to look at the mango tree while the rest explored the site further.

The teens exploring the bottom terrace or recovering from the hike uphill.

On the right-hand side are two joined upper platforms, the terraces are slowly collapsing at the edges.  There are three tikis embedded in the walls, one of which is missing its head and the other two remain standing sentries amongst the walls. 

Ashe and Leif as we explored the 2nd and 3rd platforms of the site.

This prompted part of our group (Ashe, Ilo, Alexis and Klein) to go in search for the fourth platform.  While waiting down lower the kids plucked a couple of mangoes from the tree on the site to eat and entertained themselves.  Finally, Ilo returned and when asked where the others were, he replied he traded the women and children with the cannibals (known to have inhabited the island a long time ago) which provided much amusement.  Eventually, everyone reunited with the platform still unaccounted for.  Now that I have my phone, I realise that the fourth platform was in fact the slope of the mountain.  Mmm, I guess that phone would have been handy after all.

Andrew among the tikis.

The kids had well and truly grown tired of the site and we started heading downhill.  Within a few minutes of leaving the site, there was a huge thud behind me.  I turned around and took a few minutes to comprehend what had happened.  Ilo had been hit on the head by a coconut which had fallen from an extremely tall coconut tree and the thud was it hitting his head.  I am still not sure how he was still standing.  Everyone promptly asked if he was okay and were told it wasn’t that heavy.  Ilo picked up the coconut and I held it, it felt plenty heavy to me and falling from that height I think he was a very lucky person.  A lot of teenage male pride entered and Ilo insisted to his very worried mum that he was okay and set off downhill.  Ilo bravely carried on and hid how painful the incident was.  It is very easy to understand how people have died from incidents like that.  I will admit I would not have been as calm or been able to carry on like he did.  Just to reassure you, he is okay.  He did have blurry vision, had a headache, and couldn’t remember exactly how he got back but he is okay.  Ilo is one tough teen! (Wild boy Ilo)

Ilo with the offending coconut

Just to finish of the trip, they say things happen in threes, well it is true.  It turns out that it is true that you can only go up the river during high tide.  Our return trip meant we did get stuck on the bottom, multiple times and did involve us all disembarking and pulling the dinghy at one point, and Alexis did suggest I should get a photo, in between her laughter at the situation.  We finally reached the entrance to the river where everyone went ashore and Tristan and Max rowed our dinghy, Luka rowed Distance Star and Chris and some local kids moved Charisma through the entrance and then it was all hands-on as we had to manoeuvre dinghies through the surf to return to our boats.

Everyone scrambling to remove the shoes to help push the dinghy over the shallows. Tristan and Max rowed the dinghy to the river mouth.

I guess you cannot say sailing is not an adventure!

Here is an interesting fact on the Marquesas.  It is believed that the Marquesas had a population of about 80 000 prior to the arrival on Europeans.  By 1926 the population had been ravaged by European diseases and only 2 094 survived, 9 of which inhabited the Taipivai valley we just visited.

Do I recommend the hike and anchorage?  The anchorage does have two taps to get fresh water, and it is a calm anchorage compared to Taiohae.  It has several small magasins (supermarkets) and as long as you go up the river to the dock during high tide you should be alright.  However, if you are on a 3-month visa to French Polynesia I would probably skip this bay.  The hike was okay, but the archaeological site wasn’t in the best shape and the trail is not well maintained, but part of the charm is in managing to find it.