Fautaua Waterfall is one of the most spectacular hiking destinations on Tahiti as it passes through beautiful jungle scenery with far-reaching views of the upper waterfall and surrounding mountains. Difficulties encountered on the hike include obtaining the necessary hiking permit, getting transportation to the starting point, avoiding hiking during times of rainy weather, dealing with heat and humidity, crossing a few portions of trail which have exposure, exercising extreme caution if checking out the natural pools above the waterfall, and being prepared for the potential of flash floods. Google Earth maps of the hiking route (turned to the east for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the starting point of the hike at the end of Avenue Pierre Loti are 17° 33.707'S, 149° 32.384'W.
Fautaua Waterfall (also known as Fachoda/Fachauda Waterfall or Cascade de Fachoda) is a stunning 443-foot high waterfall located in Fautaua Valley on Tahiti. This was the first of seven hikes that we did while visiting French Polynesia in September of 2016. After a successful family trip to the Cook Islands in 2015, I decided to follow that up with a trip to French Polynesia with two of my friends (Charlie and Josh) that would focus on hiking and snorkeling on four different islands. In order to carry out this first hike, it was necessary to obtain a hiking permit in downtown Papeete at City Hall. This in itself proved to be a challenge that burned up about one hour of time in the morning. French Polynesia does not cater to English-speaking visitors by providing detailed maps, information, and signs in English. Thus, we had to go to the Tourism Office near the water, get directions to City Hall (or Mairie de Papeete), walk there and search through the maze of offices (with signs in French only) to find out which one issues the permits, pay the permit fee ($6 during our visit), and then drive to the trailhead. The parking area is located at the end of Avenue Pierre Loti at a place where work vehicles are parked. The road is in mostly good shape until the end where it gets a little bumpy (and scrapes the bottom of low-clearance vehicles). The hike begins at a gate with a one-hour walk along the west side of the Fautaua River. These first two miles are spent walking on a closed road which connects the parking area to the major trail junction near the Fachoda (or Tearape) Bridge. This portion of the hike is very enjoyable and serves as a nice introduction to hiking in French Polynesia. The unique plants, trees, wildflowers, birds, and butterflies are interesting to check out and photograph. There were some interpretive signs in French (which Josh was able to translate for us as needed since he had a Google Translate app on his phone). The hiking road passes by various water flow and filter stations, a few open meadow areas with fruit trees, and areas where there are open views of the surrounding mountains high above the valley. Some of the valley plants include Tahitian Hibiscus, Birds of Paradise, Canna lilies, Heliconia, Tahitian Ginger (or Alpinia), and African tulips.
After gaining about 500 feet in elevation and covering 2 miles, a major junction is reached just prior to crossing the Fachoda Bridge. The closed maintenance road ends at this spot. The right fork heads toward Lower Fautaua Fall. This is a completely different hike that we accomplished successfully on another day (see our Lower Fautaua Fall report). The left fork, which we took on this day, crosses the bridge and then begins climbing steeply uphill toward the Upper Fautaua Waterfall viewpoint. This is where the hike begins to get more challenging due to heat and humidity, especially for recent arrivals. After climbing up some switchbacks and following a much narrower trail for about one more hour, the most spectacular viewpoint of the entire hike is reached. There is a wide opening in the trees and brush which reveals most of the stunning drop of Upper Fautaua Waterfall. The bottom portion of the waterfall is not visible, but more than enough can be seen to leave an impression in your mind forever. (As a side note, it seems that Fautaua Waterfall is at the very least a two-stage waterfall. More information on this is provided in our Lower Fautaua Fall hiking report.) Beyond the viewpoint, the route begins climbing again and crosses the only area of exposure. It is a short stretch that can be passed in less than a minute, but it is not a good place to cross during rainy weather or muddy trail conditions. As a safety precaution, cables are installed at this place if you wish to use them. The trail reaches its high point at Fachoda Fort, where there are some old foundation wall ruins visible. Although it was not marked, this is actually a minor junction. Continuing straight leads downhill through an increasingly rugged and overgrown trail to the river a short distance above the top of the falls. Turning right and following the left side of the ruins leads to the actual top of Fautaua Waterfall. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about taking this fork in the trail. First, it is a challenging descent down, being very steep and requiring the use of exposed roots and installed ropes for safety. Second, this is no area to hang out in if it has been raining on Tahiti recently or is currently raining. Water levels could become dangerously high and a flash flood could sweep anyone hanging out at the top of the falls away to a tragic death. This is an important note because the area above the falls is incredibly beautiful and inviting. There are two pristine natural pools of water which are joined by a natural waterslide, along with several pretty cascades coming from two different directions. Upon our arrival, we saw people swimming in both pools and using the natural waterslide. Just beyond the end of the lower pool is the spot where Fautaua Waterfall's titanic plunge takes place. So extreme caution is definitely in order when making use of this area. Being that weather conditions were dry, the water level looked reasonable, and others were swimming, we also went swimming in the refreshing water. It felt really good after a long, hard hike. Just please be safety conscious and aware of weather conditions when visiting this special place. The hike took us a full 5 hours RT (which included time for swimming and photography) covering a distance of 3 3/4 miles each way with a cumulative elevation gain of nearly 1,500 feet. Our hike took place on September 5, 2016.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT