Lower Fautaua Waterfall is an alternate hike in Fautaua Valley which leads to the base of Tahiti's most spectacular waterfall. 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 numerous river crossings, and being aware of the potential for dangerous rockfall near the base of the falls. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the east for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button 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.
The route to Lower Fautaua Waterfall is a much more lightly-used trail than the main trail which climbs to the top of the waterfall. There are at least two reasons for this. First, guidebooks, internet sources, and the local tourism office more heavily promote the main upper falls trail. The result is that this hike is not as well known. Second, while initial impressions make it seem as if this hike is easier (because the distance is shorter and the elevation gain is much less), research reveals that it is actually harder and more challenging than the main upper falls trail. Unlike the upper falls trail, which is regularly maintained and mostly wide, the lower falls trail quickly becomes narrow and overgrown after only about fifteen minutes of hiking. A short time later, the river crossings begin. And river crossings are the essence of this hike. It is only natural to want to keep your feet and hiking shoes dry, but that becomes impossible on the lower trail. Let me take a moment and describe our experience for the benefit of future hikers. At the first river crossing, we managed to hop across some large slippery boulders and make it to the other side without getting wet. At the second river crossing, we removed our shoes and waded across to the other side. The river then transitioned into a narrow gorge which would have required swimming in order to continue if there had been no trail. Fortunately, there is a clear trail which climbs up some concrete steps and follows along the rim of the gorge on the right side. This is a neat area because you get views down into the gorge at some deep pools of water and short sections of rapids. If it hadn't been for time constraints (we had to catch our flight to Maupiti that afternoon), I would have considered swimming that section just to get some photographs of the canyon walls from below. Of course, had the river been any fuller, such an endeavor wouldn't have been possible. From along the gorge rim trail, a brief view of Fautaua Waterfall appears through the trees and brush. That was an exciting moment because we thought we were finally getting close to the end. But we were wrong. Once the gorge ends, the trail drops back down to the riverbank and the hardest part begins. For those without navigational skills, this is where the hike will come to an end. From this spot all the way to the end at the base of the lower falls, numerous mandatory river crossings are required. At this point, we realized that it was no longer practical or possible to keep our shoes dry, so we just walked through the river. For about 45 minutes, we were crossing back and forth through the river. It was quite hazardous with slippery spots, confusing routes, and misleading false trails heading off in wrong directions. The key, as we learned from our own trial and error, was basically to stay very close to the river. Avoid taking any trails off to the side which seem to head steeply uphill. A standard portion of hiking would include crossing the river, following a short trail on the other side, crossing back over the river, following another short trail, wading directly through the river for a while, and then repeating the process. There were some rock cairns to help us at times, but don't count on them being there, as a flash flood could easily sweep most of them away. Keep in mind that this section of the hike can only be completed if the river level is low enough to allow for safe crossings. Please don't push safety boundaries by attempting river crossings during rainy weather or high water levels, because a hiker could be swept away downstream. Several times we contemplated turning back, only because the hike was taking a lot longer than expected and we were worried about missing our afternoon flight. As a side point, in reading other accounts of hikers trying to reach Lower Fautaua Waterfall online, many groups do turn back due to the difficulty of the river crossings. We found that to be true during our hike as well, because the only other hiker we saw turned around and abandoned the hike for the same reason. However, we were sure glad that we did not turn back, because the moment we finally caught sight of Lower Fautaua Waterfall, we were overwhelmed with how beautiful it was. At the top of the waterfall, the water pours over in a distinct curve as it drops through a box-like deep indentation in the rock wall. Halfway down, the water then spreads out like a fan and cascades over the rock wall as it falls into the large pool below. It is a truly remarkable sight and well worth the great effort required to reach it. As a safety note, swimming in the pool below the waterfall is probably not recommended due to rockfall hazards. Large boulders could tumble over the falls at any moment. Josh did briefly swim for a couple of minutes, but he stayed close to the shoreline. One other thing I should mention is that it appears that Fautaua Waterfall is at least a two-stage waterfall. I can't find any other information about this, but the lower fall is most obviously a distinct and separate waterfall from the upper fall. It would probably require viewing the area from a helicopter to see what exists in between the upper and lower falls -- whether it is a section of river, another section of falls, or simply a brief transitional zone between the two falls. But if you were to add the upper fall and lower fall together, I'm fairly sure the total height would be more than 443 feet. Perhaps if you were to add the upper fall, lower fall, and transitional zone together, that would make the waterfall's height 985 feet (which is the height of Fautaua Waterfall as stated in some online resources). But I'm not really sure. I will leave that determination to the experts. Our hike took place on September 6, 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.
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