Vaipo Falls

One of the highlights of Hakatea Bay was a nearby hike to Vaipo Falls. We wanted to beat the heat, so we left Helios at 7 am and paddled the kayak toward the black sand beach. It was low tied, so we had to carry the kayak through the shallows to the river just beyond. Once back in the kayak we had a fabulous view of paradise, the palm trees and cliffs reflected perfectly in the still, morning water. We had the intention of kayaking as far was we could to the waterfall but realized this was totally unrealistic as the water quickly became about six inches deep. So, we pulled the kayak onto the beach, tied her off to a palm tree, set off on foot, and asked the local gentleman working in his dinghy if we were headed in the right direction. He waved us onward, and at 7:45 am we were on the trail.

The trail started as a maintained dirt road through the small village. We passed goats, pigs, horses, a functioning phone booth, and eventually found ourselves walking through a well manicured jungle. This manicured jungle was in fact a farm, and we met Kua who ran the farm, as well as her son and niece. We eventually got to meet Tahiki, her husband, who wore a beanie and headphones and had a traditional Marquesian tattoo that covered the right side of his face and much of his torso. He carried a machete, and would cheerfully chop bananas, pamplemousse, or papaya to order.

As we continued, the defined road gave way to a path carpeted with jungle leaves and fallen hibiscus flowers. After we crossed our first river, calf deep and very refreshing, the trail alternated between sludge and slippery rocks, wound through jungle plants and Polynesian ruins, and opened to views of basaltic spires and dancing fairy terns.

After an hour of hiking, we came to a vista of the waterfall itself. The view was spectacular; the waterfall itself was a little anticlimactic. Vaipo Falls is 350 meters high, reputed to be the third tallest in the world, but it is very skinny and currently has little water flow. We could see it amid the cliffs around 9 am; hiking out closer to noon it was impossible to find amid the glare of the sun. French Polynesia is just now entering its rainy season, and we've heard last year was particularly dry, likely resulting in the current low water flow. We could see the force the falls have had in previous years when we reached the cove at its base: the water falls into a slot canyon, the right side of which has a deep, undercut cave, the black lava rock smoothed to near opulence.

We swam across the outer pond, into the cave, through the pool, and underneath the waterfall. It was exhilarating, and a refreshing interlude between hiking in and hiking out. It was also cold and murky, and seemingly absent of water life except for a few crawfish floating about.

I probably wouldn't have had the gall to jump it had it not been for the other hikers with us. Four of the boats anchored nearby have been cruising together since Mexico. They're mostly retirees and largely responsible for the social scene in Hakatea Bay. About two hours into the hike, while I was grumbling about my right foot sinking, yet again, into ankle deep sludge, they passed us (not to worry, we retook the lead at the next river crossing and reached the falls first, not that it was a competition...). These white haired ladies were fording the river with GoPros and iPads in water proof cases and saying things like, "Swimming hole! I'm there!" and "I'm not stoppin' till I get a waterfall shower!" While we enjoyed our sandwiches and the views of the ravine from the outer pond, this crew forged ahead and jumped into the pool. We could here them giggling and jumping off rocks into the water. Not to be out-adventured, we followed their lead after they left. I'm definitely glad I had them as inspiration; this was my first waterfall shower and it was awesome.

After that, we spent about 90 minutes hiking out, spotted a white headed fruit dove, picked up our assorted treats from Kua and Tahiki, and kayaked back to Helios. From there, we spent the afternoon enjoying the views from the cockpit and hanging out at the round-up that evening—an excellent Saturday, no doubt.