Cascade de Tao

Panie / Hienghene / Reserve du Mt Panie / poindimie, North Province, New Caledonia

About Cascade de Tao


Hiking Distance: 4km round trip
Suggested Time: 2 hours

Date first visited: 2015-11-26
Date last visited: 2015-11-26

Waterfall Latitude: -20.56423
Waterfall Longitude: 164.80623

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Cascade de Tao (i.e. “Tao Waterfall” in French) was by far the most impressive waterfall in all of New Caledonia.

I’ve read in the literature that it was the highest waterfall in the country though I’m not sure exactly how tall since there didn’t seem to be a measure of its height.

Cascade_de_Tao_010_11252015 - Cascade de Tao
Cascade de Tao

If I had to guess, it could easily surpass 100m over two dramatic leaps followed by many sloping tiers.

We were able to see the uppermost drops of the Cascade de Tao from a distance on a road bridge traversing the inlet where the stream responsible for the waterfall met the water from the lagoon and open ocean.

We were even able to appreciate the size of this waterfall as it could be seen from the road heading south from Pouebo towards Panie.

However, in order to get a closer look at the falls, we had to take a hike (see directions below).

Hiking to Cascade de Tao

Cascade_de_Tao_015_11252015 - View of Cascade de Tao from the road bridge
View of Cascade de Tao from the road bridge

From the signposted trailhead, we walked through what appeared to be someone’s property before arriving at a pair of small Kanak totem poles with a donation carton.

I don’t know if a fee was mandatory or not, but considering this trail was maintained by these landowners, the least we could do was to deposit our coins (we deposited around 100 CFP per person) in there.

Next, the trail started to gently climb as it was mostly shaded with a few rocky sections.

Before the trail really started climbing and getting a bit rougher, there were some steps leading down to some small cascades and some small wading pools.

Cascade_de_Tao_024_11252015 - A Kanak totem pole and a donation or tip carton near the trailhead for Cascade de Tao
A Kanak totem pole and a donation or tip carton near the trailhead for Cascade de Tao

We also noticed a deeper plunge pool beneath the last of the waterfall’s lower cascading drops.

Continuing the climb, the trail alternated between dirt trail and some rougher rocky sections.

I recalled there were at least a couple of sections where signs in French warned us not to continue in times of rain.

During those conditions, the stream would flood and make the traverse very dangerous.

Fortunately during our visit, rain was not a problem.

Cascade_de_Tao_026_11252015 - The trail to get closer to the plunge pools beneath the Cascade de Tao
The trail to get closer to the plunge pools beneath the Cascade de Tao

There was even one particular traverse where there was a rope-assisted crossing though we didn’t really need the rope given that the stream was not in flood during our visit.

We also noticed quite a few false trails and shortcuts that could further add to the confusion of where to go next.

There were a few colored plastic bags or pieces of cloth tied to trees to help mark the way, but in general, we had to take our time and really watch where we were going.

We also had to duck under a few fallen trees here and there just to underscore the primitive nature of this hike.

Cascade_de_Tao_047_11252015 - Julie crossing the stream between a pair of smaller cascades on the ascent to get closer to the Cascade de Tao
Julie crossing the stream between a pair of smaller cascades on the ascent to get closer to the Cascade de Tao

Nearly about 40 minutes into the muggy hike, we encountered another one of those signs warning us not to proceed in times of rain.

This was where the terrain opened up a bit, and we seemingly lost the trail to continue further (either that or we weren’t looking hard enough).

So we scrambled around the stream bed where we managed to get the closest views we were able to get of the Cascade de Tao.

Unfortunately, some trees and foliage were obstructing parts of the waterfall.

Cascade_de_Tao_072_11252015 - Julie checking out the Cascade de Tao from around our turnaround point, but we realized after the fact that we had turned around too early
Julie checking out the Cascade de Tao from around our turnaround point, but we realized after the fact that we had turned around too early

At the time, we weren’t sure if we had reached the end of the trail or not, but when I double-checked after our trip was over, I realized that we didn’t finish the hike.

Unfinished Business at Cascade de Tao

Indeed, we should’ve kept going for another 15-20 minutes before we would’ve reached a large plunge pool fronting one of the main tiers of Cascade de Tao.

In hindsight, I should’ve suspected something was fishy when it didn’t take us an hour to make it to our turnaround point.

After all, the trailhead sign indicated it was 1 hour in each direction or 2km total.

This was a classic example of what happens when I didn’t heed the signs nor did sufficient pre-trip research.

Cascade_de_Colnett_033_11252015 - Looking across a lagoon towards the Cascade de Tao, which gives you a context of where the waterfall sits relative to the shoreline
Looking across a lagoon towards the Cascade de Tao, which gives you a context of where the waterfall sits relative to the shoreline

That might have ensured that we would be armed with adequate information to have the confidence to complete the hike.

In the end, we spent about 1 hour and 15 minutes on the trail, which was 45 minutes short of what the sign said.

Missing Cascade de Colnett

Speaking of misses, on a related note, we also tried to pursue the Cascade de Colnett.

According to the map provided by the Office du Tourisme de Hienghene, it incorrectly labeled this waterfall as being on the adjacent stream directly north of Cascade de Tao.

Cascade_de_Colnett_016_11252015 - This cascade was what I might have mistaken for Cascade de Colnett as it turned out that I didn't drive far enough north from Cascade de Tao
This cascade was what I might have mistaken for Cascade de Colnett as it turned out that I didn’t drive far enough north from Cascade de Tao

After having difficulty following this map and incorrectly identifying Cascade de Colnett as one of the roadside waterfalls to the north, that was when we noticed Cascade de Tao in the distance from the road as we backtracked.

It was with this perspective that we realized just how big this waterfall really was!

In hindsight, if I had to do our New Caledonia trip (especially the North Province) all over again, besides going all the way to the end of the Cascade de Tao trail, I would’ve also driven further north to the town of Pouebo.

That way, we wouldn’t miss the Cascade de Colnett, which was said to be visible from the road while requiring payment for traversing a local landowner’s property.

Cascade_de_Tao_033_11252015 - Looking towards Cascade de Tao from a lagoon when we returned after a failed attempt at finding the Cascade de Colnett
Looking towards Cascade de Tao from a lagoon when we returned after a failed attempt at finding the Cascade de Colnett

I probably could’ve avoided this problem if I had taken the pre-trip research more seriously than I did for this trip.

Authorities

Cascade de Tao resides near Hienghene in the Northern Province of Grande Terre Island, New Caledonia. To my knowledge, it is not administered by a formal agency, but its access trail passes through private property. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can visit the Hienghene Tourism website or their Facebook page.

Cascade_de_Tao_004_11252015 - Looking back at the road bridge from its north end as we first walked onto it for nice distant views of the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_012_11252015 - View of Cascade de Tao from the road bridge
Cascade_de_Tao_015_11252015 - Distant contextual look at the Cascade de Tao from the road bridge
Cascade_de_Tao_020_11252015 - Looking towards the sea from the road bridge that we got our distant views of Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_022_11252015 - Another look at the attractive Cascade de Tao from the road bridge across an inlet
Cascade_de_Tao_023_11252015 - Facing the trailhead for the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_025_11252015 - The hike to Cascade de Tao began on a pretty flat and well-defined trail forested trail
Cascade_de_Tao_029_11252015 - Before the trail to Cascade de Tao really started to climb, we noticed this small cascade with pools providing the first of what appeared to be many opportunities to cool off
Cascade_de_Tao_034_11252015 - Looking over the deepest pool at the lowest cascades fronting the last drop of the cascade series at the very bottom of Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_033_11252015 - Looking downstream from the lowest of the cascades from Cascade de Tao towards the road bridge in the distance
Cascade_de_Tao_039_11252015 - As we went further up the trail to Cascade de Tao, we noticed more small cascades like this one
Cascade_de_Tao_041_11252015 - Julie continuing on the uphill jungle hike to get up to the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_111_11252015 - This was another one of the cascades seen along the way to Cascade de Tao with what appeared to be more swimming holes to cool off
Cascade_de_Tao_042_11252015 - Julie continuing the hot and sweaty climb up to get a closer look at Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_044_11252015 - The trail pretty much followed along the stream responsible for the Cascade de Tao so we almost always heard rushing water throughout the hike
Cascade_de_Tao_054_11252015 - The Cascade de Tao Trail remained pretty well-defined this far into the hike
Cascade_de_Tao_055_11252015 - Julie going beneath a fallen tree on the way up to the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_056_11252015 - The Cascade de Tao Trail started to become a little less defined as we went higher so thankfully markers like this yellow tie helped assure us we were going the correct way
Cascade_de_Tao_058_11252015 - This was a closer look at Cascade de Tao from what would turn out to be our premature turnaround point
Cascade_de_Tao_066_11252015 - Looking downstream towards the ocean from our premature turnaround point before the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_069_11252015 - Another look downstream at the cascades beneath the main tiers of Cascade de Tao as well as the South Pacific in the distance
Cascade_de_Tao_088_11252015 - Broad look upstream at the Cascade de Tao from our premature turnaround point
Cascade_de_Tao_075_11252015 - Last look down towards the South Pacific Ocean from our premature turnaround point before the Cascade de Tao
Cascade_de_Tao_120_11252015 - Even on the way back from Cascade de Tao, we started to notice more of these colored ties of plastic bags to help us discern between false trails and actual trails
Cascade_de_Tao_123_11252015 - Julie continuing the descent back down to the Cascade de Tao trailhead
Cascade_de_Tao_128_11252015 - Julie making it back to the Cascade de Tao trailhead
Cascade_de_Tao_130_11252015 - After our somewhat premature finish to the Cascade de Tao Waterfall experience, we went back on the road bridge for one last look at the waterfall from there
Cascade_de_Colnett_014_11252015 - This was the waterfall we incorrectly thought was the Cascade de Colnett
Cascade_de_Colnett_005_11252015 - Even in our unsuccessful attempt at checking out Cascade de Colnett after the Cascade de Tao, we managed to get nice coastal views on the far northern side of Grande Terre
Cascade_de_Colnett_007_11252015 - As we were backtracking from our failed pursuit of Cascade de Colnett, we managed to get this distant roadside perspective of Cascade de Tao, making us appreciate just how big this waterfall really was!
Cascade_de_Colnett_048_11252015 - Another cascade that I thought could have been the Cascade de Colnett which would require a scramble upstream from a different road bridge
Panie_003_11252015 - Looking in the distance at some attractive plunging waterfall behind the village of Panie somewhere just north of the ferry or punt over the mouth of the Ouaieme River

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Since Julie and I stayed at Koulnoue Village (its turnoff from the main road on RP10 was about 8km south of Hienghene [sounds like “YENG-yen”]), we’ll describe the directions from the accommodation.

So driving about 1.3km to get back on the main road, we then turned right to go north on the RP10 and followed it for about 35km.

At roughly 24km (or 16km north of Hienghene), there was a ferry or punt crossing of the Ouaieme River mouth.

Le_Bac_006_11252015 - The ferry crossing or punt over the mouth of the Ouaieme River
The ferry crossing or punt over the mouth of the Ouaieme River

To my knowledge, this ferry went back-and-forth on demand.

I don’t know what the hours the person working the punt would typically work.

So in order to not risk getting stranded on one side or another, it’s best to be at this crossing (we had to do it both ways) during the height of daylight hours.

Just to give you an idea of the time we were there, we first crossed north at 8:45am, then we came back at around 11:40am.

Cascade_de_Tao_017_11252015 - Sign for Cascade de Tao, but the car park and trailhead was just on the other side of this bridge
Sign for Cascade de Tao, but the car park and trailhead was just on the other side of this bridge

At the bridge roughly 34-35km north of the turnoff for Koulnoue Village, there was a sign fronting the bridge labeled “Cascade de Tao”.

It was from that bridge that we were able to get our first looks at the waterfall.

However, on the north side of the bridge, there was a small car park area right across from the signed trailhead.

Overall, this drive would have taken us about an hour or so without stops (though we took longer because we made photo stops along the way).

Le_Bac_033_11252015 - Returning to the mouth of the Ouaieme River where we waited our turn to go across and back to Hienghene and beyond
Returning to the mouth of the Ouaieme River where we waited our turn to go across and back to Hienghene and beyond

Note that the town of Hienghene was about a solid 5 hours drive north of the Tontouta Airport (New Caledonia’s international airport), where we picked up our rental car.

Hienghene was also about an hour’s drive north of Hotel Tieti near Poindimie.

Checking out the impressive waterfall from the bridge


One of the swimming holes seen during the hike up to get closer to Cascade de Tao


Upstream to downstream sweep of the Cascade de Tao and associated cascades around us from our turnaround spot in the hike (which turned out to be too soon of a turnaround point)

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Tagged with: panie, hienghene, north province, new caledonia, grande terre, waterfall, koulnoue village



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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