“Putoa Falls” (or “Putoa Waterfall”) is a name I’ve made up based on the naming of the stream it’s on (i.e. the Putoa Stream) according to our 2002 LP book. Previously, I had mistakenly thought this waterfall was on the Vaioro Stream.
I had to put the name in quotes given the lack of definitive literature and the uncertainty (at least in my mind) on the actual name of the falls. That’s because our 2007 Moon book called the other waterfall “Atiraa Falls” though I think he really meant this waterfall because that other waterfall was much smaller and thinner by comparison. Since this was one of two major Afareaitu Waterfalls (i.e. waterfalls behind the town of Afareaitu, which is the administrative center of the island of Moorea on its southeast side), it didn’t help to just call this the Afareaitu Waterfall.
Anyways, it turned out that this was the same waterfall we saw ten years ago while on a half-day Circle Island 4wd tour of Moorea. But since its flow wasn’t good that late in the Dry Season (we were there in September 2002), the driver didn’t feel like battling mosquitoes to get a closer look.
So ten years later, I intrepidly took the rental car up a pretty rough and unmarked road leading past a market and a school and between several local residences (see directions below for details). I managed to drive this vehicle until I got to a spot where I knew the road was too muddy to proceed, and then I walked the rest of the way to the base of the “Putoa Falls”.Much of the falls could already be seen from as far away as the main road in the town of Afareaitu as well as on the access road. I recalled even seeing parts of this falls (I think) from the lagoon while on a motu picnic and lagoon tour back in 2002. However, it was definitely worth the effort to get right to the base of the “Putoa Falls” where I was able to appreciate its size while also allowing for the possibility of a dip in its misty plunge pool.
As for walking to the falls itself, after passing the muddy section that the car couldn’t get through, I was then confronted with a fork in the road where I went to the right. Following the right fork, I then had to go through a pair of stream crossings, which were about ankle- to knee-deep. In times of flood (which was the case when I first attempted it under a nasty and persistent multi-day downpour from the remnants of Cyclone Evan), the first stream crossing turned me back.
After the second stream crossing, the 4×4 road gave way to foot traffic only as it meandered past fallen tree obstacles and some moderately steep, rocky and muddy sections. Some of the fallen trees had some sharp pointy things growing out of them, so that made those tree obstacles a little trickier than usual.
There was a point where the trail reached another fork, where the right fork seemed more well-used, while the left fork was narrower. I went right at this fork to continue to the falls. The left fork was steeper and very overgrown, and from what I was able to tell, it seemed to have gone away from the falls (so I doubt it would’ve provided a different view of it). I suspect that this rough and overgrown trail would’ve continued to the opening in Mt Mouaputa (the mountain with a hole in it, or “the lady looking up at the sky” depending on where you look at the mountain).
Eventually after a third stream crossing near the base of the falls, a short but fairly steep ascent led me right to the base of the “Putoa Falls.” From this close up to the falls, I couldn’t photograph the entire waterfall even with somewhat of a wide angle. When I tried to stand further back on the trail to get the whole falls, a large tree blocked most of the view.
All told, I probably drove the car about half-way up the access road from the main road. It took me roughly over an hour to get from the car to the falls and back. However, I’d imagine it would’ve taken at least an hour each way had I chosen to walk the whole way without trying to chance the road with the rental car.
Since the access to the “Putoa Falls” was unmarked, I had to rely on landmarks. The key was to look for the Ah Sing Market and a Protestant Church across the main road from it once I rolled into the town of Afareaitu (the administrative center of Moorea Island). The unmarked access road was immediately to the north of the corner of the Ah Sing Store (right across from the church), and this road led past some buildings towards a small roundabout near a local school.
Just beyond the school continuing to head straight inland, the access road quickly degenerated into a rocky, bumpy, and deeply rutted unpaved road. While the road started off very wide open, it eventually got narrower the further I went.
After passing by a narrow fork (ignoring the path on the left) and crossing over a small bridge where the road was flanked by a stream (or a gutter or gully; not sure what it was), I managed to stop the car at one of the last residences (or at least the next-to-last residence). There was some space to the left side of the road facing inland, and that was where I parked.
There was a very soft and deep muddy spot just past the driveway of the residence opposite the space where I parked. It was a good thing I chose not to push the car further from here because for sure it would’ve been stuck!
From that point, the road continued further inland towards another fork. For all intents and purposes, you’re most likely going to walk the remainder of the road and trail so you can follow my descriptions further up this page for my walking descriptions.
One thing worth noting. In the past, I recalled there were locals here who collected money in order to let people go further to the falls on their own. This wasn’t the case on my most recent 2012 visit, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. In any case, it’s not clear to me whether this road passes through private property or not.
For some context, the town of Afareaitu was about 30km counterclockwise or 32km clockwise (both ways taking about 45-60 minutes) from the village of Papetoai (where we were staying) or 15km (under 30 minutes drive) south of Maharepa.
Finally, if you find all this bit of route-finding and adventure a bit much (since most visitors to Moorea Island and Tahiti in general are honeymooners or on some other major special occasion), a perfectly reasonable alternative would be to take an organized tour. In our case, we did a half-day 4×4 circle island tour of Moorea where we were picked up from our resort (which was the Sofitel Ia Ora back in 2002 and is now called Sofitel Moorea).
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