"Putoa Falls" (Afareaitu Waterfall)

Afareaitu, Moorea Island, French Polynesia

About “Putoa Falls” (Afareaitu Waterfall)

Hiking Distance: 2.4km round trip
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2002-09-03
Date last visited: 2012-12-19

Waterfall Latitude: -17.54261
Waterfall Longitude: -149.80768

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

“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.

Afareaitu_Waterfalls_039_20121219 - Looking up at Putoa Falls from its base
Looking up at Putoa Falls from its base

That’s because our 2007 Moon book called the other waterfall “Atiraa Falls”. However, 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.

During that trip, which took place in September 2002, the Putoa Falls suffered from poor flow. Therefore, the driver didn’t feel like battling mosquitoes to get a closer look.

Afareaitu_Waterfalls_006_20121219 - Looking towards the Putoa Falls, which was one of the Afareaitu Waterfalls as seen a day after a heavy rain storm
Looking towards the Putoa Falls, which was one of the Afareaitu Waterfalls as seen a day after a heavy rain storm

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”.

I could already see the Putoa Falls 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.

Afareaitu_Waterfalls_003_20121219 - Context of the road leading closer to the Putoa Falls
Context of the road leading closer to the Putoa Falls

However, it was definitely worth the effort to get right to the base of the waterfall where I was able to appreciate its size while also allowing for the possibility of a dip in its misty plunge pool.

Walking to Putoa Falls

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.

Afareaitu_010_20121218 - This was the stream crossing that turned me back and aborted my attempt when it was pouring rain just 18 hours before I tried again under calmer conditions
This was the stream crossing that turned me back and aborted my attempt when it was pouring rain just 18 hours before I tried again under calmer conditions

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.

The right fork seemed more well-used, while the left fork was narrower, and I went right at this fork to continue to the Putoa Falls.

Afareaitu_Waterfalls_022_20121219 - On the jungle trail leading closer to the base of Putoa Falls
On the jungle trail leading closer to the base of Putoa 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 lens.

Afareaitu_Waterfalls_054_20121219 - As much of the Afareaitu Waterfall ('Putoa Falls') as I could see without the tree becoming too much of a nuissance
As much of the Afareaitu Waterfall (‘Putoa Falls’) as I could see without the tree becoming too much of a nuissance

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. Then, 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 from Afareaitu town without trying to chance the road with the rental car.


“Putoa Falls” is on Moorea Island in Tahiti (or more formally French Polynesia). For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit the Moorea Tourism website.

Afareaitu_001_20121218 - The Putoa Falls plus a thinner companion as seen from the main road during a our December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_006_20121218 - The Putoa Falls was gushing on my first attempt during a bad rain storm in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_001_20121219 - Back on the rough access road in calmer weather in an attempt to visit Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_002_20121219 - Now walking on the access road en route to Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_004_20121219 - The Putoa Falls looked so tantalizing close during my December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_009_20121219 - Fork in the road. I took the path on the right to get closer to the Putoa Falls during my December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_012_20121219 - Entering the bush with the Putoa Falls still in sight during our December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_014_20121219 - The first stream crossing en route to Putoa Falls during my December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_015_20121219 - The 4x4 road just past the first stream crossing in December 2012 en route to Putoa Falls
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_016_20121219 - The second stream crossing en route to Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_066_20121219 - Fork in the trail en route to Putoa Falls. The wider path on the right was what I took to get closer to the falls in December 2012. The narrower path on the left was a much rougher, steeper, and overgrown path that I suspect leads to Mt Mouaputa's hole
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_020_20121219 - After the second stream crossing, the trail to Putoa Falls got much rockier and seemed unfriendly towards most motorized vehicles as seen in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_021_20121219 - Some fallen tree obstacles en route to Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_022_20121219 - A fallen tree that I had to go underneath en route to Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_062_20121219 - Some sharp things growing out of the fallen trees as seen during my Putoa Falls adventure in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_023_20121219 - The third stream crossing en route to Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_025_20121219 - Looking up from the stream crossing towards a partial view of the Putoa Falls in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_029_20121219 - First look up at the Putoa Falls from its base in December 2012
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_031_20121219 - Looking across the plunge pool at the base of the Afareaitu Waterfall during my December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_047_20121219 - Focused on the plunge pool at the Putoa Falls during my December 2012 visit
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_060_20121219 - Made an attempt to start standing back from the Putoa Falls to capture it all in one shot during my December 2012 visit. And then the large tree got in the way
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_063_20121219 - I did some exploring of that narrower left path leading up to what I think would be the hole in Mt Mouaputa during my December 2012 visit to Putoa Falls. I ended up finding lots of mud and exposed roots
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_064_20121219 - Overgrown trail to Mt Mouaputa. Lots of intuition and route finding skills would have been necessary to keep going this way (so I'd imagine you'd have to hire a guide for this)
Afareaitu_Waterfalls_067_20121219 - Almost back at the rental car to end the Putoa Falls experience in December 2012. Notice the silhouette of Tahiti Nui in the background
Moorea_4x4_020_09022002 - Putoa Falls in the Dry Season as seen in September 2002 on the 4x4 safari
Moorea_4x4_019_09022002 - Looking up at Mt Mouaputa from back in September 2002
Moorea_Maco_Tour_016_09032002 - Gotta look real closely at what's left of a thin-flowing Afareaitu Waterfall in the center left of this photo taken in September 2002

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.

Afareaitu_007_20121218 - The muddy section of road and the falls in a gushing state under heavy rains
The muddy section of road and the falls in a gushing state under heavy rains

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).

Find A Place To Stay

J-shaped sweep of what I believe is the Atiraa Waterfall. Again, there is some confusion as to the name of this falls because our 2002 LP book says this is on the Putoa Stream while our 2007 Moon book says the Atiraa Waterfall supposed to be the smaller waterfall north of the hospital on the Vaioro Stream.

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Tagged with: afareaitu, tahiti, french polynesia, moorea, waterfall, south pacific

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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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