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TAHITI - HIKING THE FAUTAUA VALLEY TRAIL

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We wanted to go on a hiking trip during our Tahiti vacation, but we didn't want to hike into the verdant interior without a guide. With no Tahiti trail maps, we worried about getting lost in the tropical forest as much as missing the cascading waterfalls that we wanted to photograph.

Waterfall cascades into pool above Fautaua Falls.
Waterfall cascades into pool above Fautaua Falls.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Tahiti Tourism lists Mato-Nui Excursions, among several hiking and trekking tour operators, in their brochure. With a quick phone call, we made arrangements for owner, Hereveri (Hervé) Maraetaata, to pick us up the next morning at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort, near Papeete, the capital of Tahiti.

It was easy to spot Hereveri in the lobby. His brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, he sported tattoos on his right arm and left leg and a wild boar's teeth necklace around his neck.

Polynesian culture

As soon as we climbed into his open-sided 4x4 vehicle, driven by fellow guide, Lynngo Hootini, Hereveri pulled out his ukulele and started singing French Polynesian songs. Both men, we learned, were Marquesans, from a French Polynesian archipelago 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) northeast of Tahiti. Our jaunt into the Fautaua Valley became a welcome introduction to Polynesian culture.

A few kilometres east of Papeete, Lynngo stopped the vehicle at the trailhead. Fautaua Valley is protected with a gate, so he went inside the government office to pay the entry fee. Inside the gate, and accompanied by Tanga, Hereveri's dog, we followed a path along a babbling river, through a canopy of trees. They were trees to us, but to our Polynesian guides, they were sources of food, medicine and cultural knowledge.

Hereveri Maraetaata (with ukulele) and Lynngo Hootini (right). Mato-Nui Excursions, Tahiti.
Hereveri Maraetaata (with ukulele) and Lynngo Hootini (right). Mato-Nui Excursions, Tahiti.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Passion fruit

Lynngo reached up into a tree and pulled down a branch so we could examine a purple passion fruit flower. After disappearing into the jungle, he returned with a handful of yellow and green passion fruit. "We need to wash the fruit first, because wild boars jump into the trees to eat them," he explained, while washing them in natural spring water. "This is the drinking water source for Papeete, especially in the June and July dry season."

Lynngo cut some passion fruits in half. "Try the yellow ones. They're sweeter." We sucked the sweet pulp off the seeds and discarded the biodegradable shells into the undergrowth.

Farther along the trail, Hereveri stopped to squeeze some liquid from a plant. The scent reminded us of ginger. "It's a shampoo plant," he explained. "It nourishes and protects your hair."

Handful of passion fruit
Handful of passion fruit
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Natural medicines

Above us, was a 10-metre-high (33-foot-high) tree. "It's a sacred tau tree," said Hereveri. "We make medicine and dye from its leaves, seeds and bark, and carve the wood into tikis (representations of Polynesian gods).

He pointed out some wild lemons and snapped a lemon leaf in half so we could inhale the refreshing scent. "We mix the leaves with honey and hot water to make tea to soothe sore throats."

Hereveri then cupped some wild basil in his hands. The large green leaves were far more robust and fragrant than the herbs in our local grocery store. "If you look up, in the next tree, you'll see avocados. They ripen between November and April."

As we marveled at the Garden of Eden around us, Lynngo picked up some round beige nuts from the ground. "They're candlenuts. If you dry them for three days, you can use the oil for lighting lamps. You can eat them too, but not too many, because they act like a laxative." The creamy white meat tasted like Brazil nuts.

Tattoo ink

Hereveri explained how soot from burned candlenuts, collected inside a halved coconut shell, was the original tattoo ink. "For me, my tattoos are part of my identity. I come from the island of Fatu Hiva. The world hiva means 'protecting and transmitting knowledge.' I bring my sons and daughter hiking here to teach them."

Hereveri Maraetaata holds candlenuts next to tattooed leg.
Hereveri Maraetaata holds candlenuts next to tattooed leg.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We turned off the path to cross a wooden bridge over the Fautaua River. The trail became steeper, strewn with rocks and roots. Ferns, mango trees, ginger plants, vanilla vines, pepper plants, pistachio and coffee trees encroached our route.

"They used to be part of the French governor's garden," explained Hereveri. "Tahiti became French Polynesia in 1880. The governor did not have a good relationship with the Tahitians, so he built a fort, up here, and used slaves to plant this garden."

Green coffee beans

Besides supplying coffee beans, the coffee trees supported the vanilla vines. To our surprise, we also found red roses. "This was a mountain of red roses," noted Hereveri. "The governor could look out over the flowers and trees from his fort."

We continued to climb, passing dieffenbachia that put our house plants to shame with their massive size. Lynngo pointed out a stingray tail plant. "You can squeeze the juice out of the tails to get a headache remedy," he told us.

"If you're tired, just break one of these ginger leaves and inhale the aroma. They also help smokers break the urge to have a cigarette."

Fautaua Falls

Suddenly, a wall of rock blocks, covered with moss, emerged from the vegetation. "It's the ruins of the outer walls of the governor's fort," explained Lynngo. A short walk farther along the trail awaited a bigger surprise: spectacular Fautaua Falls, plunging 300 meters (985 feet) over a pristine cliff.

Hereveri Maraetaata shows hiker Fautaua waterfalls.
Hereveri Maraetaata shows hiker Fautaua waterfalls.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Usually, at this point of the trail, our guides ask hikers if they want to go back or continue up to the crest of the waterfall. Our curiosity motivated us to continue.

The steep climb was worth the effort, because it led to another waterfall, which cascaded into a clear green pool. A six-meter (20-foot) natural rock waterslide deposits swimmers into the pool, at the base of the falls. The far end of the pool plunged over the cliff to create the Fautaua waterfalls, which we had viewed from below.

Natural swimming pool

Hot from the hike, Lynngo wasted no time in pulling off his shirt to slide into the pool for a swim and a waterfall massage. Hereveri pulled baguettes, ham, cheese and tomatoes, from a backpack, for sandwiches to quell our exercise-induced hunger pangs. Cutting up a pineapple, from the neighbouring island of Moorea, he offered us pieces of the intensely sweet and flavourful fruit.

Lynngo Hootini slides down waterfall into pool.
Lynngo Hootini slides down waterfall into pool.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Lynngo Hootini swims in pool above Fautaua Falls.
Lynngo Hootini swims in pool above Fautaua Falls.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We could have stayed here for hours, admiring the view, but dusk was approaching. Taking a short cut back, we forded the cool, calf-deep river, threading our way between rocks.

When we rejoined the trail, Hereveri spotted a large tree, with a trunk that spread out like the flying buttresses of a Gothic cathedral. Using a stick, he tapped the bark. The sound echoed like a gong through the vegetation. "It's a mape or Tahiti chestnut tree," he said. "Our ancestors used to send signals through the jungle this way. The chestnuts are edible, after you peel, boil and mash them."

We returned to the 4x4, just as the sun set, and thanked Hereveri and Lynngo for the hiva. Hereveri smiled, strummed his ukulele, and sang another Polynesian song.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Mato-Nui Excursions: tmatonui@mail.pf

Tahiti Tourism: www.tahiti-tourisme.com


More things to do in Tahiti

Aranui Freighter Cruise

Marquesas Islands Cruise

Tahiti Honeymoons - Romantic Vacations in French Polynesia

Tahiti Reward Programs