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Published: June 15th 2012
The Vaipo Falls are meant to be the largest waterfall in Polynesia, outside of Hawaii and New Zealand, standing 1148ft tall. The journey to get to the falls, although not a very strenuous hike, was quite an interesting jaunt into a very isolated sector of a very isolated island. The falls are located in the Hakaui Valley, which is only accessible by boat from as far as I could tell.
Nuku Hiva's coastline is very rugged, and so is much of the interior of the island. Our trip began as we took our tender from Taiohae Bay over to Daniel's Bay. We had read that Daniel was a local guy that helped out sailors passing through by giving them access to fresh water. As we found out an update later in the day, Daniel was dead, and had been so for about 9 years or so......time to upgrade the guide books!
I dropped two of the guys ashore, and then tied up our tender to somebody's mooring, and then swam ashore. The beginning of the trail brought us through a pretty small and quiet village/neighborhood. Not many people seemed to be living in the area, but we did encounter
our first local. He was pretty intimidating to be completely honest. He stood about 6'2" and looked to be a very solid 220lbs. Half of his face was tattooed, he was wearing full army fatigues, and he had a utility belt of sorts on that had three machetes in it. We stopped and spoke to him to ask him which way the trail went, and through what little English he spoke, we surmised that he was a local farmer. We told him we'd buy some fruit from him on the way back.......maybe out of fear?
After turning onto the main path in front of the farmer's house, we walked up and past a few more humble abodes and into their farmland. All of the flora was very plush in this valley, very much rainforest-like.
Once past the village and the farmland, the trail began. The trail was fairly well marked and traveled, and we did not have much trouble following it. The valley is relatively narrow, with cliffs rising straight up hundreds of feet, and there are not many options to turn off and go in another direction. For part of the trail, there was an ancient 'paved'
path, which was in great condition, paved with heavy stones that I am pretty sure will never be moved.
Throughout the whole hike, we spotted ancient ruins all over the place, that all appeared to be in pretty good condition as far as archaeological sites go. There were foundations, platforms, and walls, all made of stone, and in one particular area about halfway up it was pretty extensive.
We could see the falls in the distance and continued. There were a couple of stream crossings that we had to make on the way up, including a tightrope-like walk across a small tree fallen across one of the streams. The closer we got to the end, the steeper the walls of the valley became that they more closely resembled a canyon. The valley was much more narrow by the end as well, and the chance of being hit by a falling rock was very real.
The end of the trail was somewhat bittersweet--although you could see a waterfall, and swim in a cave-like area in nice refreshing water that had some curious freshwater crustaceans living in it, there was no way to see the 1148ft falls from the
end of the trail.
After a nice swim, we made the trek back to the boat. It was only a couple hours up, and the same down. We stopped off at the farmer's house on the way back where we bought some fruit. (He was out of his fatigues at this point and into civilian clothing.........not that he was ever in
the military). There are not many things to do on Nuku Hiva, but this was definitely something cool to do there.
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