I didn’t mean to leave Pape’ete at all, prior to going to Vaira’o for my stay on a sailboat Airbnb. But Jon offered to check out the bus schedule with me, since he wanted to check out the 3 Cascades, a waterfall on the other side of the island.
“There’s also a blowhole nearby,” he added. My interest was piqued. I’m a sucker for interesting coastal topographic formations. Sensing my interest, he pressed his advantage, pointing out that it would be a good way to test how I’d manage with Tahiti’s bus system.
Jon spoke fluent French, and I thought it would be a good idea to do a trial run of the bus before we went our separate ways. You know, while I still had a French speaker to help me out.
Besides, I hadn’t gone hiking for a long time. It would be nice to hike up to a waterfall before spending the rest of my time in Tahiti on a boat. Better still, to explore Tahiti with interesting company. “Sure, let’s go.”
Bus Trip to the 3 Cascades Waterfall
Buses in Tahiti basically go in a loop. Although it’s weirdly more complicated than this, essentially you’re just deciding whether to go on a within-Pape’ete bus, or an out-of-Pape’ete bus. If it’s the latter, then it’s also whether you want to go clockwise or counter-clockwise around Tahiti.
Additionally, the island of Tahiti actually has a southern portion that’s connected with an isthmus to the bigger northern portion where the capital city Pape’ete is. Not all buses go all the way down there; you probably have to change at Taravao, the town at the isthmus.
To take the bus to 3 Cascades waterfall, you will be going around to the east side of the island. The waterfalls are in the Faarumai valley, which is why they’re also called Faarumai waterfall. This is past Mahina and Papeno’o, but before Maha’ena.
The bus does not stop at the start of the trail to the 3 Cascades. Moreover, the Tahiti bus system is laidback and, shall we say, not super rigid. So, generally speaking, it is not easy to do customised stops just by relying on the bus route. I’d say you’d need conversational French to do the 3 Cascades by bus.
After a much longer chat with the bus driver than I would have imagined necessary to enquire after a suitable stop, Jon waved for me to get on the bus. After a ride during which he insisted on testing my ability to recognise numbers in French, the bus pulled into a kind of fire depot along the coastal road.
Jon asked after the times for buses stopping there on the way back to Pape’ete. We picked the second last option, gauged how much time we had to do the return trip on foot, and got off.
Tahiti Coastal Hike to Arahoho Blowhole
Walking along the coastal road of Tahiti is more or less ok. Along the way to Arahoho blowhole, you pass by the occasional little beach cove, nestled in between black volcanic rock shoreline.
The beaches themselves are black sand, which was not what I imagined when I thought of Tahiti. (Still cool, just not what the travel images had me imagining).
Across the road, rock wall is held back with sheets of mesh. Water weeped constantly down from hanging roots; fresh water is not one of Tahiti’s major worries.
Eventually, we reached an area that seemed intentionally constructed for recreation. The trail began to be flanked by stones, leading to a viewing platform looking out to sea. At the end of this, and just a little bit down the slope, is the blowhole.
The waves pushing back and forth into sea caves beneath shoot gusts of air (and sometimes sea spray) through blowholes. The one at Arahoho had satisfyingly strong gusts. I don’t weigh very much; they were enough to force me back!
Hiking to the 3 Cascades Waterfall
A little way past Arahoho blowhole is a junction. A road leads away from the coast, going inland through a small village. This is the way into Faarumai. The 3 Cascades waterfall is at the very end of this route, which is why it is also known as Faarumai waterfall.
Thinking back, it is actually a fairly easy hike, and not too long. But I remember that it felt harder than I expected, because I had been quite sedentary that year. I was a long way off from the fitness I had when I swam with whale sharks in the Maldives.
Along the way we passed by Tahitian homes and their gardens. Bananas and ginger, yams and ubi – why, the Tahitians basically grow the same backyard plants as we do in Malaysia!
Tahiti Hidden Gems: The 3 Waterfalls
Tahiti is often considered to be the less interesting tourism destination compared to tourism heavyweights like Bora Bora and Rangiroa. It is even considered to be less interesting than the island next to it, Moorea, which seemed to be more popular with Westerners.
However, when I arrived, I actually found that Tahiti itself has enough places of interest to explore. There are the historical sites, spiritual sites, and I didn’t even get to explore the farming valleys in the interior of the island. If you come to Tahiti to explore, not for an island vacation, it is worth a week, and hiring a car is probably a good idea.
The fact that people don’t usually explore Tahiti means that nobody’s written about the 3 Cascades yet. And while it’s not among the most amazing things you’ll see, it’s tall and charming, falling elegantly into a romantic little pool.
The legend of the 3 Cascades
There is a legend associated with Les Troix Cascades. It is told at the start of the final hiking trail to the waterfall. Fortunately, the information board is trilingual – Tahitian, French, and English. Its themes of tragic romance struck a chord with me, for our legends often involve hard-luck stories too.
There was a princess of the Ti’arei who lived in the valley. She was very beautiful, but her father was feared by all. He loved his daughter, so the legend goes, and as king he made her tapu*, forbidding any man from approaching or talking to her, to the extent of killing a man who did not know she was tapu and spoke to her.
The princess grew to resent her father. One day, she was in the valley looking for medicinal plants and came across a young man her age. He knew about the tapu and prepared to leave, but the princess had him stay. Upon finding out that he was also looking for medicine, she offered to cure him and to be his wife, telling him of her misery.
The young man then revealed himself as the guardian of the valley. Transforming (as is typical in these tales) into a handsome man, he fled with the princess from her guards. At his instruction, they both latched onto the cliff wall, and water gushed to fall over them, forming two of the 3 cascades. The princess’ guards went after her, became covered by the falling water, and turned into the third waterfall.
It is said that the princess and her husband lived happily thereafter behind the waterfall. But her father the king wept over his lost daughter, and for this the valley was named Faarumai.
Reflections on helicopter parenting
Reading the legend, I couldn’t help but draw even more parallels to Asia. Particularly the part where the father’s love is correlated with never letting his daughter speak to any man. Helicopter parenting is socially acceptable in risk-averse Asia, where parents respond to news of the worst things that can happen to their children, with surveillance.
But all it does is exchange death and disaster, with such misery that the child stops caring about living. The princess was willing to go with anybody, so long as she could be free of her hated father. This is not a legend from the past; there are many more ‘princesses’ and ‘princes’ like this today.
This is love, yes. Love of an object, not a person.
We don’t even know that the young man of the legend was truly the ‘guardian of the valley’. After all, from the perspective of the Ti’arei people, their princess disappeared. Perhaps they told the story this way to feel better about the princess’ likely fate.
Who knows what the circumstances were that made the king so fearful, and extreme. But you can’t protect a life, by taking it away yourself.
* tapu = taboo, forbidden
Carbon offsetting information to Tahiti
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Fa’a’a via Auckland produces carbon emissions of approximately 10,280 lbs CO2e. It costs about $51 to offset this.
If waterfalls are your thing, pin this article for your Tahiti planning!
Oh, I love waterfalls. Thanks for sharing the 3 Cascades waterfall!
How good is this! I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti because it sounded so fancy on the movies haha good to know how much out door adventure there is to be had . For when I go one day I’m for sure going to take your advice and rent a car !
Haha yeah Tahiti is kind of fancy, and I think that would be a fun travel style for this destination, but it is also possible to come as a backpacker. I only gave 3 days for onshore exploration, and I missed a lot. I didn’t even get around to seeing any of the historical sites!