Saturday, August 06, 2011

Cross-Island Walk - Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga is a small island in the South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands. It's a popular spot for a beach holiday or a destination wedding, especially for Australians and Kiwis. But for those who can tear themselves away from the sandy shores for a few hours, the island does offer some decent hiking opportunities in its volcanic inland mountains.

The longest and most popular hike is the Cross-Island Walk or "The Needle" (which is the common name for the rock outcrop at the track's highest point.) The full walk takes about 4 hours.

We took on the walk from the town of Avarua to the island's south coast, using Rarotonga's circular bus route to take us close to the trail head. We had to walk inland a couple of kilometres from the main road, but it's an easy walk.

The track itself begins with a walk through a village, where taro, banana and other crops are grown. A power generating station marks the end of the village and the beginning of the "wilderness" portion of the walk. This is also where things begin to head seriously uphill!

The climb up the ridge is quite steep and in wet weather can be very slippery. We found the track relatively easy to follow, as long as you remember that you should be heading uphill at all times.

At the top of the ridge you'll hit a junction. To the right is a short walk up to The Needle, which is worth a look for the views. There is a higher viewing point on the far side of The Needle, but it's tricky to get to so we didn't bother with it.

Soon after the junction (taking the left track) you'll start to head downhill. Again this is quite steep and can be slippery in places. A couple of ropes have been put in to help hikers, but they aren't really all that helpful.

Once you get past the steep part of the descent, you begin to criss-cross Papua Stream. There are a number of crossings, but for the most part these can be accomplished without getting your feet wet.

The track ends at a waterfall and swimming hole called Wigmore's Waterfall. It's scenic enough, but tends to attract lots of mosquitoes so if you're going to linger, bring repellant.

From the falls, a paved road leads you back to the main road (and bus route). Just as you reach the main road, you'll pass what remains of the failed Sheraton resort that was built many years ago but never completed.

The road will leave you in the village of Vaimaanga, where you can stop at the local supermarket for a well-deserved ice cream cone.

If you're the sort of person who can't lie on the beach every day, this hike will add a bit of variety to your visit to Rarotonga. I don't think it's worth visiting the island just for the walking (there are several other shorter tracks that you can use to walk into the mountains, but must retrace your steps back again) but if you are going for the sun and sand, why not take a day to explore the lush, tropicals foliage and steep peaks.

I highly recommend doing this in the winter (June-August), as scorching summer temperatures and frequent rainfall are likely to make the walk much less pleasant. If you aren't so confident in your hiking skills, you can take a guided hike with a colourful local named Pa. He walks the track three times per week in bare feet!