The Cross-Island Track is a one-way hike along steep ridges with beautiful scenery and spectacular views which connects the north and south sides of Rarotonga and passes by a towering rock pinnacle known as The Needle. Difficulties encountered on the hike include obtaining transportation to be able to return to the starting point, dealing with some challenging steep sections, crossing several streams, and exercising caution around the base of The Needle. A topographical map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. All hikers should obtain a copy of the book "Rarotonga's Cross-Island Track" by Gerald McCormack and Judith Kunzle in order to fully prepare for the hike. GPS coordinates for the starting point of the hike on Avatiu Road are 21° 13.585'S, 159° 47.637'W. GPS coordinates for The Needle are 21° 14.349'S, 159° 47.329'W. GPS coordinates for the ending point of the hike at Papua Waterfall are 21° 15.232'S, 159° 47.274'W.
For our major trip during the summer of 2015, we decided to travel to the South Pacific for the first time. We had enjoyed visiting Hawaii in Feb of 2014 and Feb of 2015, but we decided that we wanted to see something a little more spectacular and a little less commercialized. After narrowing our South Pacific destination choices down to Fiji, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia, we finally decided upon the Cook Islands. We chose the Cook Islands because it seemed like there were some nice hiking options on Rarotonga, there were nice beaches and lagoons on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, the overall cost was less than the other places, and Rarotonga seemed to be more quaint and intimate than Tahiti. Thus, we booked a direct flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga on Air New Zealand and arrived in late September 2015. Upon arrival on Rarotonga, I stopped by Bounty Books (located near the post office in Avarua) and picked up a copy of "Rarotonga's Mountain Tracks and Plants" (which is mostly out-of-print) and "A Guide to Rarotonga's Cross-Island Track". The first book covers 6 major hikes on Rarotonga -- Raemaru, Tereora Hill, Maungatea Bluff, Te Ko'u, Ikurangi, and Te Manga. I carried out two of those hikes and found poor trail conditions on both, with overgrown plants and vines, and somewhat dangerous sections without ropes. Currently, those trails are not being maintained and that's probably why the book is not being reprinted at this time. The second book exclusively covers the Cross-Island Track, which would be considered the 7th major hike on Rarotonga. That book is still in print and widely available. I highly recommend picking up a copy before doing the hike because it is very detailed with useful maps and you learn a lot of interesting information about plant life, birds, the island itself, and areas along the trail. One of the key aspects of the Cross-Island Track is that it is a one-way hike. Some tourists who come to Rarotonga hire a guide in order to arrange transportation and lead them on the hike. However, those with decent hiking experience do not need to do this. If you're doing this hike yourself, you will need to find a way to get from the finish point back to the starting point. Taking a bus is one option if you are doing the hike during a weekday. Other options are renting an extra car or scooter for the day and leaving one at each end or perhaps using a taxi service. Unlike the other trails that I mentioned on Rarotonga, the Cross-Island Track is very well maintained and receives a lot of visitor use. What makes the hike really special is being able to hike from one side of the island to the other in one day. Although it is not necessary, if you are willing to hike an extra 3 1/3 miles on the roads at both ends of the trail, you can hike from one beach to another. The hike itself is not very long, being only 2 miles in length. However, because of the steep terrain, sections with ropes for assistance, stream crossings, and sights and viewpoints, the hike usually takes people about 4 hours. Add on another hour if you want to do photography.
Our hike of the Cross-Island Track on Rarotonga began on a beautiful Monday morning. The weather was pleasant and the sky was clear of the clouds and fog which had been there a few days earlier. I would be carrying out the hike with Gary Kennedy, a close friend from Atlanta, Georgia who had previously hiked with me in Death Valley, Yosemite, and Crete, Greece. Our wives dropped us off at the car park at the end of Avatiu Road. We began by following a private road for a short distance past some plantations before entering the island forest. From there, the walking track narrowed and gradually steepened. It was interesting seeing so much variety of island trees and plant life. Occasionally, there would be views through the canopy to the east toward Maungatea peak and to the west toward Maungaroa peak. There were also spots where we could see The Needle (officially known as Te Rua Manga). In the latter half of the uphill ascent toward the base of The Needle, there are three steep sections which require minor caution. With these sections as well as others, sometimes the extensive root systems from trees provide assistance. Upon reaching the Ridge Junction area, we were greeted by a chicken who was looking for food handouts. We also had our first good views to the north looking out toward the Avarua harbor area. After resting up a bit, we followed the spur trail over to the base of The Needle. Standing at the base of The Needle was quite impressive. The Needle towers above you as a massive rock pinnacle stretching into the sky. The Needle's elevation is 1,355 feet and several hundred feet of that are probably contained within the pinnacle itself. The views from the base of The Needle are quite incredible. Some of Rarotonga's highest peaks can be seen, including Maungatea, Anakitau, Te Manga, Te Ko'u, and Maungaroa. In addition, the shorelines on both the north and south sides of the island can be seen. We also saw several Tropicbirds (likely Red-tailed) with their long thin tails soaring through the sky around The Needle. It is possible to get around to the other side of The Needle for even more views but a sign warns hikers against doing so. Those who use the chains to scramble around the base do so at their own risk, and it is not recommended. After enjoying the views, we went back to the Ridge Junction and then continued on the main trail over to View Hill. View Hill contains some of the best views of The Needle and makes for a great photography spot. We then began the steep descent down the southern portion of the trail. Eventually, we reached some stream crossings which were fairly easy. There was a good amount of flowing water but it wasn't too hard to stay dry while crossing. As we followed various stream forks for a while, we found some deep pools of water which would have made for refreshing places to cool off. Along the trail, we spotted several Blue-tailed Skinks (island lizards). After passing through an area of ferns and then doing one final steep section down with ropes, we arrived at Papua Waterfall. Papua Waterfall was completely dry, but it flows nicely during the wet season (November to April). The Cross-Island Track had proven to be a wonderful hike that we both thoroughly enjoyed. Included within this report are 100 pictures taken during the Cross-Island hike and some bonus pictures from our time on Rarotonga. A special thanks to Gerald McCormack (book author and Director of the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust) for his assistance in preparing for this hike and identifying trees, plants, and mountain peaks. Our hike took place on September 28, 2015.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
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