The track across the rugged, upland centre of Rarotonga, takes in the striking rocky volcanic plug, Te Rua Manga, (the Needle, 413m), and an enjoyable, (if at times testing), trek through beautiful, lush rainforest.
Rarotonga’s Cross-Island track takes about 3-4 hours to cross from north to south, and finishes at Papua (or Wigmore’s) Falls, a small cascade and pool that can also be reached by car along a rough track on the south side of the island.
Good fitness and preparation
This popular trek has some strenuous and challenging sections, so medium to high fitness is recommended. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots are also recommended, and food and water should be carried, along with a cap or sunhat, mosquito repellent, and sunscreen. The trek is best not attempted alone, and it’s a good idea to tell someone where you are going, in case of a delayed return. Due to slippery conditions, it is also not recommended to attempt the trek in the rainy season, or after heavy rain.
Unique rainforest plants
The mountainous area in the centre of Rarotonga is unpopulated and up around 400m, consists of cloud forest with many large ferns, mature rainforest trees, and many unique species of plants. These include the kaiatea ko’u ( Ascarina species), the Glossy tongue fern, the Rarotongan kiekie (a Freycinetia species), and ara, a plant similar to pandanus. Keep an eye out for geckos and moko skinks resting on the cool boughs of trees as you pass.
The northern start of the Cross-Island Trek is in the Avatiu valley, (about 3km behind Avarua) with a 35-45 minute walk up Avatiu Road. The track winds through some beautiful and dense tropical rainforest, before climbing up steep sections using tree roots and ropes as hand-holds, to the Needle. This steep climb is the hardest part of the trip and takes about an hour.
Steep climb to the Needle
Te Rua Manga is a jagged, rock formation, that juts straight upwards, hence the name, the Needle. From the base of the Needle, there are great views, out over the rainforest and towards the coast. There is a tricky section of the track on the south side of the Needle, crossing a narrow ridge, and from there it is about 1-2 hours through rainforest to the waterfall.
After the scramble around the Needle, you pass through some beautiful rainforest and ferns beside Papua Stream. In this area, you can see native shrubs like the glossy, heart-shaped leaves of the kavakava atua (Macropiper species), the flaky-barked koka tree, (a Bischofia species), and many of the beautiful ferns of the Cook Island rainforests. These include smooth-frond ferns like panga tua-more, the rough tree fern, tua-taratara, and the sturdy cloud forest fern, A’nae with fronds of up to five metres long.
Rainforest ferns and birds
In the rainforest and cloud forest, you may also spot birds like the large Rupe or Pacific Pigeon, the I’oi or Rarotongan Starling, or the Kukupa, the small, (mainly green with pink cap), Cook Islands Fruit Dove. They may be feeding on the fruit of the Pua, a large, sprawling, rough-barked tree which has white flowers and orange, ovoid fruit.
The track continues on down through the rainforest, crossing the stream many times, until you reach the waterfall. (The waterfall will be dry between July and December, unless there has been recent rain).
After Wigmore’s Falls, it’s about a 20-minute walk past the ruins of the Sheraton Hotel on your right, to the coast road. If you are relying on a bus back to town, attempt the trek on a Monday to Saturday, as buses are infrequent on Sundays.
Local guides available
If you are not confident about attempting the trek, there are local guides available. The best known of these is Pa’s Mountain Treks. They offer guided treks twice a week, and the tour includes tales of local myths and legends, and information on the local plants and their traditional uses.
Natural Heritage Project
Rarotonga’s bio-diversity is protected by the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project, funded by the Cook Islands’ government and the South Pacific Regional Environment Program. It aims to educate people about the need for conservation, and is led by New Zealander, Gerald McCormack and Swiss artist, Judith Künzlé, who both reside on Rarotonga. They have also published a comprehensive guide for hikers and eco-tourists, called ‘Rarotonga’s Mountain Tracks and Plants’ that can be obtained on the Island. This details other mountain walking tracks, and includes an informative section on mountain, fernland, ridge, slope and forest plants and vines of the Cook Islands.
McCormack G, and Kunzle J, 1995, ‘Rarotonga’s Mountain Tracks and Plants – A Field Guide’, published by the Cook Island’s Natural Heritage Project.
Cook Islands Biodiversity and Natural Heritage Database at;