Winston Aldworth works up a sweat on a legendary Rarotongan trail.
The best view, as any keen tramper will attest, is one you've earned. And I sure earned this one.
As my kids lazed in the swimming pool with their mum back at Pacific Resort, I sweated and huffed my way over the famous cross-island track that runs north to south through the middle of the Rarotonga.
It's a wonderful wander. On a balmy day, the treetops of the dense rainforest canopy sheltered me from the sun and elements, but on the steep hike I still worked up a mean sweat.
Unless you've done the hike before and know something of the terrain, your best walking the track from north to south. Many of the trail markers are on the north-facing side of the trees. On our way down the hill, we encountered keen groups going about it the other way round, and some were finding it hard to be certain of where the track was. It's not a particularly difficult hike, though there are parts where you're hauling yourself up steep embankments by tree roots, and later, on the way down, there were a couple of points where ropes were fixed to make descent near the river safer and easier.
The trail begins just outside the capital, Avarua and finding the start of the track has its own challenges. It opens off a dusty road south of Avatiu Harbour, you'll find a sign in the valley by Avatiu Stream announcing the start of the walk. Unless, like me and the random Englishwoman I met at the start of the track, you walk right past the sign and spend the best part of an hour trudging fruitlessly up a farm road as a precursor to the actual trek.
The signage — and lack thereof — is pretty random and very Rarotongan. But our detour was our own fault; we weren't paying proper attention.
After the road has ended, keep walking and 10 minutes later you'll cross the stream and reach a massive boulder, the proper track is right there — you're about 45 minutes from the summit.
It's a fun slog, with amazing trees and birdlife all around you. At the peak of the track, a path off to one side leads you on the short scramble to The Needle — which stands tall and proud, a solid block of rock about 30m high, sticking out clear from the bush below. From its base, you can see the island's coastlines. The view makes the hike worthwhile.
Only once you're there, in the highlands, do you really get a sense of the mountainous scale of and ruggedness of the Rarotongan interior.
Get ready to slide on the descent. You don't want to be wearing your good trousers on this part of the path. The track eventually meets the Papua Stream, and crosses back and forth over it on the way out of the bush.
Once you emerge at the carpark on the southern end, you'll notice a dirt road leading off to the side. This will get you to Wigmore's Waterfall where, in all likelihood you'll see backpackers and locals cooling off. The mosquitoes here are plentiful and there's a $5 charge for driving up the dirt road — so I'd recommend cooling off in the lagoon, instead.
Don't underestimate the walk. Take a bag with something warm, in case you get lost, loads of water and, crucially, mosquito repellent. As with any hike, it pays to have someone back in civilisation who knows where you've gone and when you'll be out.
(If you're not confident of completing it alone, or if you'd like to learn more about the flora and fauna and stories of the island, consider going with Pa's Trek — check out pastreks.com.)
I stumbled out of the bush on to the legendary great round road of Rarotonga and started walking, figuring I'd catch the bus around to meet the family back at the resort. Eventually I walked past a bloke who had parked up in his ute.
"Need a lift?"
Again, pretty random and very Rarotongan.
Air NZ flies Auckland to Avarua. Economy Class one-way fares starting from $323.
Pacific Resort at Muri Beach has family-focused activities and accommodation.