While the seductive sun, surf and sand combo of Rarotonga's beautiful beaches claims many holidaymakers, the rugged cliffs and dense jungle in the interior of the island yields many ancient sites, local legends and scenic views. The Cross Island Walk traverses the jungle-like scenery to allow visitors to explore the rock formations, marae (ancient temples) and hidden waterfalls.
The four-hour walk begins in the Avatiu Valley on the north side of Rarotonga, winding its way through the dense, verdant rainforest past Te Rua Manga mountain, whose jutting shape has earned it the moniker of the Needle. The hike around the mountain involves a steep ascent around the 413m Needle that's geared to the physically fit and definitely not for the faint-hearted. From the platform you can enjoy a panoramic view across the island taking in the valley, rainforest and further to the lagoon, reef and ocean. On the descent you'll have a chance to cool off mountain streams and swim in Papua (Wigmore's) Waterfall, see the pre-missionary ancient mountain village of Puaikura and Arai te Tonga sacred marae and hear about the warriors, chiefs and tribes who lived on the mountain before reaching the south side of the island.
A few local operators offer tours of varying length and ability from adventure climbs to gentler eco walks for different ways to learn about the cultural, historical and scenic sights on the Cross Island Walk. Adventure Cook Islands provides guided mountain treks and mountain bike tours, while Pa's Treks offers both the Cross Island Trek and the less strenuous Pa's Nature Walk where the latter also divulges how different plants are used for traditional medicinal remedies.
If you opt for a guided tour, the operators will provide transfers to and from your accommodation. If you wish to attempt the Cross Island Walk without a guide, from Avarua it's a 3km walk up the Avatiu Valley - a 45-minute trek. From the south end you can catch the island bus back to Avarua.