TRAVEL DESTINATION: The Needle (Te Rua Manga), Rarotonga, Cook Islands
TRAVEL DURATION: Half day hike
Wherever I go and travel to, I always try to scout out some hills or mountains to climb. There sure is something about that 360 degrees top view. I love to see the place I am visiting from a bird’s-eye perspective. Maybe for some, the airplane view would do, but for me, the hiking and climbing are much more rewarding. There is a challenge involved as well as the experience and, without the exception, the numerous surprises by the end of the hike. This was my third visit to Rarotonga and about the time to put on the hiking shoes. Sharing the experience with my brother and sister just made it all the more special.
When I think about it, this was also my first hike in the tropics, I guess. I started without any expectations, hoping only to be captivated by luscious greenery for a couple of hours, like many times before. Forests. They bring peace and so much energy, leaving you invigorated and refreshed. They are a source of life. I imagined all that to only be multiplied when hiking through the tropical forest.
The one thing I was questioning was something I’d just read in the Cook Islands Sun, a free visitor magazine I grabbed. Apparently, this forest is very quiet and you usually don’t hear any birds when doing the trek. The birds are there, they are just non-vocal, which makes this forest the most pristine one in the South Pacific area. I was totally surprised to learn this and for sure wanted to see it for myself. Honestly, I wasn’t quite convinced there is such thing as a quiet forest. I’ve always associated forests with comforting birds’ voices and chirping background noise.
On the day, we began our hike late in the morning with the starting point at Pāpua Falls (Wigmore’s Waterfall). We decided to only pursue the Te Rua Manga (the Needle) and not doing the whole Cross-Island Track. In case you’re going for the whole track, then it’s better to start from Avatiu on the other side of the island. That part of the track gets much steeper and tougher, and the descent through there is not advised.
The hike started with a steady rise. Once we found ourselves in the island’s interior rainforest, we quickly realized it’s essential to have shoes with a good grip. It didn’t rain much these last few days and the soil was just moist enough so you could easily slide off in parts where the terrain becomes steeper. The forest soil is covered with the network of tree roots in many places, so that’s also helpful with both, the ascent as well as the descent.
Forest here is amazing. So much green. The most luscious green you can imagine. Vegetation reminded me of New Zealand native bush, so it looked and felt quite familiar to me. I would often just stop and stare at the landscape, and then attempt to capture it all with my iPhone. What made it so special for me are numerous gorges, streams of water, ponds and small waterfalls all along and parallel to the main trail.
There are also few stream crossings on the way that we had to overcome, which made it even more adventurous and engaging. These are not deep and can be easily crossed with a bit of the resourcefulness. The trail is in general well marked, but can in places become overgrown and make you guess the direction. This walk along the ridges and water streams was one of the most enjoyable parts of the hike for me and I tried to soak in those moments while making the mental picture of the beautiful landscape.
Last part of the Needle hike becomes a bit steeper. Ropes, chains, and steel staples are well placed in parts where it’s difficult to get a good grip or the soil is severely washed away. The effort you put in gets quickly rewarded with an amazing view of the tall rock formation, the Needle. The Needle is at 413 meters one of the highest peaks on the island of Rarotonga. There are more hiking peaks that you can pursue while visiting Rarotonga (some of them even higher than the Needle), few of them being Te Manga (653m), Ikurangi (485m) and Raemaru (340m). They are all different and special, however, Te Rua Manga (The Needle) stands out the most with the Cross-Island Track and the recognizable cylinder shaped summit. You are left with a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding landscape once you reach the base of the Needle peak. There is a tropical forest stretching in front of you and an outline of the island coast a bit further out. Definitely a bird’s-eye view that feels like the top of the world.
This is the reward: making the effort and the enjoyment of the beautiful tropical landscape. All for free. Being part of the quiet forest. Yes, the ‘bird story’ turned out to be true – no birds chirping whatsoever. I sure tried to get some response from them with my unsuccessful whistling sound attempts. I guess their view of the landscape and on things is even more majestic than we get to witness. Finding yourself in the heart of the volcano island may evoke a special perspective on how things used to be back in time when nature was still unspoilt in its magnificence. The tropical forest here is very much alive, it’s filled with life, water, and stories of our footsteps.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring a bug spray, especially if those small creatures tend to love you.