Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Whilst perusing all the tourist pamphlets and information on Rarotonga, there were plenty of references to a half dozen or so tramping tracks through the island, but there didn’t seem to be any more information than the name, a sentence description with time and vague line heading inland on the road map…
There was a brief mention of a guide book to the trails, which inspired us to have a search around town to see if we could locate it. With nothing much to go on, we scootered into town, searching for a bookshop or library. Following a random sign or two, we found the National Library of Rarotonga (Victoria Rd, Avarua, -21.207012, -159.769438). We asked after the guide to the hiking trails on the island and the librarian took us to the reference section where there were two copies of the guide.
“Rarotonga’s Mountain Tracks and Plants” Gerald McCormack and Judith Kunzle. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project, Rarotonga 1995. ISBN 982-308-005-4
We had a good look through the guide, which detailed a number of routes through the island including;
· Te Manga summit
· ‘Ikurangi summit
· Maungatea Bluff
· Raemaru summit
· Plus a couple of others whose names I forget.
From the national library, we went back into town, and got directions from the tourist info center to ‘The Bounty Bookshop’ (Takuvaine Rd, Avarua, -21.207541, -159.775662) on the road that leads south from the only roundabout on Rarotonga. The bookshop is about 60m south of the roundabount, on the west side of the road.
At the bookshop, we found that the guide was out of print because “the trails were all overgrown” according to the owner. Instead we found a small guide book by the same author to the islands popular tourist hike; “A guide to Rarotonga’s Cross-Island Track”. ISBN 978-982-98050-1-0. This track is about 4hrs one way and is generally easy to find information about.... But we wanted to go do something away from the tourist hoardes...
Back at the national library, they were unwilling to loan out one of the guide books, since it was out of print and in the reference section. However, we were able to photocopy a selection of pages detailing the Te-Manga track.
We zipped off on scooters to go scout out the track end. Given that the book was out of print, and locals reckoned the tracks were overgrown, I wanted to get a feel for wether it was worth bothering.
Following directions from the guidebook, we travelled east from town on the inland road to Arai-Te-Tonga Rd (-21.21396,-159.747224), headed inland for 240m, past a small cemetery then took a dirt road off to the left, over a small culvert (-21.215405,-159.748756) It looked someone’s driveway, but after about 120m, you arrive at a large culvert, with a semi-official looking sign for Ikurangi and Te Manga Tracks, complete with a sign in/out logbook. (-21.216943,-159.748979).
Encouraged by the sign, we came back a few days later to do the track.
We started early, with the plan to arrive at the track start at first light, to get up and back early. Even though it was the dry season (winter) it gets pretty warm by midday (mid-high 20’s C), clouds start forming on the tops, and it rains frequently from mid afternoon...
When we arrived, we were greeted by a pack of barking dogs. They appeared a little aggressive and we were a bit worried, first about being bit, and second about waking up an angry land owner. Although the access sign appeared legitimate, we knew that all the tracks were on private land..
But we needn’t have worried. The 5 dogs were just excited because they knew they were about to go for a walk! The dogs became our guides and with a little encouragement, we followed them up the track, nearly all the way to the top.
From the culvert, keep right and follow a wide vehicle track to the Tupapa water intake after about 20mins. Where the road ends at the far end of the clearing, you cross a little stream, then continue on a faint track through vines, forest and taro fields on the true right of the main stream. About 50m beyond a side stream with a tiny waterfall that comes in from the true right (10-15mins from the intake) You start up a ridge, and the track becomes a little more defined with occasional official yellow markers.
From here, the track is pretty similar to most rough tracks through bushy mountains and anyone who has spent a bit of time visiting the less visited tracks in NZ’s less visited forests will have no problem navigating. McCormacks description is extremely (perhaps over) detailed in the mountain section, and I found myself suffering from scale shock most of the time. Although the track does deviate from the spur/ridge at times, its quite straight forward to find your way. You can get a electronic copy of a Rarotongan Topographical map, which helps with the terrain a bit.
Turns out the NZ overseas development fund cut and marked most of the tracks in the early 90’s, but not a huge amount of maintenance has been done. There were still enough markers on the mountain section to make life pretty easy.
Lower on the ridge, the vegetation was pretty incredible, with ‘Mile a minute’ vine covering palm trees, huge tangles of forearm thick vines and Taro fields. As we climbed, the forest overtook the scrub, with a feel not too dissimilar to NZ bush. Near the top of the ridge, the volcanic bedrock was covered by a spongy dirt/moss thing that was a not as solid as I would have liked given the terrain...
Higher up the ridge, the sides began to steepen dramatically, and we encountered a number of short steep pitches where fixed, knotted ropes were in place. They started out as useful for a little balance, but the higher we got, the more they were actually required for upward progression. This was a little disconcerting, as there was no way of knowing how solid the top anchor was. The ropes themselves appeared in reasonable condition, though reasonably old. For the most part, the anchors were pretty good. Up high on the ridge, the exposure increased to the point where you really did have to take care with where you put your feet, with some narrow sections above cliffs more than 200m high!
We backed off the final ropelength to the summit, which was about 70 degrees, up loose dirt, exposed to a 200m+ cliff. There were no handy trees or sturdy bushes to use as handholds on the way up, so it would be virtually a hand over hand climb. I just wasn’t willing to take the risk, so we turned around. I was pretty surprised at how exposed the upper ridge was. Definitely not a track, more like a scramble or basic climb. The descent required care and some climbing ability.. It had taken us about 2.5hrs from the road end, and must have been only a few minutes from the top.
On the way back down, the dogs were waiting at spots on the ridge which matched the upper limit of their ability to climb the steep sections. By the time we were halfway down the ridge, we had all our entourage, and enjoyed seeing the valley section in full light. By now it was mid morning and getting pretty warm!!
Things to take tramping in Rarotonga;
· Lightweight Raincoat, as a windbreaker and for afternoon showers
· 100 weight fleece, as it does get a little chilly high on the ridges
· Day walking shoes. Just a sturdy running shoe would do the trick.
· Gaiters of some description.
· Sunscreen, Lipbalm Sunglasses and Sunhat
· Head torch (for early starts)
· 1st Aid Kit
· Waterbottles (We drank 3L each on our 5hr walk... This is the main bit of gear to not scrimp on..)
· GPS with some sort of base map (as there are no topographical maps easily available)
· Walking T-shirt, I got a little cold with sweat high on the ridge in a cotton T..
· A little bit of insect repellent for mossies (not many, but some exist)
Pocket Knife, just in case.
Pocket Knife, just in case.