The Top Walking and Hiking Trails in the Cook Islands (Including Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia, Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro)
Discover breathtaking inland scenery, verdant jungles and even hidden caves and swimming holes on the amazing walks and hikes of the Cook Islands. From the famous Cross Island Trek on Rarotonga to the little-known cave pool hikes on Mitiaro, there is a wealth of hiking experiences across the Cook Islands. We’ve included hikes in this list that can be found across the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, as these are the islands that most people visit. Note, however, that some of the smaller islands, such as Atiu and Mauke, require a guide to help stick to the poorly maintained trails.
And if you were just looking for trails on Rarotonga, make sure you head over to the 10 Best Walks on Rarotonga.
1. Cross Island Trek, Rarotonga
The longest hiking trail on Rarotonga, the Cross Island Trek is a 6km (3.7-mile) trail marked with small orange markers for those who want to experience the hike independently. Otherwise, guided hikes are available with Maunga Tours – see 8 Best Guided Walks in the Cook Islands. It takes around 3h30mins to complete the one-way trail (or longer if hiking from the main road – see the “Location” section below).
For this spectacular but challenging day out in nature, it’s recommended to walk from north to south (the trail is easier to follow in this direction) and preferably after a couple of dry days, as there are parts of the trail that become extremely slippery in wet conditions. Plus, there are a couple of stream crossings.
Highlights of the trails include Te Rua Manga, also known as “The Needle”. The trek to The Needle can also be done as a standalone hike (see point #3 below). The trail ends at Papua Waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall) where you can have a refreshing dip assuming it has been raining enough for the water level.
Location: It’s recommended to walk from north to south, starting from the end of Uruau Drive in Avarua (if walking from town, this adds an additional 3km/1 mile to your journey). The trail ends at the end of Papua Road, which is approximately 1.6km (1 mile) from the main road where you can catch the bus. Learn more about bus transport in our guide, Taking the Bus in Rarotonga.
2. Maunga Pu, Aitutaki
The only “official” hike on Aitutaki, Maunga Pu is the peak of the island at a height of 124m (407ft) and can be walked up in 20-30 minutes from the sign at the base. After walking (or driving) up the narrow tar-sealed road, head up to the left to reach Maunga Pu’s summit with a cellphone tower and a whole lot of gorgeous island and lagoon vistas. There is no shelter on this walk, so it’s recommended to do it either in the morning or evening to avoid the beating sun. Check out more walking routes across Aitutaki in the 5 Best Walks on Aitutaki.
Location: West coast of Aitutaki between Paradise Cove and Tai Marino. Park on the abandoned lot opposite the Maunga Pu sign or at the crossroads up the trail where the tar-sealed road meets the grassy road.
3. The Needle (Te Rua Manga), Rarotonga
One of the most prominent sights on Rarotonga, Te Rua Manga, otherwise known as The Needle, is an exposed breccia structure reaching 413m (1,355ft) high. While The Needle can be admired as part of the Cross Island Trek (see point #1 above), those just wanting to climb up to The Needle without doing the rest of the Cross Island Trek, however, are recommended to start from the north side of the trail (where the trail is easiest to follow), trek up to the summit and return back the same way. This takes approximately 1h30mins-2 hours to return. The trail is extremely slippery after wet weather and it can be sketchy on the ascent up to The Needle, so wear good hiking/walking shoes and take care. See more mountain hikes across Rarotonga in the 10 Best Walks on Rarotonga.
Location: Start from the end of Uruau Drive in Avarua (if walking from town, this adds an additional 3km/1 mile to your journey). Avarua is at the northern end of Rarotonga.
4. Raemaru Track, Rarotonga
Another popular hike on Rarotonga, mainly because it’s a “walk in the park” compared to the long journey and rough conditions of the Cross Island Trek, the Raemaru Track is a mountain hike on the west side of Rarotonga. Allow 2h30mins to 3 hours to return on this 3.1km (1.9-mile) trail where a highlight is climbing a 15m (50ft) rockface with the aid of steel bars and ropes to the summit.
The steady mountain climb zig-zags through the attractive forest on its ascent up the flat-topped mountain. There are small orange markers to follow, as well as QR codes to learn more about the legends, flora and fauna of the mountain – you’ll need a local SIM card and internet data to enjoy this feature.
Guided hikes of the Raemaru Track are available with Adventure Cook Islands and Tumutoa Tours – check out the 8 Best Guided Walks in the Cook Islands for details.
Location: From the main road (Ara Tapu) in Arorangi on the west side of Rarotonga, take Akaoa Road or Akaoa No.2 Road inland between the Castaway Resort and Discover Marine Wildlife & Eco Centre. Look out for the Raemaru Track signpost pointing inland again up Raemaru Heights Road and follow this road for around 80m (87 yards). Park on the side of the road (do not block the road inland).
5. Hospital Hill Track, Rarotonga
One of the easiest walks on Rarotonga with a view is the Hospital Hill Track. The 2km (1.2-mile), 30-40mins return walk starts from the Rarotonga Hospital car park and steadily ventures up an easy-to-follow dirt road through the forest to a viewpoint overlooking Nikao Beach, the lagoon and the airport.
Location: Top of Hospital Hill Road, Nikao, north side of Rarotonga. The dirt track can be found behind the hospital buildings.
6. Arore Trek, Rarotonga
An excellent short hike on the back hills of Muri, the Arore Trek is a private hike accessible through a guided experience with Arore Mountain Adventures. Experience the natural beauty of the inland forests of Rarotonga and look out for wildlife on this hike that can be done either in the daytime or at sunrise. The trail is relatively steep the whole way up where guide ropes are in place to make the ascent a little easier. At the summit, you’ll experience panoramic views of the Muri Lagoon and its motu (islets), as well as the inland mountains and valleys. The walk lasts approximately 1h30mins return. Learn more about the guided experience in the 8 Best Guided Walks in the Cook Islands.
Location: Tours depart from the Muri Meeting House, Muri eastern side of Rarotonga. Transfers are available for a fee.
7. Mt Rangimotia, Mangaia
Hike to the highest point on the outer island of Mangaia, Mt Rangimotia at 169m (554ft), on the rugged inland road leading to it. The road to the high plateau is not passable for 2WD cars and scooters but makes for an excellent hike from the diversion south of Ivirua village, lasting approximately 6km (3.7 miles). Alternatively, it is 2.5km (1.6 miles) to the summit from the intersection in the west for the central cross-island road.
Whichever direction you come from, you’ll pass through a mixture of rainforest and pine forest and capture many views across the island’s peaceful taro plantations. You’ll need to walk on the summit for a while to reveal the coastal views, but you’ll know you’re in the right area when you reach the phone masts. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen for this half-day return walk. See more hikes, including to a shipwreck and lake, on the island listed in the 5 Best Walks on Mangaia.
Location: Mangaia. The easiest access to find is the cross-island road intersection just south of Ivirua Road to the east of the island. The shortest walk is the last cross-island road intersection just south of Akeke Trading to the west of the island (inland from Oneroa).
8. Anatakitaki Cave (Kopeka Cave), Atiu
A must-see attraction on Atiu, Anatakitaki Caves are a series of caves with awesome limestone stalactites and home to a rare and fascinating bird. The only way to access the caves is on a rough trail guided by Atiu Eco-Adventure Anatakitaki Cave Tour. The three-hour guided experience takes you through the dense rainforest to three spectacular caves. Bring your swimwear for the cave pool, sturdy shoes for scrambling over “makatea” (sharp coral rock) and put on your best bird-spotting hats for seeing the kopeka, a swiftlet unique to Atiu, that uses sonar just like a bat. Your guide will tell you more about these amazing birds or check out the 20 Animals & Birds Unique to the Cook Islands. Plus, see more places to walk to in the 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu.
Location: East side of Atiu. Transfers are included in the tour mentioned.
9. Vai Tamaroa Walk, Mitiaro
One of Mitiaro’s spectacular swimming caves, Vai Tamaroa requires a little walking to get to – ideal for hiking enthusiasts! The trail is easy to spot thanks to the white-painted sign and commemorative marker for the 1985 Boys Brigade project that set the trail up. You can follow the trail without a guide (a rarity on the outer Cook Islands) if you pay attention as you scramble over grassy makatea. Allow around 20 minutes to finally reach Vai Tamaroa, a 10m (30ft) deep circular hole mostly filled with water. Be prepared for a bit of climbing to get in and out though. Return the same way. See more natural attractions across the island in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mitiaro.
Location: Along the east coast road of Mitiaro, spot the Vai Tamaroa sign a few hundred metres south of the Lake Rotonui turnoff.
10. Banyan Tree, Vai Moti and Motuanga Cave Walk, Mauke
On a guided walk on the island of Mauke, you can see three exciting natural attractions on the trail to the “Giant Banyan Tree”! The trail to the tree can be found along the main road between Areora village and A’anga Beach.
The 15-minute walk passes Vai Moti, a small cave with a swimming hole where you a take a quick dip. Finally, you’ll come across the tangled roots hanging from above and crawling across the ground that indicates you’ve reached the Giant Banyan Tree! Locals have made an awesome tree swing with the roots – so have a go!
If you continue on the trail for a further 500m (550 yards), you will reach Motuanga Cave, also known as “The Cave with 100 Rooms”. While it used to be easy to explore the caves passages and underground pool, the chambers have collapsed in recent years making the cave largely inaccessible. Check out more awesome places to walk to in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mauke.
Location: There is a clearing on the road to the start of this trail between Areora village and A’anga Beach on the east coast of Mauke. As the trail is difficult to find, it is best to explore this area with a guide, which can be arranged through your Mauke accommodation.
More About Walks and Hikes in the Cook Islands
Now that you know plenty of places to stretch your legs with the best walks and hikes in the Cook Islands, check out some of our other hiking articles if you missed them:
- 8 Best Guided Walks in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Walks on Rarotonga
- 5 Best Walks in Aitutaki
- 5 Best Walks on Mangaia
Finally, check out more activities beyond hiking with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List. Plus, plan all the logistics of a trip to the Cook Islands using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.