The Top Walking and Hiking Trails on Rarotonga
Rarotonga is not just a destination for sipping cocktails on the beach. If you prefer to explore and stay active on your travels, you’ll totally dig the walking trails snaking through the island’s rugged interior. Those jagged volcanic mountains piercing the sky can be hiked on Rarotonga’s various albeit rough trails! That’s right, hiking on Rarotonga is quite the adventure, so you’ll want to be prepared with sturdy walking shoes (no flip-flops here), as well as plenty of water and insect repellent. If you’re prepared, you have some stunning vistas and epic jungle hikes to enjoy! Find out where to hike in this list of the best walks on Rarotonga.
1. Cross Island Trek
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 (which is easier to follow the trail) and preferably after a couple of dry days, as there are parts of the trail that become extremely slippery in wet conditions. Note that there are a couple of stream crossings.
Aside from trekking through lush jungle forest where it’s possible to spot birds, a highlight is Te Rua Manga, also known as “The Needle”. The trek to The Needle can also be done as a standalone hike (see point #2 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 Taking the Bus in Rarotonga: Bus Fares, Routes & More.
2. The Needle Walk (Te Rua Manga)
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 and back down again 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.
Location: Start from the end of Uruau Drive in Avarua (if walking from town, this adds an additional 3km/1 mile to your journey).
3. Raemaru Track
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 roadside.
4. Arore Trek
An excellent short hike on the back hills of Muri, the Arore Trek is a private hiking trail 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 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. Headlamps are provided for the sunrise walk. 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.
5. Hospital Hill
One of the easiest hikes 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. Te Kou Summit Track
Bag the highest peak on Rarotonga on the Te Kou Summit Track (588m/1,929ft). Be warned, however, that this 5.8km (3.6-mile) return trail is overgrown and hard to follow, therefore, it’s recommended to use a GPS with the route loaded in or to have a guide. With all of the housekeeping out of the way, what can you expect on this trail? The trail starts taking you alongside taro plantations, then through the forest, where the final 45mins-1 hour is a steep ascent is with the guidance of around 20 ropes!
Location: Start from the end of Happy Valley Road, Avarua on the north side of Rarotonga.
7. Ikurangi Summit Track
A slightly easier track to follow, the Ikurangi Summit Track is an ascent up to 485m (1,591ft) with stunning views of Matavera on the way up and captivating views of Avarua, all the way to the airport, and the inland mountains from the summit. The 5.3km (3.3-mile), 1h30mins-2 hours return climb (from the start of Tupapa Road) is steep in parts with rope and lots of vegetation and roots to hold onto, which is especially welcome for the sections with steep drop-offs beside the trail. Avoid the trail when wet.
Location: Start from Tupapa Road (or as far up as you want to take your vehicle up this gravel road) just off Arai-Te-Tonga Road, Matavera, northeast side of Rarotonga. The Ikurangi Track signpost is approximately 800m-1km (0.5-0.6 miles) down this road.
8. Te Manga Track
Another hike branching off Tupapa Road, close to the Ikurangi Summit Track, the Te Manga Track is a 6.3km (3.9-mile) trail taking 2h15mins-2h30mins to complete from the start of Tupapa Road. Follow Tupapa Road past the water tank and continue true right of the creek through a taro plantation where the trail is marked by dubious coloured markers (fabric, bits of plastic, etc.) You’ll follow the ridge up to a minor peak with some ropes fixed in place. At the top are clear views. Again, this trail is best avoided if it has been raining.
Location: Start from Tupapa Road (or as far up as you want to take your vehicle up this gravel road) just off Arai-Te-Tonga Road, Matavera, northeast side of Rarotonga. The Te Manga Track is just past the water tank.
9. Maungatea Bluff Track
Another one of Rarotonga’s mountain hiking trails where even finding the trail is an achievement, the Maungatea Bluff Track offers some decent views from its 240m (787ft) elevation. The trail can be started at the end of the Tauae Road or from the Tauae Store on Ara Metua Road – the latter makes the trail 3.2km (2 miles), taking about 1-2 hours to complete. The trail is notorious for being overgrown, though, but those with a keen eye will be able to follow the blue and red markers on the tress, then yellow triangles and orange fabric the further up you go that are, thankfully, within sight of each other. A metal post at the top marks the end of the hike.
Location: Start at the beginning of Tauae Road (next to the Tauae Store), just off the Ara Metua Road on the back roads of Avarua, the north side of Rarotonga. The road is just east of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
10. Avana Walk
For a bit of gentle walking on Rarotonga, follow Avana Drive (on Google Maps as Avana Pass), which is actually a dirt road that follows the Avana Stream. Unlike many of the walks mentioned on this list, the Avana Walk is very easy to follow, as you just need to follow the Avana Stream for as long as you like, crossing it about 20 times which is quite refreshing on a hot day, then return the same way. The trail is approximately 1.5km (0.9 miles) one way, taking approximately 40 minutes to do the return walk.
Location: Avana Drive, Muri, east coast of Rarotonga. Avana Drive is the road just south of the Avana Stream bridge.
More Walks on Rarotonga
Now that you know all of the major hikes and walks on Rarotonga, here are more ways to stretch your legs across Rarotonga and the Cook Islands:
- 10 Best Walks & Hikes in the Cook Islands
- 5 Best Walks on Aitutaki
- 8 Best Guided Walks in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, plan more experiences beyond walking in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.