Rarotonga Cross Island Hike

If you need a break from the beach, the Cross Island Hike, is the best away-from-the-water activity to do on Rarotonga Island.
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike

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If you need a break from the beach the Cross Island Hike is the best away-from-the-water activity to do. This hike is not too demanding, which makes it a perfect way to see more of Rarotonga, let’s escape the waterfront and get lost in the jungle!

The Needle Rarotonga Hiking
View of the Needle

About the Cross Island Hike

The Cross Island Hike is Rarotonga’s most popular trail and one that is easy to complete on your own. The hike takes between 3-5 hours depending on time of day, your fitness level and how long you spend taking jungle photos. The hike took me 5 hours due to my new injuries. The Cross Island hike can easily be completed faster but there is no real need to rush. It is nice to enjoy nature and this beautiful jungle trek!

Rarotong Cross Island HIke
Getting lost in the jungle

The Cross Island Hike has a max elevation of 413 meters with the highest point being the Needle which happens to be roughly the halfway point in the hike. On the southern end of the hike there is a toll/donation stand on the road for the Wigmore waterfall. The price is $2 NZD per bicycle or scooter, $5 NZD per car and it is a donation if you are walking.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Jungle views
Wigmore Waterfall Rarotonga Cook Islands
The Wigmore waterfall

With a low elevation the hike is not extremely demanding but it is easy to tire out if you are not used to the island heat. And like any other hike, make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks.

Just as the name states, the Cross Island Hike, literally crosses the whole island! With it’s uni-direction it unwise to drive and park at either trail head. Don’t worry not driving to the trail head is fine, hitchhiking on Rarotonga is easy or you can always hop on a bus to get to either trail head.

The Cross Island Hike was designed and is officially recommended to be completed from north to south but I hiked it in the opposite direction. The trail is easy to find and stay on throughout the hike. It is well marked with orange reflective triangles and the ground is well worn.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Trail makers and river crossings

During the hike you will be mostly covered by the jungle canopy, this makes it fine to hike at any time of day. The only open and exposed areas are at the top by the Needle and the beginning/ending sections getting to the trail heads. When I completed the hike there was not much underbrush but there were 2 sections of climbing that contained a lot of tree roots you have to hike over. Depending on the season the Wigmore waterfall may or may not be flowing and if it is you have to cross over a stream multiple times, flowing good for during my hike.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Selfie stops

North to South, South to North

Getting to either trail head is the only major downside of this incredible hike. Physically going from your accommodation to the start of the trail is easy, buses and hitchhiking are fast and reliable. What I am talking about is when you start hiking from either main road to the actual trail head, that sucks.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Walking to the trailhead

The Cross Island Hike starts in the south at Wigmore’s waterfall, which is a 30 minute walk from the main road to the trail head or the hike starts in the north by the Sea Salt Takeaway restaurant. From the north you walk to the end of the Avatiu road and continue on a dirt path before you actually come to the trail, this portion of the walk takes almost an hour!

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike

What Direction to Hike

I hiked the trail from south to north because the southern trail head was closer to where I was staying. At the time I had no idea the Rarotonga Cross Island hike was to be completed in the other direction and after doing the hike I recommend doing it the wrong way.

Three reasons why you should hike the Cross Island trail in the wrong direction:

  1. You finish the hike in the main town of Avarua. After hiking you can treat yourself to restaurant or street food and a cold beer. If you hiked in the other direction you end up at the bottom of the island next to nothing.
  2. By finishing the hike in the north, next to the main city, you have a better chance of getting a ride when hitchhiking.
  3. I personally prefer to climb up steep inclines full of tree roots instead of down and that is how the southern stretch of the trail starts out. Also in the south you have to cross a river multiple times and by hiking the trail, this way you will be dry by the end of the hike.

One reason why you should hike the Cross Island trail in the correct direction:

  1. All of the trail markers are located on the northern side of trees. Not a big issue, the trail is easy to stay on, just an inconvenience.
Cross Island Trek Rarotonga
South to north is just fine

My Experience

I had a hard couple days before my Cross Island Hike. I was newly injured, struggling with that and then cyclone Cook came nearby and downpour for days on end. I finally attempted the hike on my last day after being cooped up and not feeling well. Not knowing the trail was supposed to be hiked in the other direction Emma and I started hiking from the south.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Passing the abandoned hotel on the island

We got a ride by hitchhiking to the Wigmore waterfall entrance, paid our donations for the trail and continued up the road. The hike officially starts past the waterfall so after a few photos of it we hit the trail. During the first section of the trail we had to cross the river a few times, due to the recent rain but Wigmore’s waterfall does dry up part of the year during the dry season.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Entry road to the Wigmore waterfall
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Size does matter and jungle size is massive
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Loving the jungle

After the river crossings the trail continued slightly uphill and deeper into the jungle. The trail quickly leveled out and winded easily until another major incline which is just before the max elevation at the Needle. Before the Needle you have an incredible view of the island and a cooling breeze from the ocean. After we stopped to take more photos at the Needle, the trail continues steeply down to the north where it leveled off slightly before ending up on a dirt path past houses and farms.

Couple Hiking Rarotonga Needle
Selfies with the Needle
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
There are a few root sections along the trail
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Wanting to stay in the jungle
Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
The trail is pretty well worn in most areas
Rarotonga Island
Great view of the ocean

Emma and I were fortunate when we reached the main road on the northern side of the island 2 safari tour vehicles passed by and the back one picked us up. This ride saved us the long walk into town. The tour was a group of older German adults on a beach holiday and we were dropped off next to a water station which is directly behind the Sea Salt Takeaway restaurant. We snagged some water and went straight to the restaurant for celebratory food before hitchhiking home.

Rarotonga Cross Island Hike
Roadway from the northern trailhead to town

Final Thoughts

I had a blast doing this hike, especially since it is to accomplish on your own, which is an extreme rarity in the South Pacific. South to north is my vote. You get the river crossing out of the way and you end in town where you can grab a bite to eat and cold beer!

I hope this post helps with your hike! When you are done let me know your thoughts on which direction to do the Cross Island Hike. If you want to read more about my time on Rarotonga visit the Destination Cook Island page.


Cross Island Hike Rarotonga Cook Islands


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Sheridan is a full-time adventure seeker, professional photographer, and creator of Outsidevibes. Having a serious case of wanderlust Sheridan has traveled extensively around the world. He has overcome multiple, serious injuries from traveling but he is determined to continue experiencing life to the fullest.

Hey, I'm Sheridan.

I’m a full-time adventure photographer, coffee creator, van builder, and writer!

Welcome to Outsidevibes, the BEST resource for all things travel, outdoor, hiking, backpacking, and nature-related. As an adventure person, I aim to share honest information, passionate stories and promote positive inspiration for those who love travel and the outdoors.

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