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July 21, 2001
A cross island walk (well, almost) (Russell)

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This way to Te Rua Manga

Rarotonga is an island of 67 square kilometers, with a population of 10,000.  It is the largest of the Cook Islands, and the only one with a ring road that goes around the coast of the entire island (the ring road itself is 32 km around)..

In the center of the island, amid all of the mountain peaks, is a trail that runs from north to south -- the "cross island walk."  One of the highlights of this walk is that it passes by "Te Rua Manga," a stone needle 413 metres high.  We decided to take this walk.

On rented scooters (Gail and Joss on one, Russell and Cameron on the other), we zoomed to the south of the island to find the trailhead there.  After about an hour of driving back and forth (and arguing about the safety of scootering on unpaved gravel roads), we decided to try our luck at the northern trailhead instead.

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The gang on scooters

The northern trailhead was much easier to find, as it is outside of Avarua, the largest town in the Cook Islands (going to Avarua is described as "going to town").  The route was a wonderfully scenic backroad of chickens, cows, horses, goats, and piglets.

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The road to the northern trailhead (Needle in background)

We parked our scooters, checked our backpacks, and set off on the trail.  It took us through avenues of coconut trees, open meadows, and then suddenly disappeared into an immense mass of jungle shrubbery.

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The boys in the meadow
Joss in his element

We thought that was rough enough, until we came upon the sign that said "Go to the big boulder and go up the ridge.  Do not go up the valley."  The boulder was easy enough to find.  Going up the ridge was a little trickier -- first we had to find the ridge.  It was marked only by two small wooden steps hidden among all of the tangled tree roots.

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The "big boulder"

We ended up spending the next hour climbing nearly straight up.  The "path" was one mass of overgrown tree roots after another, with sheer drops on either side.  Cameron and Joss clearly saw this as an adventure and jumped into the lead.  Gail was close behind them with a constant look of terrified motherhood.  (Gail is terrified of edges.)  Russell brought up the rear.  (It should be noted that the Rarotongans apparently do not believe in switchbacks.)

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Tree roots make terrible ladders...

After a last vertical climb where we literally used tree roots as a ladder, we finally made it to a wonderful vista point of the Needle.  Joss wanted to climb the last several hundred yards to the Needle itself, but he was out-voted by those of us with common sense.  Instead, we took a well-deserved lunch break of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Joss, while swinging at a bug, promptly flung his sandwich into the bushes.  This was especially unlucky for Russell, who did the dad thing and gave Joss his own sandwich.

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Te Rua Manga, at last! (note the matching visors and bandanas)

We decided to call it a day and head back out.  While we didn't make it all the way across the island, we did make it halfway (and later discovered that the other half was closed anyway due to rough terrain).

Back in town and civilization once more, we rewarded ourselves with some well-deserved ice cream cones.


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