From Avarua walk three km up the Avatiu Valley. Just beyond the power station you get your first view of Te Rua Manga, the Needle (413 meters). In another 10 minutes the road ends at a concrete water intake; you continue up a footpath for 15 minutes until you reach a huge boulder. Pass it and head up the steep forested incline. This climb is the hardest part of the trip, but when you reach the top, the Needle towers majestically above you (the hike from the end of the road to the top takes less than an hour).
There's a fork at the top of the ridge: the Needle on your right, the trail down to the south coast on the left. After scrambling around the Needle, start down the trail to the south coast, past the giant ferns along the side of Papua Stream. On this part of the trek you really get to see Rarotonga's interior rainforest. The road out begins at Papua Waterfall, also known as Wigmore's Waterfall, at the bottom of the hill. The stream above Papua is a drinking water source, and you're also not supposed to swim in the pool below the falls (which will be dry anyway unless there have been rains recently). The hapless Sheraton Resort is to your right just before you reach the main road.
Though sometimes slippery, the cross-island track can be covered in all weather, and even if it has been raining, you can still do the trip the next day. Parts of the track are badly eroded, so it might not be a good idea to go alone. Allow 45 minutes to walk up Avatiu Road, then an hour and a quarter to climb to the Needle. The descent down the Papua Valley takes two hours, and it's easier to do a round-trip to the Needle from the end of the road on the Avatiu side, allowing a return to a parked vehicle. If you'll be hiking right across it's best to go Monday-Saturday as onward bus service on the other side will be very limited on Sunday.
Several companies offer guided cross-island treks Monday-Saturday at 0930 if the weather is okay, but lots of visitors do this hike on their own and you don't really need a guide. Unfortunately, some hikers have inflicted environmental damage here. Don't attempt shortcuts by following the plastic water lines along the way as these lines can be damaged if you use them as handholds and they lead to very dangerous slopes. The trail will remain open only if visitors behave responsibly.
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