“Hiking” Rarotonga with kids: a mad cow adventure

Steve and I have always enjoyed a hike, and we’ve tried to find a track or two on our adventures at home and on our overseas trips. Hill tribe trekking in Thailand, climbing Mt Kinabalu in Borneo, scaling volcanoes in Costa Rica, and hiking the Inca Trail in Peru – we’ve smashed them all. Okay, “smashed” might be a bit strong. Let’s just say that we made it back alive. Add a couple of five-year-olds to the mix, and even the old Coast Track in the Royal National Park back home becomes Kokoda-like in proportions.

On Rarotonga, there are a few tracks inland, but given that the interior of the island is mountainous forest, most of the hikes involve upwards travel, which is exactly the type of walking that elicits whinging from small children. When the auditory pain of the whining is much, much worse that the physical strain of the walk, we have to choose our hikes carefully.

The cross-island track is the most famous and well-maintained track on the island. As its name suggests, it crosses the island from north to south, including an ascent of The Needle – a rocky outcrop of cultural and historical significance to the local people. In our kid-free old days, we would have totally smashed survived that walk, but not being interested in piggy-backing a complaining kid each up the mountain, we gave that one a miss.

This post is a record of our failed, and somewhat mildly successful, attempts at hiking and other ‘inland’ adventures on Raro.

  1. Raemaru

We had it on local knowledge that the Raemaru track would be a doable walk for us with the kids. It looked pretty straightforward on the highly detailed topographic map that we used; a piece of cake compared to that cross-island walk. That’s a short red line. Easy.

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Arriving at (what we guessed was probably) the trail head, a friendly fellow who was feeding coconuts to his pig confirmed our guess and told us that it would be about a 45 minute walk to the top. We factored in a bit of extra time for our short-legged companions, and thought maybe an hour, or an hour and a half up. Easy.

We had water, sunscreen, and thongs on our feet. Look, how hard could a hike be on an island with a 32km circumference? We’re on holidays in the tropics, you couldn’t expect us to wear socks.

And thus we began. Blake found the track pretty interesting. That, or he fell over.

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It wasn’t steep, but a steady uphill trajectory, and I’d say we’d covered about 200m before Blake started asking for a carry. I promised ice creams at the end for the survivors. He continued up the hill unaided.

The track was quite wide, and looked like it could be navigated by a tractor or sturdy 4WD, although it was overgrown with weeds. The forest around was lush.

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A loud “Mooooooo!” in the distance unsettled Phoebe.

“I just heard a ghost!” she whispered, stopped in her tracks.

“It’s just a cow, sweetie,” I said. “That was a ‘moo’ not a ‘woo’.”

“It might get us!” she said.

“No, that moo was far away. And cows don’t ‘get’ people. No need to worry.”

And so we continued on our way, Phoebe slightly concerned about being attacked by a cow.

Blake gave her a pep talk.

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And she was a little better.

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There were shenanigans with spiky branches.

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Several more whinges about spikes in their feet, and when were they ever going to get to the top, and when were they going to see the view, and when could they sit down, were placated with further promises of ice cream. When I added the possibility of pink lemonade, the cow was all but forgotten. Until we rounded a corner to discover…

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Mrs Angry Cow.

She was tied up, limping, and booming.

Now what she said was, “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

But what we heard was, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

She was Gandalf guarding the Reamaru track.

She blocked the path, nostrils flaring, stamping her foot, daring us to come closer. (Alright, I made up all the stuff after blocking the path.)

I walked slowly towards her and she came towards me, but the rope around her neck held her back, and she was really agitated, mooing loudly and pacing back and forth. (She was really doing that.)

“Mummy, no!” shouted Phoebe, beckoning me back.

Not being trained in cow herding, we gave up, and took a photo instead.

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And so ended our attempt at the ascent of Raemaru, elevation 350m. Foiled, not by a lack of covered footwear (as may have been predicted), but by a mad cow. Who would have guessed?

Oh, and here’s the pig that we passed on the way back down. Coconut drunk.

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If you’re interested in hiking Raemaru, I would get a real map, wear shoes and socks, and bring a cow whisperer. Good luck!

  1. Avana Walk

I read on the interwebs that the Avana walk is a good one to do with kids, as it’s not too steep, but meanders through a valley. The interwebs also informed me that the trail has seven lovely creek crossings. You can see all of this information on our highly detailed topographic map.

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Oh hang on, they stuck Muri on top of the walk. This one’s better.

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The track is signified by the slightly visible red dashes at the end of the white road next to the number seven.

Again, we were highly prepared.

Making our way along Avana Road, and given our tools of navigational excellence, we were somewhat (very) confused about where Avana Road ended and the Avana walk began, so when the bitumen ended, our little Suzuki hire car went off-road until we got to the first creek crossing and realised that we were possibly (probably) driving on the walking track. Anyway, the creek crossing looked like this.

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It seems that the dry season and irrigation and damming have dried her up. A fellow on a motor scooter came from up the track and told us there was not much to see further along, either, so we headed back to relax on the beach, with a few extra mosquito bites for our efforts.

If you’re interested in the Avana walk, go during or after the wet season (it’s pretty boring with a dry creekbed), get a decent map, and invest in mosquito repellent. I still can’t help you with where the track begins and ends. Maybe just ride a scooter?

  1. Wigmore’s Waterfall

Now this is not technically a hike, since we got there by road, but I’ve added it here as it’s another of our exciting inland adventures. Here it is.

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You saw that trickle in the background, right? Wigmore’s Waterfall is famous as the island’s only waterfall. It is also famously unspectacular.

The waterfall can be reached by road from Vaimaanga. Head inland at the Dharma Initiative.

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(It’s actually an unfinished hotel which was being built by some Italian guy with mafia connections who got into ‘trouble’ and never finished it. Maybe they used some of that concrete on his feet.)

Bring mozzie repellent. Dodge the used condoms. The southern section of the cross island track begins/ends in the waterfall car park, for those of you without five-year-olds.

  1. Hospital Track

Karen from Dive Rarotonga gave me a hot tip that the hospital has the most accessible view on the island, so we headed up there. Wandering about the hospital grounds, we took a few shots, but we weren’t sure if this was it, or if there was more.

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We headed home.

Only later, after consulting the interwebs again, did I realise that Karen meant there was a track right behind where we’d parked the car that ascended for about 500m to reveal an excellent view west to the ocean and south to the mountains inland.

So, we ventured back, and finally found the Raro walking track of our dreams. Short, easy, with a view to boot, and not a cow to be seen. And this one’s not on the map.

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My tip: if you have kids, skip the rest and head up the track from the hospital car park. Learn from our failures. There are companies that do guides walking tours, too, if you actually want to get somewhere.

Alternatively, stick to the beach. It’s nice.

You might like to read about why we love Raro, and the fun we had cruising Muri Lagoon.

Or, go meet a cow. It was definitely a memorable adventure.

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