ss_blog_claim=94754a6b1be8770ce22d6ccb8015a428 ¿Where the Heck are You?: ¿Where the Heck are You? - Crossing Te Rua Manga

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

¿Where the Heck are You? - Crossing Te Rua Manga

What to do on a lovely tropical day in the south Pacific? You've already had a half dozen days just like it, and most likely there's another week's worth coming your way. You checked email and went to the farmer's market yesterday; you have wandered a few kilometers both ways down the beach and explored the motos, the tiny lagoon islands, across the water from the little family run bungalow resort on Muri beach. It's a day when you have even tired of snorkeling with all the colourful fish in the warm crystal waters of the lagoon ...


¿Where the Heck are You? - Crossing Te Rua Manga!

fileId:3096224744126290;size:full;Rarotonga - Cook Islands. Well, if you are anything like me, you gear up and go for a trek. So I did just that! I went for a trans-island trek to pass the day away and explore Rarotonga's interior. I would cross the island on a generally east to west route. I would need to hike, climb, and scramble through the jungle and over the island's central volcanic ridge to reach the far side of the island.


The interior of Rarotonga is dotted with the cones and lava vents of long extinct volcanoes rising up out of the lush tropical rainforest that blankets the island. The peak, Te Rua Manga, is in the center of the island, with its lava needle rising up above the beach and coastal plains of Rarotonga to a height of 500 meters (about 1650ft).

fileId:3096224744126287;size:full;To cross the Island, the first order of business was to ride my scooter into town and park it near the central market area for easy retrieval that evening.

I had packed a couple sandwiches and granola bars back at the bungalows. I planned on snagging a papua or mango from a tree as I trek along through the rainforest, and bought a liter of cold water while I was at the market.


From town I follow the dirt track out of Avarua, the main village on Rarotonga. The track winds for a couple kilometers across the coastal plain and up the gently rising valley of Takuvaine Stream, known as Happy Valley. Along the way, I pass Rarotonga's lone power plant, a scattering of huts and garden patches, and groves of mango and papua. The dirt road ends at the far end of a clearing just past the last hut along the stream. From here, I have to hump it through the jungle on the often-disappearing trail that gets steeper and steeper the further I climb up the slopes of Te Rua Manga, one of the extinct volcanoes that helped form Rarotonga.

fileId:3096224744126283;size:full;In some parts, I can easily follow a distinct trail. Other times I am just guessing, following an intermittent line-of-sight bearing on Te Rua Manga's protruding needle. I bash my way through the thickness of the vegetation hoping I am on route. As the angle of the trail, or lack thereof, turns skyward, I find myself sometimes crawling and other times clutching at vines and exposed roots to pull myself up the ascent. The jungle is damp and pungent, strange new smells are wafting around me. Some are slightly familiar, the orchids and other tropical flowers, blooms of Tiare the national flower presented me at my arrival on Rarotonga. Other smells overwhelm me, the air thick with the odors of the decaying deft on the floor of the forest. The going is slow at times, searching for direction, a foot or handhold, or the next vine strong enough to bear the weight. Everything I touch in the rainforest is moist, and many things are slippery, some slimy too. My knees, hands and elbows, probably my derrière, have a glazing of wet jungle muck.

Cresting Te Rua Manga, I have to walk heel to toe with my arms out-stretched for balance. It is perhaps a half kilometer across the knife-edged ridge. The ridge top is fileId:3096224744126281;size:full;but a sliver of eroded lava, caked in mud and jungle deft, that is just wide enough for me to stand on at attention! In some places, you are inside the jungle canopy that grows up the flanks of the mountain. Other times you are exposed, teetering on the knife's edge, and looking out over the top of the canopy to the warm blue waters of the south Pacific. Waves crash over the barrier reef that forms the lagoons that completely surround Rarotonga.

I find a secure enough spot with an opening in the canopy to stop for a moment and take a few photos. After stashing my camera securely in my pack, I reach for my water bottle. The bottle is slick, the cold liquid sweating the outside of the bottle in the tropical heat. I take a long slurp with my head tipped back, then drag the wet bottle across my brow to cool it. My feet stutter step to regain firm setting on the ridge top just as the slick half-empty bottle of water squirts out of my hand. Flailing arms grab wildly in the air after the bottle, and simultaneously for anything, a vine, a branch, to regain my precarious position on the ridge ... the water bottle escapes ... crashing down through the jungle canopy below me, never to be seen again.

fileId:3096224744126279;size:full; Regaining my composure, I shuffle my feet, stepping cautiously across the remainder of the knife-edge ridge. I grasp every wisp of a vine or sapling trunk available to steady myself. Finally, I have crossed the knife-edged ridge of Te Rua Manga. After resting against an outcropping on the far buttress of the ridge I am ready to begin the descent to the far side of the island. It is just as steep, just as overgrown, yet for some reason this side of Te Rua Manga seem even muddier and more slippery than the uphill side! Clutching sapling trunks, vines, and roots, I lower myself down the slippery slope. Thankfully, I made it down the steepest pitches before the daily afternoon cloudburst arrived to freshen the muck and mud. I continue downwards. The faint path is falling less steeply now. Nevertheless, it is wetter and slimier, the cleats of my hiking boots are clogging with the muck and forest deft. I am half walking, half sliding, almost like crossing country skiing, my way across the muddy floor of the rainforest between trees, bushes and through tangles of vines and ferns.

Until at long last ... I come to the pot of gold at the end of the afternoon thunderstorm's rainbow - the tropical waterfall of Papua Stream cascading down into a most beautiful and inviting swimming hole!


After a revitalizing dip under the freshly flowing cascades to cool off, there are still a couple more kilometers to go. I am walking lazily now, feeling accomplished yet knowing I will pay for this adventure tomorrow with stiff and sore muscles. I wander the relatively flat costal plain of village farms heading for the beach and the lagoon.

Back on the coast's ring road, I grab a bottle of water from a little shack of a market along the road. Then continue the search for the nearest bus stop. Time now to catch the circum-island bus, it will be the last one of the day that completely circles the island. I must catch that bus and get back to my side of the island before the folks where I am staying send out the rescue party!

I find the bus stop about a block down the road from the shack, or a dozen palm trees since Rarotonga only has a few actual blocks in Avarua back on the other side of the island. The bus isn't far behind me and drops me a block from the market and my scooter. I ride up to the bungalows just in time to catch the sun setting beyond Muri Lagoon and the motos. Friends greet me on the deck with a cold Vailima and tell me I stink! They're right. I'm sweaty, muddy, hungry, thirsty, and sore ... oh yeah, and stinky too! After the beer and sunset I'll shower, and then we'll grill the fish my friends caught for dinner ... It was a great day to cross Te Rua Manga.


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