Rarotonga Island. Cook Island. Polynesia. South Pacific Ocean. A tourist with maorí tattoo takes pictures with Mr. Pa.  Ten minutes into my ascent of Rarotonga’s 413m-high ‘Needle’, a dip into the warm waters of the island’s halo-like lagoon is effortlessly topping my ‘must do’ list. But first I need to negotiate the steep and slippery tangle of roots and mini-ravines making up the first half of Rarotonga’s Cross-Island Track. Close behind me is local hiking legend Pa, carrying plenty of fresh papaya and bananas for on-the-go sustenance. Pa is a well-worn nickname, apparently borne out of the frustra- tion his German ex-wife had in pronouncing his much longer traditional name. And like his adopted moniker, everything about Pa is stripped back and simple. No shoes and no fancy hiking gear – just an innate understanding of the mountainous tropical landscape we’re traversing. His unlined face and muscular physique belie the fact that he’s more than 70 years old, testimony to his more than 3700 ascents of the peak, known more formally as Te Rua Manga. After 40 minutes uphill we reach the base of the Needle. Across a series of rugged val- leys, Pa indicates the 653m-high Te Manga, shrouded today in amorphous cloud. Pa has climbed Rarotonga’s highest mountain only a mere 800 times – compared to the Needle, it’s probably a hike he’s still getting his head around. My own headspace is filled with the green-shrouded spectacle of one of Polynesia’s most beautiful islands. Downhill from our exposed bluff, the Cross-Island Track continues for another hour through cloistered and mossy river valleys to end in the cooling haven of the Wigmore Falls.