It’s not hard to see why Rarotonga is the head honcho of the 15 Cook Islands – its crystal-clear azure waters and powdery white sands are the stuff dreams are made of. This is the place to visit when you truly want to unwind. Let all your cares melt away as you lie on the soft sand and sip tropical coconut water.
When you’re done gazing out over the vast South Pacific Ocean there are plenty of adventures to be had. From lagoon swimming and snorkelling to fishing, hiking and island hopping, it’s all good on easy-going Rarotonga, or ‘Raro’ as the locals call it.
Visiting the island’s beaches will no doubt be high on your itinerary. The bone-white sands, swaying palms and luxurious water temperatures are definite holiday draw cards. The south coast lagoon is great for snorkelling, with the Aroa Marine Reserve being especially popular for swimming amongst colourful tropical fish. Further up on the west coast of the island, Arorangi Beach is a prime spot to watch the sun set in the evenings.
Don’t miss Titikaveka Beach on the southeast corner of the island for a little peace and tranquillity. Prefer to stay on land? Discover the beauty of Rarotonga by foot on the Cross Island Walk. Led by a local expert, you’ll pass through lush jungle, into waterfalls (where you can swim) and past ancient ceremonial stones and rugged rock formations. Explore the natural wonders of the island a little further at the Maire Nui Botanical Gardens near Muri Beach.
Eat and Drink
Seeking out the catch of the day is an excellent way to eat your way around Rarotonga, which is naturally abundant with fresh seafood. Better yet, catch your own marlin, yellow fin tuna or barracuda on a fishing charter. Many resorts host ‘Island Nights’ where you can enjoy local food cooked in a traditional umu (earth oven).
Look out for ika mata, a fragrant dish of fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk and served with raw vegetables. Snack all day on seasonal produce like juicy wild mangoes and creamy avocadoes from the village shops.
Rarotonga also has an excellent little winery and a few microbreweries that offer tours and tastings. Help reduce waste and support the locals by buying local beer and using the handy refill facilities available for both beer and fresh drinking water.
Where to Stay
Beachside villas and resorts are definitely the way to go when visiting Raro. Ever-popular Muri Beach on the southeast coast puts you close to a hub of activities. Staying at the equally gorgeous Titikaveka Beach offers prime access to its deep lagoon, which is perfect for snorkellers and divers. The west coast resorts are for the romantics and newlyweds who want the best views at sunset.
It’ll be hard to leave Rarotonga without a string of exotic black pearls – the island’s specialty. Although you’ll see them everywhere, it’s best to stick to shops that are members of the local Pearl Guild to ensure quality, authenticity and a fair price.
Raro is also a fabulous place to shop for clothing such as pareus (sarongs), shirts, dresses and the lovely rito white straw hats the women wear to Sunday mass. If you’re on the island on a Saturday morning don’t miss the Punanga Nui Market where you can shop for fresh produce, fish, souvenirs and local snacks while feeling the groove of live music and friendly atmosphere.
Rarotonga Like a Local
A unique way to mingle with the warm and friendly locals on Rarotonga is to visit the gorgeous Cook Island Christian Church (built in 1853) on a Sunday. Listen in to beautiful singing and admire the men in their suits and women in their rito hats and Sunday finery. It’s quite the local experience and you’ll be welcomed with open arms – just remember to turn up appropriately dressed for the occasion.