Relax and recharge in Polynesian bliss
Welcome to the South Pacific's most diverse destination. Framed by a turquoise reef and crowned by soaring, verdant peaks, Rarotonga offers an effortless South Pacific blend of Polynesian tradition and 21st-century modernity. It's an idyllic, versatile holiday spot for nature-loving families, thrill seekers, and romance-seeking travellers.
Enjoy the company of friendly, wisecracking locals on lagoon and 4WD adventures, create your own tropical banquet at the food stalls of Punanga Nui market, and learn about Cook Islands culture through the local flavours and vibrant performances at Island Nights. When you're ready to relax, easy-going options include chilling out in a lagoon-side hammock, snorkelling in pristine waters, or submitting to the blissful influence of a spa and massage session.
Things to do: Rarotonga
Eat and drink at Punanga Nui Market
Ease into a relaxed island state of mind at Saturday morning's Punanga Nui Market. Luscious fruit smoothies crammed with local papaya and mango team with fresh coconut buns, while authentic dishes include maroro (grilled flying fish) and rukau (tender taro leaves mixed with coconut cream). Stallholders sell local arts and crafts – including handicrafts and colourful ukuleles – and there's often live music and dancing to take in. It's a great place to catch up with local tour operators and plan your stay on the island. Don't forget to sample the refreshing juice from a nu (fresh coconut).
Experience the pristine Pacific Ocean
Both Rarotonga and the Cooks' northern island of Aitutaki offer superb marine experiences. Recommended snorkelling locations around Rarotonga include Black Rock and Tikioki, while Muri Lagoon is popular for paddle-boarding and kite-surfing. Negotiating the lagoon at Avaavaroa Passage to spot sea turtles is made easier with Ariki Adventures' underwater sea scooters. Renowned underwater photographer Charlotte Piho also offers unique experiences to view Rarotonga's turtles. The sparkling waters of Aitutaki's world-renowned lagoon are best explored by catamaran.
Get active in the jungle
Rarotonga's classic outdoor adventure is the Cross Island Trek. Traverse from north to south to reach Te Rua Manga ('The Needle'), and finish with a cooling and shaded swim at Papua (Wigmore's Waterfall). Exciting and often mud-strewn off-road adventures with Raro Buggy Tours also end at Papua. A more relaxing two-wheeled experience, Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours travel Rarotonga's inland roads past plantations and orchards and offer insights into local Cook Islands culture. For scenic 4WD experiences imbued with irresistible Cook Islands humour, contact Raro Safari Tours.
Have an Island Night of music, dance and food
Traditional Pasifika music and dance and Cook Islands cuisine all feature at an Island Night on Rarotonga. Enjoy an island buffet and food cooked in an umukai (underground earth oven), before being dazzled by an extravagant combination of stirring South Pacific beats and spirited harmonies. Many resorts offer Island Nights, but the most authentic experiences, with insights into the Cook Islands’ fascinating history and legends, are lagoon-side at Te Vara Nui Village, and at the spectacular hillside Highland Paradise Cultural Centre.
Chill out Cook Islands-style
Indulge in the ultimate in South Pacific relaxation. Enjoy a massage on the beach or ease into a spa treatment at Rumours, an award-winning waterfall day spa. Take it easy in a beachside hammock, or get (slightly) more active by signing up for paddle boarding on Muri Lagoon with KiteSUP Watersports. Sipping on a frosty Cook Islands lager at Trader Jacks' iconic harbourside location is also supremely relaxing. Honeymooners, don’t miss making the trip north of Rarotonga to Aitutaki, the sublime home of the world's most beautiful lagoon.
Distance to Avarua town centre 3km
Distance to resorts on west coast 6km
Distance to Aroa Beach 8km
Distance to resorts near Muri Lagoon 12km
Taxi Depending on where you’re staying, a taxi will cost around NZD $45-60.
Bus Passing by the airport, Cook Islands Bus opens in new window runs every 30 minutes in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. For west coast resorts, catch an anti-clockwise departure, and for Muri Lagoon, jump on a bus going clockwise.
Shuttle Airport transfers to accommodation around Rarotonga cost around NZD $45–60. Some accommodation providers offer complimentary transfers from the airport.
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When to go
You'll experience warm weather year-round in the Cook Islands. May to October is drier and less humid while November to April features more rainfall with short and intense downpours often clearing to sunshine and blue skies. December to January occasionally sees tropical cyclones.
The annual Te Maeva Nui festival, a celebration of Cook Islands culture through music and dance, runs for the week leading up to Constitution Day on August 4. Held in late November, Te Mire Tiare (the Festival of Flowers) sees shops, schools and public buildings adorned with colourful displays of tropical blooms. To experience the thrill of vaka (outrigger canoe) racing, visit Rarotonga in the last week of November for the annual Vaka Eiva festival.Back to top
The Cook Islands Bus circuits Rarotonga every 30 minutes in both directions from 8am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. Single fares are NZD $5 or you can get an all-day pass (adult/family NZD $16/26). Taxis are available but you’ll need to book ahead as they don’t wait outside hotels or on taxi ranks.Back to top