A tantalising taste of Cook Island life
Rarotonga, the most popular of the Cook Islands, is a combination of tropical sun, fragrant frangipani and lush green mountains capped by rocky peaks. Add to that the festive and friendly nature of Polynesian culture and you have the definition of paradise. Hiking, watersports and cultural activities are on offer and cater not only to the adventurous but couples and families seeking sun and sea.
Take advantage of the island’s turquoise waters, colourful reefs and tropical fish or spend a day cooling off in its mountainous interior. Foodies can look forward to tropical fruits, fresh fish and local specialities such as rukau (a dish of taro leaves and coconut sauce). A local beer from the Matutu Brewing Company is the perfect way to end the day.
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You might come for the pure white sand and clear waters, but it’s the Cook Islands people and culture that will have you plotting your return.
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Land or water, there are plenty of things to do in the Cook Islands capital. Try these out for size.
Things to do
The Cross-Island Track opens in new window is just what it sounds like: it traverses Rarotonga north to south. While most of the hiking takes place along well-maintained tracks, other parts are steep and require scrambling across rocks. Seasoned climbers can scale the summit of Te Rua Manga which requires level four to five climbing skills. If you don't fancy doing it on your own, a number of companies offer guided treks.
Beneath the waves
Watch tropical fish, explore coral enclaves and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of turtles and giant clams, as you snorkel Rarotonga opens in new window. Some of the best and most accessible snorkelling is around Black Rock and Tikioki (opposite the Fruits of Rarotonga cafe). Organised tours are also available.
For a slice of local Raro’ life, head to Avarua’s town centre for the Punanga Nui Market held every Saturday from 8am. Feast on organic fruit and fresh coconut and shop for unique handicrafts such as the famous Cook Islands Rito hat and the beautiful black pearl. Most weekends, the market also features live music and traditional dancing.
Spend an evening learning about Cook Islands Maori culture at the Te Vara Nui Cultural Village opens in new window. Tour the recreated Polynesian village and learn about history and legends, artisan crafts, traditional medicine, ancestral fishing and navigation techniques. Then stay for the nighttime show where dancers and musicians perform by torchlight in the waterfall garden.
The Cook Islands Christian Church opens in new window is a white-coral building dating back to 1853 and featuring a monument to the pioneering Polynesian missionary, Papeiha. The adjoining graveyard is also worth a visit: Albert Henry, the first prime minister of an independent Cook Islands, is buried here. Travellers are welcome at services.
Distance to Aroa Beach 8km
Travel time 15 minutes
Taxi A taxi will cost around NZD $40-60 to accommodation in the Aroa Beach or Muri areas.
Bus The clockwise and anti-clockwise Cook Islands Bus opens in new window services both stop at the airport. Each service departs every hour and costs NZD $5. The anticlockwise service stops near the Air New Zealand office and the clockwise service stops at the RSA Club across the road from the airport carpark.
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When to go
Rarotonga has a subtropical climate, divided into a wet season (November–April/May) and a dry season (June–October). The wet season is hot and humid with temperatures reaching 29°C, before late afternoon downpours. During the dry season, temperatures average at 25°C before dropping in the evening.
The most important event on the calendar is the yearly celebration of self-rule that takes place at the end of July. Also known as Te Maeva Nui, the festival is an extravaganza of song, dance and national costumes. Other events include Rarotonga Gospel Day (July) and the Te Mire Tama flower festival (October).Back to top