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Rarotonga/Cook Islands

Rarotonga - or the Cook Islands - lies halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, boasting an idyllic climate, endless adventure, […]
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Rarotonga/Cook Islands

Rarotonga - or the Cook Islands - lies halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, boasting an idyllic climate, endless adventure, romance and pure relaxation. It's the accessibility and ease of everything that makes Rarotonga so different from other South Pacific island destinations. Just 32 km in circumference, you can drive around the island in 45 minutes. With a wide range of scenery, activities, accommodation, restaurants and cafes, no matter where you are or what you want to do, the whole island is your playground.

Underwater, on the water or deep into lush tropical landscape, the freedom and ease of exploring a little paradise is what sets Rarotonga apart in the South Pacific. Lagoon cruises, fishing, diving, guided mountain hikes, storytelling cycling tours, buggies, quadbikes or 4WD trips inland – they’ve got it all. The diversity of the breathtaking natural terrain means you can craft your ideal itinerary. Fast or slow? Laidback, culturally enriching or full throttle adrenaline? The only limit is how you choose to define your perfect holiday.

For the truly adventurous in spirit, the undeveloped sister islands have a remote, unspoiled appeal for the explorer in all of us. After Rarotonga and Aitutaki, seven sister islands make up the rest of the Southern Group and six more islands lie to the north. Some are accessible by local flights, all are accessible by boat occasionally. Off the beaten track, and spread over 700,000 square miles of the South Pacific Ocean, their uniqueness and timelessness are their own reward.

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Shop at Punanga Nui Market or Muri night markets: Every Saturday from 8am you can mingle with the locals and shop for food, drinks, clothing and souvenirs at Punanga Nui Market in the main town, Avarua. Don't be late if you want fresh locally-grown fruit and vegetables, and be sure to catch the cultural performances on the main stage from 10am. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5pm, the night markets at Muri Beach Village serve up a wide range of delicious meals, so everyone can choose a favourite dish. Arrive early for the widest choice and remember to bring cash. These markets are high on the list of what to do in Rarotonga with kids.

Experience one of the many Rarotonga tours: One of the fastest ways to discover the island's best spots is on a tour, and there all kinds to choose from. They're definitely among the most fun things to do in Rarotonga. Lagoon tours are popular, with glass bottom boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to choose from. Land-based tours range from buses and electric tuk-tuks to mountain bikes, scooters and off-road quads or buggies. There's even a highly-rated party bus nightlife tour for visitors who want to laugh and dance the night away in the safe hands of a trusted local guide.

Discover local craft beer at Matutu Brewery: Call into Rarotonga's craft brewery to see how their fine ales are created. On a brewery tour you'll learn about historic Cook Islands brewing techniques and the natural beer brewing process used today. All the Matutu beers are handcrafted using sustainable practices. Your tour ends with a tasting of each beer and a long, cool glass of your favourite.
Visit a Rarotonga museum: To get more from your holiday, take an hour or two away from the beach to learn more about the country's history and culture at one of Rarotonga's fascinating museums. Run by volunteers, the Cook Islands Library and Museum in Avarua is packed with exhibits. At Muri, Te Ara/Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise uses large displays and informative panels to tell stories of Polynesian migration and life in pre-European times.
Explore Maire Nui Botanical Gardens: Tranquil and refreshingly cooler, this magnificent tropical garden covers seven acres. From towering palms to fragile native flowers, there's a world of beauty and colour to explore. Small bridges, a pond and a gazebo add to the peaceful atmosphere. If you like tropical flowers, including every shade of hibiscus, wandering through the well-maintained gardens at Marie Nui is a must-do. And with a small fee for entry, it has to be one of the most relaxing cheap things to do in Rarotonga.
Fly to Aitutaki for a day on the lagoon: Air Rarotonga and Vaka Tours provide an amazing day trip to the turquoise waters and fine white sands of Aitutaki Island. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, incredibly scenic flights and a guided open-air bus tour of Aitutaki. You'll also spend six hours on a 21m traditional catamaran exploring the top snorkel spots and beautiful islands in Aitutaki's famous lagoon, with lunch included. This remarkable package makes it easy to experience the best things to do in Aitutaki in a day.
Climb to the Needle and across the island: If you fancy a challenging climb through lush rainforest, the four-hour cross-island walk is a must-do hike. Highlights include climbing part-way up Te Rua Manga (the Needle), a 413m volcanic plug in the island's centre, and long-range views across the island. Most people start from the Avarua end and finish at Wigmore's Waterfall. To get the most from your experience, consider booking a guided walk with Pa's Treks.
Snorkel a marine reserve: Rarotonga's lagoon marine reserves are home to fascinating coral formations and good numbers of colourful tropical fish. Exploring these reserves with a mask and snorkel is definitely one of the best things to do in Rarotonga for free. Fruits of Rarotonga in Titikaveka is a popular favourite, with big coral bommies, deeper water and plenty of large tropical fish. Aro'a Beach near the Rarotongan Resort is another top spot with shallower water, scattered coral and a sandy bottom.
Check out the rock formations at Black Rock Beach: On the northwest coast, Black Rock Beach has white sand and fascinating black volcanic rock formations. Located on the sheltered side of the island, away from the southeast trade winds, it's usually one of the calmest swimming spots on a windy day. Black Rock is not only one of the popular things to see in Rarotonga, it's also rated among the top lagoon snorkelling spots, so bring your mask and snorkel.

Treat yourself to an island night: Exciting, colourful and wonderfully entertaining, a Rarotongan island night is a fun opportunity to experience authentic cultural performances and a delicious buffet feast. The Highland Paradise Culture Centre, Te Vara Nui cultural village, and several hotels and resorts are renowned for their island night cultural shows. The pride, passion and skills shown in these performances are truly impressive. As you're treated to some of the island's best examples of traditional music, song, dance and food, you'll soon see why an island night is one of the top Rarotonga tourist attractions.

When to go / useful information

When to go

Whale Watching Season
During July to October humpback whales can often be seen from the Rarotonga foreshore. The whales come from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Cook Islands to mate, give birth and rest. The Cook Islands Exclusive Zone (EEZ) has been formally declared a whale sanctuary. Explore whale watching in Rarotonga.

Kitesurfing Season
Steady all year round with passing low pressure systems on the tropical belt, kitesurfing in the Cook Islands is best during the trade wind season of May to October. Learn more about kitesurfing in the Cook Islands.

Useful information

Currency: The currencies used throughout the country are the New Zealand dollar and the Cook Islands dollar. The New Zealand dollar is recommended for tourists as the Cook Islands dollar is only good on the Cook Islands.

Language: The official languages of the Cook Islands include English and Cook Islands Māori (or "Rarotongan"). Cook Islands Maori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori.

What makes it special: There are no commercial chains and no buildings taller than a palm tree, which gives every hotel and restaurant an intimate boutique feel. The beach is literally wherever you are, and the best part is, you can have a long stretch of white sand and blue lagoon all to yourself.  Rarotonga's lagoon marine reserves are home to fascinating coral formations and good numbers of colourful tropical fish.

Weather: It’s always a good time to visit. The Cook Islands enjoy a pleasant warm and sunny climate all year round. The drier months are from April to November with an average temperature of 26°C. November to March marks the warmer season, with slightly higher humidity and occasional rainfall between December and March when the temperature ranges between 22°C (min) and 30°C (max). However, don't be put off by rainfall in our summer months as it's typically brief morning or afternoon tropical showers. Overall, our shoulder months of April, May, September, and October are a great time to visit as the weather in these months is usually the perfect balance of warm temperatures and dry skies.

Social customs: Our people - the natural, unspoilt beauty and charm of our landscape is matched by the friendliness of our people who think nothing of offering a lift, striking up a conversation or inviting visitors on a night out. Part of our culture, our outgoing spirit means we love engaging with travellers and sharing our little paradise lifestyle. People may come for the warmth of our sun, but remember the warmth of the locals forever.  Family values - the inherent traits of genuine care for others and love of family are apparent, no matter the island background. The bond of family is vital and extended family is an integral part of life. Children often live with grandparents and nephews and nieces live with aunts and uncles. Adoption of family members is widely encouraged. Great entertainers - we are also the great entertainers of the Pacific, the best dancers and drummers in Polynesia. Festivals are an important part of life, with fierce competition between the islands to produce the most outstanding performers.

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  • Rarotonga Church
  • Cook Islands Rarotonga snorkelling
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