Only a 6 hour flight from Sydney or a 4 hour flight from Auckland brings you to Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands at about 67 km², where upon arrival you are welcomed by Jake Numanga, who sings and plays his ukulele at the airport every day, whilst you get through immigration and collect your bags.
How to get around
Rarotonga has one main road that runs along the edge of the island following the coast in a loop.
There is a public bus with two routes, one that goes along the main road clockwise and the other that goes anticlockwise. There is a bus timetable however Rarotonga really is one of those paradise islands where ‘island time’ truly exists. It is unlikely that the bus will be on time so take the opportunity to embrace island life. It costs NZ$5 for a one way ticket and NZ$8 for a return ticket. The bus will generally stop wherever you are along the road so just flag it down.
There are plenty of hire shops where you can rent bicycles, mopeds and cars. Many places will offer discounted deals when renting for more than 5 days. The longer you rent, the cheaper it will be. Note that by law, tourists must wear helmets whilst on a moped. Some hire shops leave it up to you to decide if you want a helmet so they charge extra for renting one.
We rented a moped from Island Car & Hire for 8 days with 2 helmets which cost NZ$140 in total. There was also an option to pay extra to reduce your insurance excess but we didn’t bother. We were told that most people in Rarotonga do not have vehicle insurance so should an accident occur, irrespective of fault, you will be paying for the insurance excess.
Should your moped break down or get a flat tyre you don’t have to worry about getting to a mechanic or garage. We had a flat tyre, called Island Car & Hire, and they popped round to our house within 15 minutes with a replacement moped for us so we could get on with our day. What awesome service!
Where we slept
By far my favourite Airbnb property I have stayed in to date was here in Rarotonga. Click here to check out prices. Just across the road from the beach, this self contained, fully equipped open plan bungalow was perfect. It had an outdoor decked area with table and chairs, sun loungers, BBQ and snorkelling gear.
Inside was a king size bed, armchair, sofa, tv with satellite, dvd player and stereo. The kitchen had all the crockery, cutlery, pots and pans you could possibly need and also had tea, coffee, sugar, and basic pantry ingredients. The best bit was the fresh tuna in the fridge and the full fruit bowl.
The bathroom was spacious with a shower, washing machine, hair dryer and beach towels.
Fresh linens are provided to your door every week and the hosts are just next door should you need anything together with their two adorable dogs who alert you to any strangers on the property. When not keeping guard, these two dogs escort you across the road to the beach, sit on your beach towel and politely set their paws on your arm when you stop petting them. One of the dogs even waited with me at the bus stop for 20 minutes!
A two minute walk down the road is a well stocked supermarket. Take note that all shops are shut on Sundays.
What we did
There is plenty on offer on Rarotonga. Here are five things we did to keep ourselves entertained.
1. Cross island walk
This walk takes you across the middle of the island to Te Rua Manga (The Needle) which sits at 413 metres at its highest point. The recommendation is that you start at the north of the island and make your way south to get the best views. Also if you start at the north end there is no charge but if you start at the south end, there is a NZ$2 charge per person.
There are orange markers along the track which means you can do the walk yourself rather than with a guide. We found the walk to be pretty well marked but did have to check maps.me a couple of times where there seemed to be a marker missing.
The walk starts off on a dirt track through the trees but quickly becomes a steep climb up tree roots. Be warned – if it has been raining the path will be super slippery and some of the descent is easier done sliding down on your bottom. Don’t wear your favourite white shorts for this one! Make sure you also wear some shoes (not really a flip flop type of walk) that have a bit of grip and be liberal with the insect repellent.
One you reach the base of the Needle there are great views over the island out to sea. If you are feeling brave, there is the option to climb a little way up the Needle using the chains and rope bolted into the rock. There is a sheer drop whilst climbing so be careful.
On the way down from the Needle the walk takes you through various streams and neither Andy (extremely sure footed) or I (definitely not a mountain goat in a past life) managed to keep our feet dry. There are one or two spots where ropes are provided to get you down some steep sections. Before you reach the carpark at the end of the walk stop at Wigmore Waterfall for a well deserved swim but if you haven’t got any insect repellant on, then keep on walking as it is mosquito heaven!
2. Island show and cultural visit
I couldn’t go all the way to the Cook Islands without going to an Island Show. There are lots of shows throughout the island to choose from with two in particular which have amazing online reviews, High Paradise Island Night and Te Vara Nui Over-Water Island Night Show.
We chose Te Vara Nui as they had an offer called the Combo Extravaganza where for $129 per person you could attend the Cultural Village Tour beginning at 4:30pm which teaches you the history of the islands and its people followed by the Island Show starting at 7:30pm which includes a buffet dinner. This price also included transfers from/ to your accommodation and a glass of bubbly on arrival. The individual prices for each show were $49 for the Cultural Village Tour and $109 for the Island Night Show.
The Cultural Tour was really informative and interesting. The Island Show stage is set in water which really added to the feeling of the show and the buffet food was great. All you can eat, both local and western foods and lots of dessert!
3. Saturday morning market
Every Saturday morning from about 8am a market is held at Punanga Nui boasting stalls selling local fruit and veg, handmade ukuleles, fresh flower crowns, local pearl jewellery, food stalls, art stalls, clothing stalls and even a tattoo shop. Dancers also perform at around 10am on the stage set in the middle of the market. This was a great place to buy some local wares whilst soaking up the atmosphere.
4. Rent a kayak at Muri Beach
Muri Beach has been ranked on various ‘Top 100 beaches in the world’ lists as a must visit. The beach has white sand and is lined with various resorts, luxurious self catering apartments and watersport companies.
You can rent a kayak for about $30 for 2 hours which gives you plenty of time to paddle around the lagoon, soak up some rays on the beach and explore the water.
5. Charter fishing
The island is set in a lagoon where the water is quite shallow but once you are beyond the lagoon, the sea floor drops to about 1,500 metres meaning it is a gold mine for fishing. There are various charter boat companies offering trips out for the day. It cost NZ$160 for about 5 hours on the boat with Wahoo Fishing Charters. On this trip, there were 4 paying customers on the boat so each person on the boat had 15 minutes on the rod and rotated until one of you gets a bite. One tuna was caught weighing in at around 132lbs!. The skipper filleted the fish so that one quarter of the fish was shared between the paying customers and the rest of the fish remained the property of the skipper. That may not sound like much for the paying customer but the fish was huge and our portion fed us for 4 days!
Don’t fancy filling your days with activities? Do you just want to chill on the beach and read a book? Rarotonga beaches are perfect for this – just check out these photos!