About this Blog: Rarotonga is one of the most beautiful of Cook Island with turquoise waters, soft sandy beaches with an abundance of coral reefs. In this blog, Delilah from Our Travel Mix writes about the best things to do in Rarotonga along with some travel tips for the most populous of Cook Island.
The Cook Islands are a myriad of unspoilt islands unbeknownst to many. The lack of mass tourism makes this hidden gem such a stunning place to visit.
Rarotonga is the most populous of those islands and there are many great things to do in Rarotonga to keep you occupied. Over recent years, Rarotonga has become a hotspot for New Zealanders and Australians to escape their winters. Follow this city guide to Rarotonga to find out the best places to visit and the best activities in Rarotonga, with tips for first-time visitors.
Best Places to Visit in Rarotonga
Muri Beach is the most popular spot on the island for visitors. You’ll see all kinds of tourists here; families, couples, and backpackers.
Muri beach is unique in its striking views. The beach looks out over islets, which are called motu in Cook Islands Maori. You can kayak out to the closest motu, known as Koromiri.
You can hire kayaks and paddleboards right on the beach. Snorkelling gear is also available, but Muri isn’t the best place to snorkel as the boats and other water equipment disrupt the water, meaning visibility isn’t as good for marine life.
Tikioki Marine Reserve
Tikioki Marine Reserve is hands down the best spot for snorkelling in Rarotonga. This spot is located in the south of the island. The waters are clear and there are so many varieties of fish to see from butterflyfish to angelfish and triggerfish.
If you can, leave your valuables in the car or scooter storage compartment. If not, Rarotonga is still quite a safe country with few tourists and locals around, but I’d still recommend using a waterproof armband for your phone and cards.
Rarotonga is more than just its palm tree-lined beaches. Like many other islands, inland from these beaches is lush greenery which makes for great hikes. Te Rua Manga, The Needle, will take you two to three hours to complete the walk.
Some prefer to take a guide, but the trail is marked quite well if you would prefer to go on your own. The hike itself is quite steep so a moderate level of fitness is required. Bring mosquito repellent, water, and sunscreen with you.
Just be sure not to attempt the hike after heavy rain – the trail will be very slippery.
Punanga Nui Market
Head to the Punanga Nui Market on a Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm. This huge market is where you’ll find the locals buying their fresh produce for the week, and tourists buying souvenirs to bring home.
Try the baked goods and fresh fruit smoothies made right in front of you. Then bring your food to the stage to watch the traditional Cook Islands dance performances.
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Trader Jack’s is the place to be if you’re after a pub-style meal with a cold beer and the view of the ocean. The restaurant is located in Avarua, in the main town of Rarotonga. A pizza will cost you $23 NZD and a beer will cost you $6 NZD.
Best Things to Do in Rarotonga
Captain Tama Snorkelling Cruise
Taking a snorkelling cruise was a highlight during my trip to Rarotonga. Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise is the most popular company to go with. The best thing about taking a cruise is that you will be taken further out to the best snorkelling spots. Snorkelling equipment is provided for those who don’t have any with them.
After snorkelling, you’ll probably have built up an appetite. The crew will bring you to one of Muri’s motos for a Rarotongan feast! Before bringing you back to the mainland, the crew will put on some entertaining performances such as coconut tree climbing!
The half-day cruise runs from 11 am to 3 pm. Adults will cost $79 per person, and children are $40 per person.
Paddleboard or Kayak
Water activities are great choices for things to do in Rarotonga. Many popular beaches have stalls to rent paddleboards and kayaks. The best place to do so is Muri Beach, where you can kayak to Koromiri Motu.
Tours and lessons are available to suit all abilities.
Nighttime paddleboarding tours are also offered, where you get to use LED paddleboards that illuminate the water and marine life below.
Ride a Buggy
Riding a buggy through the mud in Rarotonga is as much fun as it sounds. You’ll drive around the track for a couple of hours getting covered in mud as you race through the mud puddles. Near the end of the tour, you’ll stop at a waterfall to wash off the mud and have a snack.
It’ll cost you $175 NZD for a twin-share buggy. You’ll need at least a restricted licence from your home country and be over 18 to be the driver of a buggy.
Despite being such a small island with few night clubs, many pub crawls operate in Rarotonga. Going Troppo is the most popular pub crawl company and hosts them every Wednesday and Friday.
The $42 NZD per person ticket includes a drink to start off the night, as well as a souvenir to take back home with you. They’ll pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation too.
Cultural Village Tour and Night Show
I love to experience a little bit of culture in every country I travel to. For Rarotonga, the best way to experience Cook Islands culture is by watching a cultural performance.
The village tour starts at 5 pm. The tour will explain about historic life in Rarotonga including the acts of carving and weaving. Afterwards, guests enjoy a Pacific-Western fusion buffet dinner.
The performance begins at 8:30 pm, performing about The Legend of Tongaiti. The performance involves dancers, musicians, and fire dancers.
Tickets to the show cost $129 NZD for adults and $59 NZD for children.
Tips for First-Time Visitors to Rarotonga
Best Time to Visit Rarotonga
The dry season in Rarotonga runs from June to August, however, temperatures are cooler at this time. This makes September to November the best time to visit Rarotonga when it is warm enough to swim, but the rain won’t affect your plans much. December is one to avoid if you’re looking to beat the crowds during the Christmas Holidays.
Take your own Snorkelling Gear
I spent 10 days in Rarotonga, and I snorkelled every day I was there. The major snorkelling spots have nearby stalls where you can rent snorkelling gear from. It will cost you $10 NZD – $15 NZD per person to hire a snorkel, mask, and fins. If you’re only planning on snorkelling once or twice, then this won’t be much of an issue for you. Consider bringing snorkelling gear with you if you’re going to snorkel more than twice.
Travelling on a Budget
Despite what many say about travelling to tropical islands, it is possible to travel to Rarotonga (and enjoy your holiday) on a budget. Stay at the Rarotonga Backpackers from $25 NZD per night. They’re right on the beach on the west side of the island which is the best place to catch the amazing Rarotongan sunsets. Make use of happy hours, and eat at the night market for the cheapest, and amongst the most delicious foods on the island.
Bring Water Shoes
If you’re planning on going in the water during your holiday and you have sensitive feet, bring water shoes. Some coral and rocks can be quite sharp. It’s definitely not worth spending your time in the water worrying or in pain from stepping on something sharp.
Bio: Delilah is a traveller, writer, and photographer from New Zealand. The aim of her travel blog, Our Travel Mix is to help people travel the world better.
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