The Cook Islands are one of the most gorgeous places in the world! The Cook Islands are still an undiscovered piece of paradise, we are hesitant to share with the world, in fear that it will be taken over with visitors. The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands, with Rarotonga being the captial city and the biggest island. The Cook Islands is a dream getaway. Hopefully our guide to visiting Rarotonga will encourage you to visit these beautiful islands.
The Cook Islands are similar to what the Hawaiian islands were 50 years ago. The beauty of the Cook Islands is unprecedented and I just cant see the true charm of the islands and the people change, even as it gets busier. I mean, with white sand beaches in the middle of the South Pacific and gorgeous shades of blue, who could resist? Once you turn away from the beaches, you’re facing the magnificent jungle of Rarotonga.
How to get to Rarotonga
All flights from other countries go into Rarotonga. There are daily flights to Rarotonga from Auckland, and weekly services from Sydney, Tahiti, and Los Angeles. Most people assume its complicated to travel to the Cook Islands from the United States. Surprisingly, its pretty easy, as Rarotonga is only an 8 hour, direct flight from Los Angeles.
How to get around Rarotonga
There are 2 main roads that circle Rarotonga. The coastal road is the more popular one, and then there is one just a little bit more inland. A bus runs clockwise and anti-clockwise everyday. The clockwise bus has longer hours, and is the only one that runs at a night. The clockwise bus runs from 7am-11pm, and the anti-clockwise runs from 7am-430pm. Make sure to check the schedule on Sunday, as the buses don’t run as long. Its $8 for a return trip, $16 for an all day pass, or you can get a pack of 10 trips for $30 that can be used fo multiple people. If you want to rent a car or motorbike, there are lots of rental companies like Island Car and Bike Rental, Polynesian Rental Cars and Bikes, or Avis. You will generally get a better deal if you rent for more than 4 days. If you are renting a motorbike, you will need a motorbike license, or have to take a test at the local Police station. Vehicles are driven on the left hand side of the road.
How many days should you stay on Rarotonga?
It really depends on what kind of holiday you want when visiting Rarotonga. There is a lot to do on Rarotonga. We recommend staying a week to fully enjoy the island. While you are in the Cook Islands, you need to make sure you visit the most beautiful lagoon, Aitutaki.
When is the best time to travel to Rarotonga?
There really is no bad time to visit. The shoulder months, April, May, September, and October, are usually the best, due to the sunshine, warmth, and less people. The weather is fairly consistent throughout the year, the only difference being the summer months have more rain. November to May is both the rainy and cyclone season. The rainy season can also bring more humidity. Usually, it just rains heavily for a short period of time and then gets sunny again, but there is always a chance that a cyclone may hit during the rainy months. Visiting Rarotonga during the summer months will yield an average of 84 degrees F. The average temperature in the winter months (June-August) is 77 degrees F.
Currency and Cost
Most people expect the Cook Islands to be expensive since everything has to be shipped, but its actually quite affordable. There are some things that are more expensive than the United States, but we were very surprised at the prices on the islands. The Cook Islands use New Zealand currency with some Cook Islands coins. Make sure to bring some cash when youre visiting Rarotonga since there are only a few ATMs on the island. There is a Bank of the Pacific in Avarua (with limited hours) if you need to exchange currencies.
Things to do in Rarotonga
When visiting Rarotonga, there is a wide variety of local food, including fish, tropical fruits, and burgers. When on the island, make it a plan to try a lot of different places. All the food is so fresh and delicious, and we found the serving sizes to be huge!
Muri Night Market
This is the place for you if you want to try delicious, local, cheap food! Every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday starting at 5pm, there is a bunch of food stands that have all different kinds of food! Youll want to go early before things sell out, especially if you’re going on Sunday. Some of the food they have are noodles, seafood, pancakes, crepes, ice cream… We didn’t have anything we didn’t like there! There is also occasionally live music.
An island night experience is a must do while on Rarotonga. A true look into the Cook Islands culture, with a BBQ, dancing and fire show. Some of the more popular ones on Rarotonga are Te Vera Nui, which has a spectacular overwater night show, and Highland Paradise, which is located more in the mountains.
Take the bus around the island
The bus is one of the easiest ways to get around the island. The local bus runs clockwise and anti-clockwise. A ticket costs $5 one way, $16 all day, $30 for 10 passes (can be used for multiple people). Dont rely on the bus if you’re on a time schedule, as it does run on island time, but its a great way to see the island and get to experience the local life.
Hike the Cross Island trek
The trek goes from the north of the island to the south. You can climb it from south to north, but north to south is recommended. It’s a 7km trek incuding both paved roads at the start and the end. The trek takes you to the bottom of the needle, showing incredible views of the whole island.
Paddle Board and Kayak
If you like water sports, there are plenty of spots right along the beach with perfect clean water. Muri Beach is a great spot for renting a paddle board or kayak. There is also some great night paddle boarding on Rarotonga that is phenomenal. Kitesup watersports and Ariki Adventures both have great night paddle boarding, including a lesson, wetsuit, and lifejacket for $55 NZD.
A fantastic way to experience Muri lagoon, is to take a lagoon cruise. Koka Cruises or Captain Tamas both spend the day out in Muri Lagoon, taking you to different motus and snorkeling with the fish. Both cruises start at $79 NZD for adults, including snorkeling and a BBQ lunch.
Day trip to Aitutaki
You can do a one-day tour with Air Rarotonga, which leaves in the morning, takes you on a lagoon cruise around Aitutaki and then flies back at night. Everything is included in one price. The flight over has some of the most incredible views of Aitutakis lagoon. If you have more days to spare, we recommend you spend a couple days on Aituataki, as there’s nothing quite like it. Aitutaki is one of the most beautiful places in the world and shouldn’t be missed!
Go to the Punanga Nui Market
Every Saturday until 12pm the market is open right along the wharf, in the main town of Avarua. A mix of locals and tourists, it’s the perfect place to find some food, souveniors, clothing, and produce. It is quite the cultural demonstration and a must-do for visitors on Rarotonga.
Where to stay on Rarotonga
There are plenty of great options, at all price points, around the island. Each side of the island has its benefits, but you really can’t go wrong. It’s so easy to get around the island. Here are some of our favorite places to stay in all price points.
- Rarotonga Backpackers– 4 different locations on the island. The beachfront complex is the one with the dormitories.
- Dorms for $25/pp a night, or $40/night for a single
- Backpackers International– on the west coast, with perfect views of the sunsets
- Dorms for $20/night, Single rooms for 35/night
- Airbnb– There are plenty of budget options on Airbnb for under $100/night
- Palm Grove– A beautiful private piece of paradise! With beachfront and garden studios on the perfect Southern beach on Rarotonga.
- Ikurangi Eco Retreat– the most beautiful luxury glamping setup, with 4 luxury safari tents and 2 Polynesian style studios all facing the mountains.
- Pacific Resort– 4 star boutique resort located on 5.5 acres of beachfront. Each room is decorated in Polynesian style. Onsite restaurant, bar, kids club and salon.
- Crystal Blue Lagoon Villa – air-conditioned 2 bedroom villas with kitchen and lounge area, beautiful infinity pool and sea views.
- Rumours Villa– Absolute beachfront locations on Muri beach. Each villa has its own private swimming pool, and private courtyard. The wonderful waterfall spa located right onsite.
Where to eat on Rarotonga
- Charlies Café- Fresh fish sandwiches and paninis with the best view of the lagoon. Grab some beer or coffee and enjoy the scenery. Fish sandwiches are HUGE, made on turkish bread. You can split it with someone and still be full!
- Vilis Burger in Muri- These are the best burgers we’ve ever had, and we’ve had a lot of burgers! Its located right across from the Muri night market, and you can bring your own beer. Fresh, hand-packed burgers with all kinds of different toppings like egg, bacon, and beets.
- The Waterline Restaurant- A great place to watch sunset. They have happy hour from 3 until sunset and great fresh fish entrees
- Moorings Cafe-At the Avana fishing club, a variety of fish sandwiches, fresh coconut drinks and fruit smoothies.
- Muri Night Market- All kinds of different food stands, from noodles, crepes, pancakes, and seafood. Open Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday starting at 5pm
Is internet available on Rarotonga?
Although it is nice to disconnect, if you really need internet, you will have to buy Blue-Sky data and connect at certain bluesky hotspots. If you find a map of the island (they have them at the airport), you will see the Blue-sky logo where internet is available. Throughout the Cook Islands, we found the prices to generally be: $5 for 200MB, $10 for 400MB, $25 1.5MB, $50 for 3MB. Not all places will have BlueSky hotspots though.
Important Things to Know When Visiting
- The official language of the Cook Islands is Maori and English. We had no problem communicating with people in English.
- When arriving at the airport, make sure to pick up a Jasons.com brochure. It will have map and lots of coupons for different restaurants and activities.
- The voltage is the same as New Zealand and Australia, 240V at 50Hz, with a three-prong electrical outlet.
- Most people buy bottled water, but there are various water stations around the island that make getting clean water easier and cheaper.
- Sundays are known as holy days, and most (almost all) places are closed. Some bars won’t even serve alcohol on Sundays.
- There is a lot of coral, even close to the beach, so make sure to wear some reef shoes at all times in the water.
The Cook Islands are definitely at the top of our favorite places list. Although we never really find a place that we dislike, there is something about the Cook Islands that is just so calm, serene, and beautiful. We instantly felt like family from when we arrived. There is beauty everywhere on the islands, and it doesn’t just have to be a “lazy-beach” holiday, there is plenty of adventures for those of you who like to be active on your holiday. While we haven’t been to any other places in the South Pacific (yet!), the Cook Islands rival the waters of Fiji and Tahiti, and we find it hard to beat the beauty of the Cook Islands. Hopefully this guide to visiting Rarotonga will help you have a great time in the Cook Islands.
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