Rarotonga



Updated May 2020
Kia Orana, Rarotonga is a popular island holiday destination for Kiwis and has an impressive tourism infrastructure for an island of its size. At 32km in circumference it's relatively small, and you can drive the flat, coastal road in around 45 minutes. A reef encircles the island and in parts the water is clear, the sand golden and the fish life colourful. The climate is tropical and the average temperature is around 24°C. (Cyclone season runs November - April but cyclones aren't frequent visitors and arrive with prior warning).

Captain Tamas Cruize boat, Muri Lagoon
Snorkelling, Aroa
Mr Jake Numanga - a living legend - has welcomed & farewelled visitors at the airport for many years - Meitaki ma'ata

The island has accommodation to suit a backpacker budget and beyond, self contained rental accommodation is plentiful and there are good quality resorts and luxury villas. Scooters (new helmet laws and licence requirements apply) are popular transport for locals and visitors and there are plenty of reasonably priced scooter and car hire options. There are also public buses that circle the island in both directions. Food and drink can be expensive as a lot of it is imported, however we dine out for most of our meals and prices are similar to New Zealand.

Greetings

Hello: Kia Orana ("may you live long")
Good bye: Aere ra
Thank you:
Meitaki
Cheers:
Kia manuia

 
Rarotonga Alarm Clock
Te Korero Maori Cultural Dance Group at Punanga Nui Market

Good To Know

Language:
Cook Islands Maori (15 dialects spoken over the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands), English is widely spoken. Cook Islands Maori Dictionary.

Capital: Avarua on Rarotonga.

Population: Approximately 13,044 on Rarotonga, total population 17,459 (2016 Census information).

Currency: New Zealand dollar along with Cook Islands coins - $1, $2, and $5 dollars, and 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins.

Official Tourism website: www.cookislands.travel. The Visitor Information Centre is in Avarua next to ANZ Bank.

Transport: Public buses, scooters, cars and bicycles - pedal and electric. There are taxis but they don't drive around looking for fares, you need to call them. Raro Tours provide airport transfers, a lot of accommodation providers will also offer airport transfers (around $15pp one way).

Licence to drive: Cars - Visitors from Australia, NZ, US, Canada, UK and the EU can drive cars using their own licence, there is no need to get a Cook Islands licence. Scooters - If you want to hire a scooter and don't have a full motorcycle licence you need to get a visitors motorcycle licence - see Important - Please Read via Adventure Cooks Islands scooter hire.

Rarotonga International Airport: The airport is 3 kms from Avarua. Air Rarotonga is the domestic airline. Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Jet Star fly from NZ. There is an Air New Zealand International Lounge at the airport, depending on how busy it is the lounge may only be open to members, not their guests.

Religion: Over half the population belongs to the Cook Islands Christian Church. Others may be Mormons, followers of the Baha'i Faith, Seventh Day Adventists or Jehovah Witnesses.

Coral Limestone Church, Avarua
Energy Centre in Avarua & Raro Safari Tours
Tipani Rentals scooter hire - opposite Edgewater Resort

Banks: ANZ, Bank of South Pacific and Bank of the Cook Islands. There are a number of ATMs on the island.

Sunday: Sunday is dedicated to church, family and rest. Bars and eating establishments may be closed.

Water: If in doubt, boil the tap water. Bottled water is sold in village shops, and supermarkets. The local water is Vaima and it can be delivered to your accommodation.

Festivals and Events: Cook Islands Events Calendar.

Whale watching: July - October, A where, what and how to guide.

What to wear? Casual dress is the way to go, although if you intend to go to church pack something smart. Cover up when you're at the market, in town or in villages.

24 hour, 7 day a week fuel & food: Oasis Energy in Nikao (west of Avarua, near the airport).

Mosquitoes / Travel Warnings: I'm a mosquito beacon but they haven't been an issue for me in the coastal areas. It's best to go prepared though, and if you explore the island's mountainous interior you'll definitely need repellent. Visit Safe Travel to see if there are any travel or health related warnings for the Cook Islands.

Aroko Bungalows, Muri
Punanga Nui Market
Love Cafe, Matavera

Avarua

Avarua is Rarotonga's small town centre and has the usual facilities like banks, Foodland for groceries, souvenir shops, CITC pharmacy, cafes, bars and Empire Movie Theatre. You'll also find the Police Station where you need to go if you don't have a full motorcycle licence but would like to hire a scooter. Avarua is a lovely little town centre - it's clean, it's not too busy, there are no $2 type shops, and it's a hassle free place to visit, as is the whole island of Rarotonga.

Punanga Nui Market
Bite Time Cafe at Punanga Nui Market

Early on Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market opens to sell local food and produce, and local art / craft work. You can buy souvenirs like colourful bags, Cook Islands Pate (drums), t-shirts and pareu (sarongs). It's likely you'll also see Te Korero Maori Cultural Dance Group perform. A number of tourist operators will be at the market so it's also a chance to find out more about what's offered on the island. The market is definitely worth visiting, there are some stalls open during the week, but Saturday is THE day to visit, it's best to get there before 12 noon.

Punanga Nui Market
Punanga Nui Market
Punanga Nui Market

SPCA Op Shop
The SPCA Op Shop at Punanga Nui Market welcomes donations of items to sell. On Saturday mornings you may also meet some of the dogs looking for new homes. The SPCA is on the road to Papua (Wigmore's) Waterfall. There is a Givealittle page for donations, and a SPCA donation box in the departure area of the airport. Another group looking after the animals in the Cook Islands is Te Are Manu Veterinary Clinic.

Bounty Bookshop, Takuvaine Road (next to the Post Office)
Bounty Bookshop stocks guide books, magazines, fiction and non fiction including recipe books if you'd like to recreate local dishes at home. Local papers are also sold - Cook Islands News (published daily, $2), and The Cook Islands Herald (published weekly).


Cooks Corner, Tutakimoa Road
If you're travelling by bus around the island the main bus stop is at Cooks Corner, outside Perfumes of Rarotonga. (See Getting Around below for bus costs and timetable). There is an ANZ ATM machine at Cooks Corner and if you go through the courtyard you will find public toilets.

Cook Islands Library & Museum Society, Makeatinirau Road, Avarua
www.enjoycookislands.com
Open Monday - Saturday 9am - 1pm; late night Tuesday 4-7pm (may not open for the late night in low season)
There are library books for sale and the library also welcomes donations of books. The small museum has a $5 entry fee, note that photos and video recordings are not allowed. Displays include old photos and paintings, a big shell collection, a time-line of significant events in Cook Island history, and an exhibition about RMS Maitai which ran aground in Avarua harbour in 1916 and can still be seen from shore today. There are also musical instruments, the museum could do with another wind instrument - aka a fan, it was hot in there. Royalists might be interested to see a copy of the dress worn by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge when she visited Solomon Islands in 2012, the dress was made by Rarotongan label TAV (it's in a glass case at the library entrance).

Library Mural by Sue Trayler
Vaka behind Cook Islands Library & Museum Society
Cook Islands National Museum, Victoria Road, Avarua
www.culture.gov.ck
Open Monday - Friday 8.30am - 4pm, entry $5 (no photography or video recording allowed)
The big, open and airy National Museum has a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor and a temporary exhibition space upstairs. There are a few hundred objects in the collection and a lot of them are wooden, including vaka (outrigger canoes) made from the wood of mahogany trees. There are also carved weapons, and carved traditional gods. I was interested to read about some of the early carving tools - teeth from rats and sharks, and dried sting ray tails.

Cook Islands National Museum
Other items on display include fishing implements, traditional dance costumes, and a large coconut grater along with other food preparation tools. It doesn't take too long to look through the museum and it could be combined with a visit to the small museum at the local library (see above) as they are within walking distance of each other.


Art & Craft / Shopping
Shopping hours are generally 9am - 4pm during the week and until 1pm on Saturday. Resort and village shops may be open in the evening and on Sunday. Bargaining isn't practiced in the Cook Islands.

Pacific Weave, next to Perfumes of Rarotonga and opposite The Islander Hotel (near the airport)
Facebook
We spent time chatting to the lovely women at Pacific Weave and looked at all of the handmade products created locally as well as in other Pacific islands like Tonga, Micronesia and Fiji. I bought an angel made in the Marshall Islands, there is also jewellery, bags, baskets and tapa cloth. Check out their Facebook page to see the beautifully made creations. Open: Monday - Friday 9am - 4.30pm and Saturday 9am - 1pm.

Perfumes of Rarotonga
www.perfumes.co.nz
Perfumes of Rarotonga sell handmade perfumes, a range of body care products, perfumed candles, liqueurs and Noni juice. There are two locations - Cooks Corner in Avarua (also sells fudge) and the factory shop near the airport.

Tivaevae Collectables, opposite Meteorological Station in Nikao
www.tivaevaecollectables.com
Tivaevae Collectables have a range of embroided duvet cover sets, cushion covers and table accessories that are made in Bali and sold from their store in Nikao and online.

Beachcomber (BCA) Gallery/Gift Shop/The Cafe/Exhibition Space, Avarua (look for the large limestone building with the red tile roof, opposite the sign for the Cook Islands Library)
Originally constructed in 1845, the limestone Beachcomber building was rescued and restored in 1992 and now houses a gallery/gift shop that includes work by local artists including Kay George. Retro style The Cafe is in the courtyard of the building and has a record player and selection of vinyl in one corner. An exhibition space is behind the gallery/gift shop, Beachcomber is well worth a visit.

Beachcomber Building (BCA Gallery)
Perfumes of Rarotonga & Pacific Weave

Artist Maria File, gallery next to Ariki Adventures in Muri (open Monday - Friday, 10am - 2pm)
Maria sells her art work at Punanga Nui Market on Saturday mornings, and at her gallery next to Ariki Adventures in Muri. Once you've stayed in Rarotonga it's likely you'll become well acquainted with the island's alarm clocks, and like me, you may want to take home a reminder in the form of one of Maria's vibrant rooster prints. Maria's work is also sold along with other local art in the gift shop at Te Ara Museum in Muri.

CIRCLE - Cook Islands Recycling Creations Living Environment, Big Fish Dive Centre, Aro'a
Facebook
If you've ever wondered what you can do with used plastic wrapping, call in to the Big Fish Dive Centre in Aro'a and see the colourful ipad and cushion covers, coin purses, and handbags. Read more about the creator Sabine and her mission to reuse and reduce Rarotonga's plastic via the Cook Islands News.

Black Pearls
Black pearls are an important means of income for the Cook Islands and a unique souvenir for visitors. Black pearls aren't something we've found out about but see Moana Gems and Bergman & Sons for more information. Apparently there are fake black pearls out there so you can ask for a certificate of authenticity to ensure they're the real deal.

Fashion/Accessories
TAV is a Rarotongan made fashion brand. LuSantials clutches and coin purses are also made in the Cook Islands.

Souvenirs
Souvenirs can be purchased at Punanga Nui Market and from souvenir shops around the island. Ukuleles are a popular choice, some are made by prisoners and sold in the Prison Craft Shop in Arorangi (look for the sign to the Prison opposite Edgewater Resort). Island Craft in Avarua is a good option if you're looking for carvings. Island Craft label their locally made work, beware of imported copies you may find elsewhere.


In The Water
Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruizes, Muri
www.captaintamas.com
On a Captain Tama's cruize you can snorkel out near the reef in Muri Lagoon, eat a BBQ lunch on the beach, and learn how to tie a pareu (sarong). You'll be entertained by No Strings Attached - a string band made up of Captain Tama's crew. The crew will swap the ukuleles for a coconut or two and give a coconut husking and tree climbing demo, and finish with a hilarious coconut show.

Captain Tamas Lagoon Cruize
Captain Tamas BBQ Lunch
Captain Tamas musical crew

The trip takes 4 hours (11am - 3pm) and includes a cruise in a glass bottom boat, 45 minutes of snorkelling (gear supplied if required), BBQ lunch, awesome entertainment and transfers from accommodation if needed - $79 adults. We recommend the trip for a seriously good laugh, and good snorkelling.

Captain Tamas Lagoon Cruize - fish feeding
Captain Tamas Lagoon Cruize snorkelling - giant clam
Captain Tamas Lagoon Cruize snorkelling

Koka Lagoon Cruises
The other day cruise option at Muri is Koka Lagoon Cruises, departs Sunday - Friday at 10am.

Ariki Adventures, Muri
https://arikiadventures.rezdy.com
Ariki Adventures offer water based activities and tours including Stand Up Paddleboard Tours and Turtle Sea Scooter Safaris. I had a chat to a guy from Palmerston North who did a 90 minute sea scooter safari in Muri Lagoon, he enjoyed the sea scooters and the tour so much he said he would do it again, and ..... he saw turtles. Be aware that concerns have been raised about the dangers of snorkelling tours in Avaavaroa Passage, the same issue was raised and responded to in The Cook Islands News in 2018, as mentioned the wellbeing of turtle colonies is a consideration as well.

Snorkelling
There are plenty of snorkelling spots in Rarotonga and most accommodation will likely have snorkelling options nearby. In 2019 and 2018 we stayed at Palm Grove Resort in Vaimaanga and saw lots of colourful fish out snorkelling, some really close to shore. We also saw lots of either sea cucumbers (known as 'vacuum cleaners of the sea'), or sea slugs? Whatever they were, was their presence a good or bad sign? I don't know.

Snorkelling at Vaimaanga
Snorkelling at Vaimaanga
Snorkelling at Vaimaanga

Popular snorkelling spots include Fruits of Rarotonga at Tikioki beach which is located between Muri and Titikaveka. Look for the little lime green Fruits of Rarotonga cafe/shop, opposite is parking, a bus stop, and beach access for snorkelling. If you don't have gear you can hire it from Chantal's Concierge across the road.

Aro'a
Snorkelling at Aro'a beach
Aro'a beach
You can also snorkel off the beach from Charlie's in Titikaveka (walking distance from Fruits of Rarotonga). Other snorkelling spots are Aro'a Beach and Black Rock in the north west. The snorkelling locations are labelled on the Cook Islands Sun fold out map, Dive Rarotonga have also put together some information about snorkelling. Note the Passages mentioned by Dive Rarotonga and marked on maps that are dangerous. Concerns have been raised about snorkelling tours in Avaavaroa Passage, an issue also discussed in the Cook Islands News in 2018.

Muri Lagoon is a beautiful setting and it's a good spot for paddleboarding and kayaking. We went snorkelling in the lagoon on our first trip to Rarotonga and while there were a few fish around, we thought it was well worth going out on a boat cruise to get closer to the reef.

Muri Lagoon
Snorkelling in Muri Lagoon
Paddle Boarding, Muri Lagoon

A few sources have noted lagoon pollution as a problem, most recently Mongabay, and in the past, The Cook Islands News - WATSAN project moving ahead, Can Muri Lagoon be saved?, Lagoon National Disaster. Run off from farms (fertilisers and manure) as well as inadequate waste water and sewerage systems are cited as part of the pollution problem. The popularity of the lagoon is also no doubt contributing to the decline of healthy coral and fish life. It's a challenge for us all as tourists, tourism operators and local populations to preserve our environment but also benefit from the economic advantages that tourism brings, especially to countries like the Cook Islands where tourism is a major income earner.

Koka Lagoon Cruises donate a percentage of their sales to the Rarotonga Lagoon Conservation Trust. As visitors we can dispose of rubbish responsibly, avoid standing on coral, and take short showers to help conserve water and reduce waste water. Most sunscreen is likely toxic to sea life so we've both bought rashies to help with sun protection, the added benefit is less sunscreen going into the water.


Papua Waterfall

Papua Waterfall (also known as Wigmore's Waterfall), Vaima'anga
Look for the SPCA sign and have some money ready - $5 per car, $2 per scooter. It's around a 2km drive to the waterfall which is in a bush setting. Reviewers note the possibility of mosquitoes (not on our visit), and the chance of a water trickle rather than a waterfall (depending on rain fall).

The turn off to Papua Waterfall is near the shell of a hotel that would have been part of the Sheraton group had it been completed. There's a fascinating story behind the hotel (see Google) - a curse, dodgy dealings, and failed attempts by new developers to get the project back on track. In December 2017 The Guardian ran a story about the hotel, and noted a potential New Zealand developer with Chinese backing had plans to finish the project ...... or not it seems in 2020.


Tours / Island Nights / Cultural Villages

On water
KiteSUP Watersports - kayak and snorkel tours.
Adventure Cook Islands (Reef to See) - Padi dive courses and dive trips.
Marlin Queen Fishing Charters.
Akura Charters Rarotonga.
Captain Moko's Fishing Charters.
Ariki Adventures - paddle board and snorkel tours, sea scooter tours.
Raro Reef Sub, 4 trips daily.


On land
Backyard Tours - meet the makers of local products.
Raro Quad Tours - quad bike tours.
Pa's Treks - Cross island trek, and nature walk.
Raro Buggy Tours.
Raro Tours - various group and private tours offered.
Raro Mountain Safari Tours - 4WD tours.

Island Night at Edgewater Resort

Coconut Husking - Captain Tamas Cruize
Island Night at Edgewater Resort

On the town
Raro Pub Crawl
Raro Tours - Going Troppo Night Life Tours (every Friday and Wednesday, or groups by arrangement)

Island nights
Crown Resort & Spa, Island Feast & Cultural Show
Edgewater Resort & Spa, Island Night
Islander Hotel, Night Show & Buffet on Tuesday nights



Cultural villages/Shows
Te Vara Nui Village, Ara Tapu
Highland Paradise Culture Centre, Arorangi


Getting Around
There are two roads that circle Rarotonga, the coastal road Ara Tapu (Sacred Road, 32km) and the inland road Ara Metua (Ancient Road, 29km). We haven't driven on Ara Metua for a long distance but if you want to see farmland and get a bit closer to the mountainous interior of the island you might like to make the detour. The only way to cross the island is on foot, Pa's Treks can guide you.

Speed limit
The maximum speed is 50kph outside of built up areas, 40kph in towns and villages, and 20kph around schools during school time. In Muri and Avarua the speed limit is 30kph.


Motor scooters
They might not have the Harley badge but motorised two wheels are the preferred ride for plenty of locals and visitors. The coastal road is in good condition, although there are potholes, also watch out for wandering birds and dogs. Note: New helmet and licensing laws - if you don't have a motorcycle licence you'll need to get one to hire a scooter - see Please Read information via Adventure Cook Islands.

A few scooter hire options: Polynesian Rental Cars (8 locations), Tipani Rentals (opposite Edgewater Resort), and Island Car & Bike Hire (3 locations). Harley Davidson tours were once offered, but no longer, might be an opportunity there for a Harley rider who could get used to island life. Note: Check your insurance to make sure you're covered to ride a scooter.

Cars
We've hired cars from Go Cook Islands Rentals in Vaimaanga and Avis in Avarua. In 2018 we visited in low season (March) and got a good deal of $35 a day for a minimum three day hire with Avis. If you're keen on a convertible, Polynesian Rental Cars hire Mini Cooper convertibles. Note: Visitors from Australia, NZ, US, Canada, UK and the EU can drive cars using their own licence, there is no need to get a Cook Islands licence.

Motor Scooter Hire - Island Car & Bike Hire, Rarotonga
Hardly Davidson Rarotonga
Mini Convertible from Polynesian Rentals

Bus - Main Bus Stop at Cooks Corner, Tutakimoa Road in Avarua
A clockwise bus departs Cooks Corner on the hour heading toward Tupapa. An anti-clockwise bus departs Cooks Corner at 30 minutes past the hour heading towards Nikao (towards the airport). It takes around 50 minutes for the buses to do a lap of the island, tell the driver where you want to get off when you board. See Busaboutraro for the schedule. Note: On Sunday the clockwise bus departs Cooks Corner from 8am - 12noon and then 2pm - 4pm. There is no Sunday night bus, or Sunday anti-clockwise bus service.

Cost - $5 one way, $8 return or $16 for a day pass (buy tickets from the driver).

There are a few bus stops around the island, if you're in an area without a bus stop you can signal the driver, don't be shy, otherwise they'll whistle on by. There are some popular spots where people get on and off - Fruits of Rarotonga and Black Rock (for snorkelling), Charlie's Bar in Titikaveka, and Muri Village. Note: On one of my bus trips some passengers were using the bus to get to the airport and the driver charged them $2 for each piece of luggage. Fair enough, as he said the bus is for people, not bags, so it's best to organise an airport transfer.

Taxis
You will probably find taxis outside the airport when you arrive, if not someone will be able to organise one for you. Taxis aren't cheap in Rarotonga though and an airport transfer will likely be better value. In Tonga and Samoa taxis drive around looking for business, this isn't the case in Rarotonga, they're the phone and book variety.



Muri
Muri is a popular little hub on Rarotonga and as well as being water activity central and home to Captain Tama's Cruizes, Koka Lagoon Cruises, Ariki Adventures and KiteSUP, it also has a number of accommodation options. There is also a pharmacy, doctors surgery, car and bike hire, and Treasure Chest souvenir store. There are a number of places to eat including Muri Night Market, LBV bakery and cafe, Deli-Licious Cafe, La Casita Cafe and Sails Restaurant. A new development including Mai'i Central is home to Vili's Burgers, Janceys Bakery & Deli, a liquor store, grocery store and coffee cart.

Ariki Adventures in Muri
Muri Night Market
Outside seating at LBV Cafe in Muri

Te Ara - The Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise is also in Muri, entry to the museum is $15. Te Ara has a cafe, and a gift shop selling only locally made products. You can refill water bottles at the water filter station and charge devices free of charge. We enjoyed our lunch in the cafe and the gift shop is worth a visit, the museum will be one of our first stops when we return. Look for the big building painted with frangipani flowers. Open 7 days 8am - 4pm.

Te Ara Museum in Muri
Te Ara Museum Cafe in Muri

Maire Nui Gardens
Maire Nui Gardens on Facebook, Titikaveka
There is a $5 charge to visit Maire Nui Gardens and you'll find a red box for payment at the garden entrance. It's not a huge garden but it's a lovely, peaceful spot and there are colourful and unusual plants to see as well as some pretty butterflies. If you're travelling by bus and find the garden cafe closed (does it even exist?), it's a short walk to Charlie's Cafe & Bar, open from 11am.

Maire Nui Gardens
Maire Nui Gardens
Maire Nui Gardens


Sport & Recreation
Rarotonga Golf Club, visitors welcome
Coco Putt 18 hole mini golf
Paddle board and boat hire - Captain Tama's, Muri
Kite-surfing equipment, paddle board, kayak, wetsuit and snorkel gear hire - KiteSUP, Muri
Bike hire - Ride Rarotonga and Adventure Cook Islands. Electric bikes - Tik e-bikes.
Rarotonga Sailing Club, Muri
Rarotonga Hash House Harriers

Rarotonga Sailing Club - Muri Lagoon


Food & Dining

Local Fruit Produce

For those self catering: CITC Supermarket is located half way between the airport and Avarua, Foodland is in downtown Avarua on the main road, Prime Foods is on St Joseph Road in Avarua, KAPS is in Matavera, and Wigmore's Supermarket (open on Sunday) is in Vaimaanga.

Visit the Punanga Nui Market on Saturday, and road side stalls for good value produce. You can also take food from home, as long as it's not fresh (fruit and vegetables prohibited), declare it at Customs on arrival.




Food & drink prices: To get an idea of supermarket food and drink prices visit Prime Foods on Facebook, they usually post their weekly specials.


Muri Night Market & Three Memorable Meals
See thecuriouskiwi/blog posts - Muri Night Market and Three Memorable Meals in Rarotonga (Sails Restaurant in Muri; Vaima Polynesian Bar & Restaurant in Vaimaanga & Flambe Restaurant at Crown Beach Resort in Arorangi).

Rent a plate at Muri Night Market
Dinner on the sand at Vaima Restaurant
Anchorage Restaurant at Sunset Resort in Arorangi
www.thesunsetresort.com
We spent 5 nights at Sunset Resort in December 2019 and the food was so good at Anchorage Restaurant that we ate most of our meals onsite. We highly recommend the Sunday night $42 buffet and show with Sunshine Mata George. From 12pm - 3pm daily you can have a burger and beer combo for $17 (Kiwi burger and kumara fries below). The Thai style salad was fresh, cheap and delicious, and the maniota/cassava fries are well worth trying.

Thai style salad, Anchorage Restaurant
Anchorage Restaurant, Sunset Resort
Kiwi Burger & Kumara Fries, Anchorage Restaurant
Trader Jacks, by the sea and opposite the intersection of Ara Tapu Road and Takuvaine Road, Avarua
traderjackscookislands.com
I spent a few nights in Avarua in 2018 and Trader Jacks was a convenient spot for dinner and drinks. Trader Jacks is so close to the water that you could have a dip before dinner if you wanted to. The menu is online and has a selection of pizzas, burgers, fish 'n' chips and other seafood and meat dishes.

Fish 'n'Chips & Cook Islands Larger at Trader Jacks
Trader Jacks
You can dine in the casual bar or upstairs in the restaurant. I sat in the bar by the sea with fish 'n' chips ($16.50) and watched families cooling off in the water. The local Cook Islands lager is on tap ($5 a glass), and as a nod to the cyclones that have battered Trader Jacks over the years there's also a Trader Jacks Tropical Cyclone American Pale Ale. (Trader Jacks is open Monday - Saturday from 11am, closed on Sunday).

Bamboo Jacks, Ara Tapu Road, Avarua (east of Avarua, near Paradise Inn)
www.bamboojacks.net
My helpful host Malcolm at Central Motel told me that Bamboo Jacks was open for dinner on Sunday nights, so Bamboo Jacks it was. Bamboo Jacks opened in 2011 and is owned by Jack Cooper aka Trader Jack. You can eat in and there's a lovely courtyard as well as indoor seating, or takeaway, the menu is on the website. There are a number of Asian dishes to choose from, I went with an old favourite - Pad Thai with chicken, add a bottle of Steinlager and it came to $25. I enjoyed my meal which was made even better because of the friendly staff. (Bamboo Jacks is closed on Saturday, open from 5.30pm Sunday - Friday nights for dinner, and lunch on Friday from 11.30am - 2.30pm).

Pad Thai & a beer at Bamboo Jacks
Bamboo Jacks
Bamboo Jacks


Spaghetti House Creme Brulee (2012)

Spaghetti House Pizzeria & Grill, Arorangi
We recommend booking a table at Spaghetti House as it's part of the large Edgewater Resort. We returned for dinner in 2018 and recommend it as a family friendly, good value dining option. Pasta dishes are priced from $15.50, pizza from $18, and dessert from $8.50. There are other main meal choices like pork cutlets, fish, and chicken as well as gluten free options including pizza. (Spaghetti House is located outside Edgewater Resort on the main road, open 7 nights from 5pm).

Mai'i Bar & Vili's Burger Joint

Vili's Burger Joint, Mai'i Central, near Te Manava Villas in Muri
Vili's Burger Joint on Facebook
Vili's has moved from a roadside stall to a new commercial development in Muri and sits alongside Mai'i Restaurant and Bar. Vili's pumps out top shelf burgers priced from $7.50, add a drink from Mai'i Bar next door and you have the start of a good night out (if you're young), or if you're older like us, Vili's is a good night out. There is seating under a covered verandah and live music may be playing in the evenings. If a good burger is your thing, visit early on in your stay as you'll likely want to return. Open 7 days from 11.30am - 9pm.


The New Place Cafe, opposite Punanga Nui Market and next to Polynesian Rentals, Avarua
Facebook
The New Place Cafe is decked out in vivid blue and it's opposite the Punanga Nui Market so it's a convenient place to sit and relax after visiting the market on Saturday morning. I called in for a breakfast of coconut pancakes and yoghurt ($14.50). Lunch is served from 11.30am and the menu includes curries, sliders, paninis and at least 17 other dishes. There's a lot of choice at The New Place and you'll find the menu posted on a board outside or on Facebook. Open Monday - Saturday from 7.30am and open some evenings for dinner, check Facebook to confirm.

'Coconut Pancakes at The New Place Cafe
The New Place Cafe

The Cafe, inside the Beachcomber Building (BCA Gallery) at the intersection of Ara Tapu and Makeatinirau Roads, Avarua
I spent a hot morning walking to both of the museums in Avarua and The Cafe is well placed to take a break for a cold drink and a snack. The Cafe is in the open air courtyard of the Beachcomber Building and has a retro / record theme with a record player (choose a tune) in one corner as well as books and magazines to read. I sat cooling off with a glass of apple juice and a paw paw muffin while listening to waves crashing in the distance. Another visit for morning tea found The Cafe busy with locals taking five for coffee. Open Monday - Friday 9am - 3pm, Saturday 9am - 1pm.

'Record player at The Cafe
Beachcomber Building (BCA Gallery)
The Cafe

Charlie's Cafe, Bar & Beach Hire, Titikaveka
Charlie's on Facebook
Charlie's Cafe & Beach Hire is a casual spot where you can hire the gear to snorkel, kayak or paddle-board off the beach. Fish is served a few ways and I chose the fish sandwich ($14). The sandwich was a whopper, and big enough to share, the fish was tough though so it probably spent too much time in the pan. A cold drinking coconut on a hot day is a good combination though, and Charlie's also shakes up cocktails to serve by the glass and jug. Open Monday - Saturday from 11am.

Fish Sandwich & Nu at Charlie's Bar
Snorkelling off the beach at Charlie's Bar


Progressive Dinners
Cook Islands Tours take visitors to local homes to enjoy home cooked food and learn about how local people live - see Rarotonga Progressive Dinner on Facebook and Progressive Dinner via their website.


Drinks / Happy Hours

Matutu Beer

Matutu Brewery, Tikioki (look for the sign on the side of the road with tour times)
Matutu Brewing Company brew Mai (lager) and Kiva (pale ale). Every week day at 12noon and 1pm you can take a brewery tour ($15pp). It's not a tour as such as the rustic brewery is small, but the guys behind it are passionate about what they do. We enjoyed learning about the beers, the brewery (the kit came from Tuatara Brewery in Wellington), and the origins of the beer names and labels. We also got to sample the Mai and Kiva along with their coconut stout, and liked their craft beer bottle collection. If you develop a taste for Matutu beer you'll find it at a lot of bars and restaurants in Rarotonga.


Rarotonga Brewery, opposite Oasis Energy, Nikao
https://rarotongabrewery.com
Rarotonga Brewery has a really nice little tasting room run by friendly staff, a glass of the onsite brewed Cook Islands lager is $4. The brewery is a partnership between a local couple and the owners of Hallertau Brewery in Auckland so you'll find Hallertau brews on tap as well. Free brewery tours are offered, and merchandise including refillable flagons are sold. Call in for a Cook Islands lager Monday - Saturday between 10am - 6pm.

Cocktails, Crown Beach Resort


Happy Hour
Hula Bar at The Islander Hotel (in Nikao and opposite the airport) probably has the best happy hour on the island - $3.50 beer, $4 spirits and $5 wines all day from 11am. When we've called in to the seaside bar for a beer it hasn't been busy, but I imagine it fills up in the evenings. Also in Nikao is Vaiana's Bar & Bistro on the beach with happy hour 4pm-7pm (check Facebook for updates).

As you're travelling around Rarotonga keep an eye out for happy hour signs, we always have at least one cocktail on the sand at Oceans Bar at Crown Beach Resort in Arorangi - $8 happy hour cocktails are shaken up from 4pm - 6pm.


Where We Stayed
Sunset Resort, Arorangi (2019)
www.thesunsetresort.com
It took us a while to follow our own travel tip and stay at Sunset Resort in Arorangi but we've found our new favourite place to stay in Rarotonga. Sunset is an all round excellent 3.5 star accommodation option - it has beautiful, well kept gardens and grounds; two swimming pools; a long sandy beach with hammocks strung between trees; well equipped and modern rooms; Anchorage Restaurant serving really good food (see Food & Dining above), and stylish little Drumbeat Bar for drinks in the afternoon.

Studio Room, Sunset Resort
Beach at Sunset Resort
Studio Room, Sunset Resort

It's not suitable for all families, but those over 12 years are welcome. The only downside for us was the snorkelling, we went out a few times and don't think it's as good as snorkelling around Fruits of Rarotonga and Vaimaanga, however a scooter or car can get you to other snorkelling spots.

Pool 1, Sunset Resort
Drumbeat Bar at Sunset Resort
Pool 2, Sunset Resort

Palm Grove Resort
, Vaimaanga (2018 & 2019)
www.palmgrove.net
Palm Grove has 22 self-contained bungalows set over five acres, choose either a garden setting or beach front. We stayed in a well equipped Garden Studio a few steps from the pool and a short walk across the road to the beach. We saw plenty of colourful fish out snorkelling, there were a lot of sea slugs though.

Garden Studio at Palm Grove
Garden Studio at Palm Grove
Garden Studio at Palm Grove

There's a long list of handy facilities at Palm Grove including a guest BBQ, laundry, book swap, onsite electric bike and motorbike rental and complimentary snorkel gear and kayaks. It's also a short walk to Wigmore's Supermarket, a popular place for people to gather on Sunday afternoons for big $3 ice creams.

Pool at Palm Grove
Beach at Palm Grove

Yellow Hibiscus restaurant serves a complimentary breakfast each morning, has an excellent happy hour for guests on Friday night, and a Sunday BBQ with live entertainment. We don't think Palm Grove was as well maintained in 2019, however we still enjoyed our stay and highly rate the snorkelling.


Central Motel, Takuvaine Road, Avarua (2018)
There's nothing fancy about Central Motel in Avarua but if budget and location to town are top priorities then it's a good choice. Trader Jacks Bar & Restaurant is at the end of the street, Punanga Nui Market and the small town centre are a short walk away.

Central Motel
Central Motel
Central Motel

While the rooms may be dated, they're a decent size and mine was exceptionally clean. The room had a new air con unit and a chair that looked brand new despite it probably being around since the 1970's! Central Motel's owner Malcolm is a friendly and helpful host and if I was looking for budget accommodation in Avarua again I would happily return.


Edgewater Resort & Spa, Arorangi (2012)
www.edgewater.co.ck
Edgewater is the largest resort on Rarotonga, it's family friendly and has a Kids Club. The resort was offering a deal on garden rooms and we booked for that reason. Trip Advisor reviews for garden rooms were varied so our expectations weren't high. However we were happy with our room on the second floor with its sliding door out to a small balcony.

Garden room block - Edgewater Resort
Edgewater Resort - Garden Room
Edgewater Resort - Pool

There were tea and coffee making facilities, flat screen TV, bar fridge, an air conditioning unit (a bit noisy but didn't bother us too much), and an in room safe (you might think it doesn't work, it probably does, persevere with the instructions). The bathroom was a decent size, nicely tiled and in good condition. The room was clean and serviced daily, the decor and some fittings could be upgraded but we had no complaints. Tropical buffet breakfast was included and was more than adequate - fresh fruit, gluten free options, muffins, cereals, tea, coffee, toast, and juice.

Edgewater Resort - Bar
Edgewater Resort - Restaurant
Edgewater Resort - Breakfast

Activities at Edgewater Resort & Spa
There's a swimming pool, tennis courts and games room, plus a schedule of daily activities, most are free. Activities can include fish feeding, water volleyball, ukulele and drumming lessons, and sarong making and tying. On Sunday there's a bus service to church. The onsite shop Treasure Chest sells competitively priced souvenirs.

Souvenirs from Edgewater Resort
Edgewater Resort - Drumming Lesson
Pareu Tying

We went to a drumming session and tapped out a few tunes, but it's You Tube who can show you how it's really done. We also attended an informal history and cultural session led by Tiki Daniel, and highly recommend it. One of the more curious things he mentioned was remote Palmerston Island, the only Cook Island where English is the native language. Englishman William Marsters arrived on the uninhabited island in 1862 with at least one Polynesian wife. He went on to father 17 or 23 children (depending on the source) and died in 1899 at age 78 with 54 grand children. The Masters (changed from Marsters probably due to pronunciation) family were granted ownership of the island in 1954.


Accommodation
The following is a random list of accommodation options, if you're booking your trip independently and looking for holiday homes see Rentraro.com and Island Hopper Vacations.

Lagoon Breeze Villas
Crown Beach Resort
Te Moana Villa

Resorts with Kids Clubs

Edgewater Resort & Spa
Pacific Resort
Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa


What To Pack
Highly recommend taking your own snorkelling gear and reef shoes, also a rashie for sun protection and to lessen the need for sunscreen in the water.
Your driver's licence if you want to hire a vehicle
Insect repellent
EFTPOS card (there are a number of ATMs on the island)
Casual clothes and flat shoes. If you intend to go to church pack something smart that covers your shoulders.
Sunscreen, sun hat and sun glasses
Small umbrella - double use as a sunshade and rain shelter
Some people recommend ear plugs to silence the roosters, you'll probably sleep through the prolific crowing .... eventually.
There's no street lighting so take a small torch, or use your phone.
A smile, and the intention to relax into island time...... have a tumeke adventure.


Further Information
Websites
www.cookislands.travel (official tourism website for the Cook Islands)

Books
Akono'Anga Maori - Cook Islands Culture, various contributors, edited by Ron Crocombe & Marjorie Tua'inekore Crocombe.

The Art of Tivaevae: Traditional Cook Islands Quilting by Lynnsay Rongokea.

Tivaivai: The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands by Susanne Kuchler & Andrea Eimke.

Patterns of the Past: Tattoo Revival in the Cook Islands (Facebook) by Therese Mangos & John Utanga.

Atiu: An Island Community by various authors including Ngatupuna Kautai.

Island Boy: An Autobiography by Sir Thomas Davis.

An Island to Oneself by Tom Neale.

Me'a Kai - The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific by Robert Oliver with Dr Tracy Berno and Shiri Ram. A large (493 page), colourful book containing information on Pacific cuisine and recipes from various Pacific regions including the Cook Islands.

To find more books about the Cook Islands visit Bounty Bookshop on Takuvaine Road in Avarau, and the Cook Islands Museum and Library Society on Makeatinirau Road in Avarua. Visitor membership to the library is $30 for 6 months, $10 is refunded when borrowed books are returned.

Magazines
Look out for a free copy of Escape magazine (published twice a year), and the free Cook Islands Sun tourist newspaper.


Personal Note
We went to Rarotonga for the third time in December 2019 and split our 10 nights between Palm Grove in Vaimaanga and Sunset Resort in Arorangi (our new favourite place to stay). December is rainy season, although I think there is always an element of luck with the weather at any time of year, but for two out of the ten days the rain was almost continuous making reading top of our list for things to do. Given it was low season we didn't pre-book a rental car but walked down to Go Cook Islands Rentals in Vaimaanga and picked up a little car for $62 a day. We didn't shop around to see if we could get a cheaper hire rate, it was purely convenience, a cheaper deal may be found elsewhere.

Some businesses took the opportunity to shut down for a Christmas holiday for a couple of weeks as is popular in New Zealand, The Mooring Fish Cafe was closed as was Te Ara - The Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise. On Boxing Day Deli-Licious in Muri was the only cafe we found open, the Hula Bar at the Islander Hotel was also open, but you needed to buy food with alcohol (bags of chippies all round). (Obviously Christmas closures are subject to change from year to year but Rarotonga observes NZ public holidays).

Rarotonga is still a stress free and relaxing place to holiday and we were well and truly in holiday mode at top notch Sunset Resort. Vili's burgers in Muri was a great new find for us and we also appreciated having a car to get out and about around the island (a good option in the rainy season).

While Rarotonga is the subject of this guide there are other Cook Islands to visit - Aitutaki, Atiu, and outer islands.


Comments to date: 37. Page 1 of 2.

Alison

Where can you buy groceries in rarotonga.I'm staying at muri beach resort. Is it cheaoer to do your own cooking?

Admin:  Hi Google Maps is bringing up a supermarket called KAPS Matavera which is around 3km from MBR, Wigmore's Superstore is about 6km away. We find eating out at night is about the same price as in NZ so it will be cheaper to cook an evening meal. The Muri Night Market is open four nights a week so that's a cheaper night option than restaurants.

Cyndi Fan

Hi there

Our hotel should be around Muri area but we planning to go Aitutaki Sat after visiting Saturday Market. Just would like to know is there any place or hotels offer luggage storage services around the market ? How much for one pieces.

Many thanks



Admin:  Hi there I don't know of a luggage storage option near the market but you could check with the Visitor Centre. Air Rarotonga and the Islander Hotel opposite the airport offer luggage storage so you could drop it off and then get a bus to the market. Alternatively, a rental car with airport drop off would provide the airport transfer and luggage storage. Have a great trip.

Elaine King

Hi, its my first time going to Raratonga. Could you tell me how much are there beer prices please. Such as Stienlarger Pure, Lion Red.

Admin:  Hi there, we drink the local Cook Islands lager or Matutu beers which are probably the cheapest option on the island, however the Islander Hotel (opposite the airport) has happy hour from 11am and has Lion Red and Steinlager for $3.50 (this is probably the cheapest you'll find it on the island at a bar/restaurant). Wigmore's Superstore near Palm Grove on the southern side of Rarotonga sells 330ml Steinlager Pure for $3.20 and prices at other stores will be similar, there's also the Bond Liquor Store opposite the Punanga Nui Market in town. Check out the nice little tasting room at Rarotonga Brewery (near the Islander Hotel and airport) - if you like the Cook Islands lager it's $13 for 1.5 litres. Happy travels.

Shawn

Your material is extremely useful.

Warren

ARe we able to take NZ chocolate with us to Rarotonga?

Admin:  Yes, any packaged food is fine, apparently lots of people take KFC so no problem with chocolate.

Kerry

Can we buy the beer jugs from cook island lager online?

Admin:  Hi, It says on Rarotonga Brewery's website that merchandise be picked up at the brewery, but you can always email them and ask.

Graham Chambers

Hii can help me to make contact with Lady that makes and sales her cushion covers at market in town on Saturdays thank you

Admin:  Hi Graham Not personally, but the Punanga Nui Market has a Facebook page which pops up on Google so you could ask there and hopefully someone can connect you with the right person. Good luck, Rachael

Jennifer Whitty

Hi, I was just wondering whether it is worth bringing our boogie board with us?

Admin:  Hi from Rachael, not Admin We're not surfers or body boarders, but I had a look on AdventurCookIslands.com and they say Rarotonga isn't suitable for beginners as surf breaks on the reef just below the surface. If you're not a beginner, they hire body boards which could save you taking your own. The site also lists body board and surf spots (click the bodyboarding and surfing link on the home page).

Rachael

Hi Ian
We can't help with fishing questions, however visit www.fishing.net.nz and put Rarotonga in the search box, it will bring up discussions in the forum, some are quite old, but the one that starts Hello All was put up a couple of weeks ago.

Good luck.

ian

hi can you fish from the shore in raro?

Rachael

Hi
Some resorts will provide equipment for free to paying guests. If you're on a tour, snorkelling gear is usually included free of charge. Captain Tama's at Muri Lagoon currently hire paddleboards for $20 per hour.

Teagan

Hi, just wondering if it costs to hire out paddle boards and snorkels thanks

Katrina

Hi

We are coming over for my husbands 60th with our family and grandchildren, is there anywhere we can hire and pay for a small cultural show at the house we are renting?

Admin:  Hi There is a list of 'Island nights' above, you could email the associated resorts and ask if it's possible to get a small group to do a private show. Alternatively, enquire via cookislands.travel and ask if small group cultural shows are an option.

Rachael

Hi Ryan
That's a good question, but one we can't answer as we don't live in Rarotonga. You could contact The Cook Islands on Facebook and ask there or follow the link to the website and send an email - they'll know for sure.

Ryan Bardbury

Hi Guys, we are coming over for the 2016/17 Christmas season, how does the public holidays affect purchasing, if we land on the 31/12, is it best to do the whole shop for a week then, as it lists the public holidays as the 1,2,3 of Jan, does everything close like nz?

Steve

Do they rent kids helmets for riding as a passenger / pillion on scooters? As I would like to take her on the scooter with me. She is 4 years old nearly 5. Need to know where to hire the kids helmets from. I have seen kids on scooters when I was last in Raro however they never had helmets.

Admin:  Hi Sorry for the delay in replying, first up I'd enquire at your accommodation option as they may rent out scooters and helmets or alternatively know of somewhere close by that does. Adventure Cook Islands Dive Center & Rental Shop list helmets for hire, although not specifically for children but it would be worth emailing them to ask (find the email link on the price list page - http://www.adventurecookislands.com/pricelist/ ) or contact other scooter rental options in the Getting Around section.

julie

Hi we love Raro too and go every 2 years we have stayed at Aromas on sunset from rentraro dot com fantastic right beside sunset resort, Albertos restarant at end of drive, edgewater resort 2mins walk, also stayed Dorothys Muri beach bungalows great for family groups in private villas 1x2brm 3x1 bedroom all fully self conatained 1 min to Muri through walkway and 4mins to park for $10 meals 3x a week check these out will not be disappointed


Admin:  Thanks for your comments and suggestions.

Karen

Hi my husband and i are going to rarotonga for the first time in sept what will the weather be like at that time of year please

Rachael

Hi Rebecca
Good question, I'm not sure, but it seems reasonable that they might if you're buying lunch. All they can do is say no, and given Raro is a little island it's easy to move on and ask elsewhere.

Rebecca

Can you visit hotels and have lunch and a swim? Our accommodation doesn't have a pool.

Rachael

Hi Kaye
Thanks for your comments, it's good to know Edgewater has superb snorkelling especially given the property's popularity and inclusion in package deals.

Kaye

Re snorkelling off Edgewater- it was superb. The fish were so used to being fed that you didn't even need to put your face in the water initially. Saw all sorts of fish including the bright blue star fish

Rachael

Thanks Sharleen, I've added a link in the self contained accommodation section.

Sharleen rere

I highly recommend, as a self catered option, the Muri Hillside Guest houses. Amazing hosts, Serena & Conrad Hunter. Great affordable price, great family feel (bungalow), beautiful setting.

Amos Wootten

Hey there.

My wife and I are thinking of heading to Rarotonga for about 5 nights from the 1st of December. We run/manage a motel in Taupo, and want a quiet/quick getaway before Xmas. We have been to Raro before, but it was in November. We found the weather not too bad, and was wondering is it still worth going in December, even if it the 'wet season'. I love Rarotonga and would love to get there again. Please can you offer some advise? Thank you so much. Erin and Amos

Admin:  Hi there Unfortunately I can't be much help, given you intend to visit at the start of the wet season you may strike it lucky, but I always go prepared for a rainy day or two when visiting a tropical destination no matter what time of year. As an aside, and if you're looking for accommodation, I meant to add a comment about Sunset Resort. Ron who commented late last year emailed me a glowing review of his time at Sunset, he's a well travelled gent so it was high praise indeed. If you do decide to head to Raro I hope the sun shines for you. Rachael

Rachael

Thank you Ron, your comments are much appreciated (and anyone who writes such nice remarks can spell my name any way they like ;) I'm interested to know how you find Sunset Resort, feel free to comment or email me via Contact Us on your return. Bon Voyage.

Ron

Sorry for misspelling your name, RACHAEL!

Ron

Thanks to you, Rachel! This website you've created has provided a plethora of information. You are to be commended! We leave Los Angeles the evening of October 20th for 12 nights at The Sunset Resort. Meitaki!

Rachael

Thanks Ron, good to know. You must be flying away soon - happy travelling in paradise.

Ron

Departure Tax:
For those who are not yet aware, the Departure Tax of NZ$55, formerly required to be paid by all departing passengers from the Cook Islands, is now included in airfare tickets, as of 1 December 2012. This I have verified with my travel agent, Costco Travel.


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