Rarotonga, the jewel of the Cook Islands

July 20

If you think of the proverbial ‘happy place’, as in, ‘close your eyes and go to a happy place’, Rarotonga would be it. A small, stunning island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Rarotonga provides travelers with an (often much-needed) dose of white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, a tropical climate and friendly locals. There are no traffic lights, no food chains and no stress in this little island paradise, which has just one circular road, and ample opportunity to get into the outdoors – or do absolutely nothing.

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So why visit Rarotonga?

If the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches didn’t have you sold, there’s plenty more to this tropical paradise. Firstly, it’s tiny, which means if you’re looking for stress-free, you’ve found it – it takes about 25 minutes to get to the other side of the island by car.

As an island, it is of course surrounded by coastline but the inside is filled with volcanic peaks and tropical gardens and rainforest just ripe for exploring. What makes Raro a favourite as an escape from the outside world is its range of options; stay in one of the many resorts (like the Pacific Resort Rarotonga) and make yourself comfortable by the swimming pool for the duration of your trip, or get out and explore the island’s nature and local culture.

The locals are friendly, usually wearing huge grins, and go out of their way to make international visitors feel welcome. There are about 14,000 people living here, and exploring the villages on a tour or on your own is a wonderful way to get a cultural experience as well as a beachside holiday – just grab a map and head off. The official language is Cook Islands Māori, an Eastern Polynesian language which is similar to NZ Māori.

Rarotonga has one main road that circles around it, called Ara Tapu, as well as the ancient old inner road, Ara Metua. The capital town and district, Avarua, is the capital of the Cook Islands.

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Where is Rarotonga?

Rarotonga sits in the Pacific Ocean, about 2000 miles northeast of New Zealand.

Is Rarotonga a Cook Island?

It sure is. It’s the largest of the Cook Islands, a cluster of 15 islands whose location is as far south of the equator as Hawaii is north. Explains the tropical paradise vibes. The Cook Islands lie right in the middle of the Polynesian Triangle, and are separated into the northern islands and the southern islands. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the most popular with holiday-makers for their luxury accommodation and abundance of activities for adults and kids alike.

What country owns the Cook Islands?

They govern themselves with a ‘free association’ with NZ (and therefore the Queen of England). This means it administers its own affairs, but residents of the Cook Islands are New Zealanders and are welcome to work and live there.

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What is there to do in Rarotonga?

However long you plan your trip for, we can guarantee it won’t be long enough. As well as doing absolutely nothing but enjoying the warmth, the sea and Rarotonga’s friendly local service, there’s a whole playground to explore, fast or slow. Take a guided tour of the island’s volcanoes or go for a scuba dive and check out the multicolored reef. There are often family deals you can make the most of, and if there’s something you want to do but can’t see it advertised, the Rarotongan people are a friendly bunch and always happy to help. For families, some of the resorts have a kids club, which keeps the little ones occupied while the adults enjoy some true RnR.

Grab a map, hire a scooter and head off on an exploration of the coast, stopping at the Punanga Nui markets or one of Rarotonga’s 100 restaurants. Take a kayak for a sunset cruise on the still tropical waters one of your nights here, or for a truly Rarotongan cultural experience, find a local guide and go fishing with them.

What’s the best way to get around?

There’s just one long road that circumnavigates Raro, and there are plenty of ways to get around. Take the bus (either clockwise or anti-clockwise), hire a car, or, everyone’s favourite: rent a scooter and get that tropical wind through the hair. Of course, there’s always exploring by two feet. It’s slower, but this is a slow-paced place, and why go to the beach if you don’t walk long it barefoot with the sand between your toes?

How long does it take to drive around the island?

To drive around the whole island takes about 50 minutes.

How much does it cost to hire a car?

A car costs about $40 for the day.

How do I get to Rarotonga?

There are four direct flights to Raro, from Auckland, Sydney, Los Angeles and Tahiti. Depending how many nights you want to stay, it can be cheaper to get a package with flights and accommodation.

What’s the best country to fly from?

Raro is a four-hour hop from Auckland, so if you like short flights, break up your trip in NZ – maybe even take a day to explore!

How much does it cost to get to Rarotonga?

You can find cheap holiday fares from NZ, with $500 being a really good return deal.

Where’s the best place to stay in Rarotonga?

The place boasts the whole range of accommodation; resorts, hotels, boutique and budget – there’s something for everyone. If you’re bringing the family, hire a private beachfront villa located right on the beach, or for a relaxing romantic getaway, there are plenty of hotels with rooms set up especially for couples. Almost everything is beachfront, too.

What accommodation is there in Rarotonga?

Whether you’re after a budget beach shack or a five star hotel, Raro’s got the whole range. Muri Lagoon View Bungalows are hillside bungalows with sweeping views of the crystalline blue Muri Lagoon, while Muri Beach Resort offers beachfront rooms on the lagoon itself. While the location of this one is unreal, and it is a luxury resort, you can hire one of their villas for around $300 a night.

Pacific Resort Rarotonga is one of the most popular spots on the island. Guests can enjoy beachfront accommodation with access to the swimming pool, spa, restaurants and gym, and rest their heads for the night in one of the resort’s villas, rooms or garden studios.

What’s the best time to visit Rarotonga?

Any time you can get some time off. It’s beautiful year-round, but the months of October and November are best to visit.

Where else should I visit in the Cook Islands?

Rarotonga may be the biggest island, but it’s by no means the only one! Rarotonga’s smaller sister island of Aitutaki is a slice of heaven on earth, with plenty of coral reef and warm crystal waters to lose yourself in for a week or three.

What’s the food like in Rarotonga?

Tropical! Think coconuts, papaya, mango, starchy vegetables and fresh seafood. Make sure you leave your resort for at least one night and sample some of the delicious fare at the local restaurants, with Avarua having the most options.

What’s the best local delicacy?

Ika Mata translates to “raw fish” in Cook Island Māori, and this dish is like a South Pacific ceviche, made with coconut cream, finely chopped vegetables and, of course, raw fish.


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