Rarotonga in the Cooks Islands is located in the heart of the Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Come and share our Kia Orana spirit and discover why everyone loves a little paradise. An oasis of freedom with crystal blue waters, white sandy beaches, warm weather all year round and authentic, friendly locals. Under 30 minutes from plane to any beach, it's so easy to do as much or as little as you like in Rarotonga. Life in Rarotonga is enriched with a culture that embraces dance, music, storytelling, handcrafts and delicious traditional recipes. Make space in your plans for discovering what makes the island tick. This could be as simple as booking an island night cultural show at your resort or as in-depth as a visit to Te Vara Nui cultural village or Highland Paradise. The Saturday morning market in Avarua sells everything from locally-made coconut oil skincare to beautiful lengths of tapa cloth. Rarotonga offers a great variety of tours and activities which we can book for you. A few of them are shown on this page.
Cook Islands dance traditions
Each island in the Cook Islands has its own special dances and these are learned from childhood by both girls and boys. Dance competitions are common and hotly contested - if there's a competition on when you're visiting, do your best to see it. Dancers are accompanied by drumming on the paté, a slit drum that's also found in Samoa and Tahiti. Dances can be sensual, fierce and incredibly athletic; all of them are utterly spellbinding. There's often dancing on stage at Punanga Nui Market or you can catch a live show at one of Rarotonga's resorts.
- Te Vara Nui Over-Water Night Show and Buffet Dinner
- Highland Paradise
Cook Islands music
Apart from the traditional drumming you'll hear at a dance performance, the music of the Cook Islands encompasses everything from traditional folk songs accompanied by ukulele or guitar to rap, hip hop and rock music. For traditional music, book for an island night performance at Te Vara Nui cultural village. Music is also a highlight of island nights, which are held every week at the larger resorts. Some of the best venues for contemporary music include Charlies Café, On the Beach Restaurant, Wilsons Beach Bar, Trio's Bar and Pacific Resort Rarotonga.
Cook Islands clothing
While smart casual or beach-style clothing is the norm for most residents of Rarotonga, you'll also see plenty of people wearing the pareu, a bright-coloured length of fabric worn as a wrap by both men and women. At traditional dance performances, women and girls wear a pareu kiri'au roroa (long skirt), papa kapu akiri (coconut bra) and pare rakei (headpiece). Men and boys wear a pareu poto (skirt), ei kaki (necklace) and pare rakei no te tane (headpiece).
Cook Islands handcrafts
When you're shopping at Punanga Nui Market or around Avarua township, look for tivaevae quilts, wood carvings featuring traditional Polynesian motifs, pareu, art works, pearl jewellery, hand-made hats and bags, and woven homewares.
Best Rarotonga food experiences
Cook Islands cuisine traditionally involves fresh local seafood, chicken, pork, coconut, ginger, tropical fruit and starchy veges, like taro and cassava. However it also embraces ingredients and recipes from other cuisine cultures, which is why you'll also find excellent sushi, pizza, curries, stir-fries and poke bowls in Rarotonga. Some of the best restaurants in Rarotonga include:
- The Mooring Fish Café in Ngatangiia - fresh seafood and salads served simply
- Trader Jacks at Avarua Harbour - a classic waterfront eating place since 1986
- Vili's Burger Joint in Muri - often credited with the best burgers in Raro
- Tamarind House in Avarua - an excellent choice for a celebration or if you want to dress up for dinner
- Charlie's Café in Titikaveka - believed to have the best fish sandwich on the island
- Antipodes Rarotonga - Antipodes specialises in al fresco style cuisine enjoyed by the many nations occupying the greater Mediterranean Region
To discover Rarotonga's equivalent of street food, there are two markets to target. First up is Punanga Nui Market, held every Saturday morning in Avarua. Here you can enjoy things like roast pork rolls with apple sauce, ika mata (marinated raw fish), rukau (steamed taro leaves), poke (a sweet dish made with bananas and tapioca) and mitiore (fermented coconut with onion and seafood). And keep an eye out for firi firi -donuts with chocolate filling. You'll also find European favourites like sourdough bread, croissants and pastries.
The other seriously-good casual food experience on Raro is Muri Night Market, which happens every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. You'll find noodles, udon, chow mein, chop suey, crispy squid, pork ribs, teriyaki, roast dinners and much more. Dessert gets a lot of attention here too, so leave room for coconut cheesecake, chocolate brownie or a doughnut (or two). Hit this market after a day of adventure - you'll need a big appetite!
Walks and hiking in Rarotonga
Tropical hiking gives you a different view of paradise, so pack some sturdy boots or shoes. Once you've discovered the joys of trekking through Rarotonga's hinterland, there'll be no stopping you. Here are some trails to enjoy:
The Cross-Island Track is the most popular walk on Rarotonga, but it's far from crowded. The four-hour hike includes the 413m Te Rua Manga (Needle). North to south is the recommended direction, because there's less chance of a wrong turn
The Takitumu Conservation Area trail starts on the eastern side of the Queen's Representative's official residence in Titikaveka. One of Raro's best natural attractions, the trail takes you into the cloud forest for glimpses of the Kakerori (Rarotongan Flycatcher bird). The small entry fee assists species protection
Takuvaine Valley Trail, which starts as a drivable road, lets you see where the people of Rarotonga used to live before European settlers arrived
Avana Valley Track heads inland from Avana Harbour. It starts at Avana Road next to Manavaroa homestead. The path crosses several tributaries of the Avana Stream, so you can have a freshwater dip if it gets too hot
Maungatea Bluff Track delivers some of the best high-altitude views on the island. To find the track, follow the road on the right of Tauae Store until it runs out and the walking trail begins
Bike tours and self-guided biking
Cycling on Rarotonga is both a form of transport and something fun to do. You can hire bikes from various places around the island, then pedal forth to find beaches, snorkelling spots, cafés and shops. Biking to Punanga Nui Market on a Saturday saves the hunt for a carpark at the island's most popular weekly event. Visiting the market is one of the best activities to do in Rarotonga, so make it a priority.
Another way to enjoy yourself on self-propelled wheels is a guided ride with Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours. They offer a range of experiences, from basic lunch-and-swim options to exciting five-hour rides that involve mountain bikes and stream crossings. The theme with all their tours is storytelling - you'll hear local legends, pick up interesting facts and figures, and generally learn about life on an idyllic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This operator also gives 10% of their profits back to the community, so your fun experience is making a difference to the locals.
Top 10 things to do in Rarotonga (from Air New Zealand's web site)
1. Shop at Punanga Nui Market or Muri night markets
Every Saturday from 8am you can mingle with the locals and shop for food, drinks, clothing and souvenirs at Punanga Nui Market in the main town, Avarua. Don't be late if you want fresh locally-grown fruit and vegetables, and be sure to catch the cultural performances on the main stage from 10am. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5pm, the night markets at Muri Beach Village serve up a wide range of delicious meals, so everyone can choose a favourite dish. Arrive early for the widest choice and remember to bring cash. These markets are high on the list of what to do in Rarotonga with kids.
2. Experience one of the many Rarotonga tours
One of the fastest ways to discover the island's best spots is on a tour, and there all kinds to choose from. They're definitely among the most fun things to do in Rarotonga. Lagoon tours are popular, with glass bottom boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to choose from. Land-based tours range from buses and electric tuk-tuks to mountain bikes, scooters and off-road quads or buggies. There's even a highly-rated party bus nightlife tour for visitors who want to laugh and dance the night away in the safe hands of a trusted local guide.
3. Discover local craft beer at Matutu Brewery
Call into Rarotonga's craft brewery to see how their fine ales are created. On a brewery tour you'll learn about historic Cook Islands brewing techniques and the natural beer brewing process used today. All the Matutu beers are handcrafted using sustainable practices. Your tour ends with a tasting of each beer and a long, cool glass of your favourite.
4. Visit a Rarotonga museum
To get more from your holiday, take an hour or two away from the beach to learn more about the country's history and culture at one of Rarotonga's fascinating museums. Run by volunteers, the Cook Islands Library and Museum in Avarua is packed with exhibits. At Muri, Te Ara/Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise uses large displays and informative panels to tell stories of Polynesian migration and life in pre-European times.
5. Explore Maire Nui Botanical Gardens
Tranquil and refreshingly cooler, this magnificent tropical garden covers seven acres. From towering palms to fragile native flowers, there's a world of beauty and colour to explore. Small bridges, a pond and a gazebo add to the peaceful atmosphere. If you like tropical flowers, including every shade of hibiscus, wandering through the well-maintained gardens at Marie Nui is a must-do. And with a small fee for entry, it has to be one of the most relaxing cheap things to do in Rarotonga.
6. Fly to Aitutaki for a day on the lagoon
Air Rarotonga and Vaka Tours provide an amazing day trip to the turquoise waters and fine white sands of Aitutaki Island. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, incredibly scenic flights and a guided open-air bus tour of Aitutaki. You'll also spend six hours on a 21m traditional catamaran exploring the top snorkel spots and beautiful islands in Aitutaki's famous lagoon, with lunch included. This remarkable package makes it easy to experience the best things to do in Aitutaki in a day.
7. Climb to the Needle and across the island
If you fancy a challenging climb through lush rainforest, the four-hour cross-island walk is a must-do hike. Highlights include climbing part-way up Te Rua Manga (the Needle), a 413m volcanic plug in the island's centre, and long-range views across the island. Most people start from the Avarua end and finish at Wigmore's Waterfall. To get the most from your experience, consider booking a guided walk with Pa's Treks.
8. Snorkel a marine reserve
Rarotonga's lagoon marine reserves are home to fascinating coral formations and good numbers of colourful tropical fish. Exploring these reserves with a mask and snorkel is definitely one of the best things to do in Rarotonga for free. Fruits of Rarotonga in Titikaveka is a popular favourite, with big coral bommies, deeper water and plenty of large tropical fish. Aro'a Beach near the Rarotongan Resort is another top spot with shallower water, scattered coral and a sandy bottom.
9. Check out the rock formations at Black Rock Beach
On the northwest coast, Black Rock Beach has white sand and fascinating black volcanic rock formations. Located on the sheltered side of the island, away from the southeast trade winds, it's usually one of the calmest swimming spots on a windy day. Black Rock is not only one of the popular things to see in Rarotonga, it's also rated among the top lagoon snorkelling spots, so bring your mask and snorkel.
10. Treat yourself to an island night
Exciting, colourful and wonderfully entertaining, a Rarotongan island night is a fun opportunity to experience authentic cultural performances and a delicious buffet feast. The Highland Paradise Culture Centre, Te Vara Nui cultural village, and several hotels and resorts are renowned for their island night cultural shows. The pride, passion and skills shown in these performances are truly impressive. As you're treated to some of the island's best examples of traditional music, song, dance and food, you'll soon see why an island night is one of the top Rarotonga tourist attractions.