Cook Islands: Rarotonga
August 17-19th and 29-30rd, 2018
Rarotonga is the main of the Cook Islands and houses the capital Avarua. The island is surrounded by a turquoise lagoon dotted with white sand beaches, while the inner parts are covered by a dense jungle.
RAROTONGA: WHAT TO SEE - INFO - TRAVEL GUIDE
Rarotonga is the main of the Cook Islands and is home to the only international airport of the country which can handle long-haul flights. Rarotonga is also the main administrative center of the Cook Islands and is home to the capital Avarua, with a population of just over 10,000 inhabitants scattered throughout the various districts of the island. Rarotonga has a circular shape and is crossed along its whole perimeter by a paved road about 40 kilometers long, which can be traveled by car, motorbike, bicycle or bus, running the route clockwise or counterclockwise. The island is surrounded by a large turquoise lagoon with calm and warm waters, while the outer coral reef is easily accessible by kayak or even by swimming from a couple of spots. The beaches are numerous and scattered along almost the entire perimeter of the island, while the hinterland is dominated by mountains up to 658 meters high, covered by a thick tropical vegetation. Off the east coast, near the beach of Muri, there are 3 islets accessible on foot during low tide, or by swimming or canoeing at high tide: this is probably the most popular and busiest location of Rarotonga.
What to see in Rarotonga:
- Muri Beach - it is the most famous and popular beach, and probably also the most beautiful beach of Rarotonga. It is particularly interesting also because has nearby islets that can be reached on foot or by swimming or kayak, depending on the tide. It is located along the east coast of Rarotonga and offers a wide range of accommodations, shops and services. It is also the main starting point for excursions and various activities in Rarotonga.
- Rarotonga cross-island trail - begins near Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands, and ends on the opposite side of the island. The trail crosses the central mountain range of Rarotonga and enters the tropical forest among lot of beautiful things to see. The trekking time is usually around 4-6 hours and is strongly advised to go with a local guide, bringing lot of water, snacks and a good repellent against mosquitoes. A sturdy pair of shoes is also recommended.
- Avarua - the capital of the Cook Islands offers numerous shops where to buy souvenirs (in particular, the famous black pearls coming from farms located in Manihiki and Penrhyn), restaurants, some banks with ATM's and various other services.
- Marae, Arai te Tonga - scattered along the north-eastern parts of the island, there are small archaeological sites, essentially sacred places, perhaps dating back to the 12th-century. The surrounding area is interesting for the relaxing landscape, with large gardens and lush fields of pineapples, bananas and papayas. The sites are located along a road parallel to the main one, as said in north-eastern Rarotonga, and are well marked on tourist maps.
- Rarotonga activities - some tour operators offer excursions by Quad or 4x4 vehicles along the island's internal tracks, to see beautiful landscapes, waterfalls and lot of tropical vegetation. Other operators offer the classic mini-cruises in the lagoon using various types of boats, including the transparent bottom boat. Most of the operators are located in Muri Beach along the main road, or you may find brochures at the hotel where you will stay.
How long to stay in Rarotonga? To visit the various attractions of Rarotonga with sufficient time, we suggest at least a whole day (or a couple of days if you wish to hike the trail that crosses the whole island). At such time, you need to add the days you want to spend relaxing on the beach and in the lagoon, considering that the Southern Pacific's weather is not always collaborative (even in the driest season), which suggests to add also a few spare days as reserve.
How to move around in Rarotonga? the island has a paved road that runs the whole perimeter in a circle of about 40 kilometers, plus some detours towards the base of the central mountains. Most accommodation facilities offer the possibility to book transfers to and from the airport at the same time as booking the room, while taxis are available on call (at the airport is not always possible to find them ready to go, but must be called as well) . Two buses travel the island every hour respectively clockwise and counterclockwise, stopping at all points of interest and near most accommodations, as well as at the airport. The ticket must be purchased on board. For those who want maximum freedom, car, scooters and bicycles are available for rent at many locations of the island, sometimes directly at the facility where you are staying (we recommend booking the vehicle at least a couple of days before the expected use, especially in high season). The roads are sufficiently leveled, with few climbs and descents.
Where to stay in Rarotonga? on the island there are numerous facilities, at prices (or, better, at value for money) similar to other destinations in South Pacific. They can be booked either directly, either as part of a complete travel package. If during the trip to Cook Islands you will transit twice in Rarotonga (departing to and arriving from smaller islands), it might be a good idea to stay in two different locations of Rarotonga, so you can visit each area without having to move around a lot each time. For our stay in Rarotonga we chose Muri Beachcomber located along the east coast of the island, near one of the most beautiful (but more crowded) beach of the island, and The Cook Oasis which is instead located along the northwest coast of Rarotonga, in a much quieter (but still very beautiful) location.
But now let's see some photos of Rarotonga taken during our holiday.
Rarotonga by bike
. A relaxing bike ride can be an interesting opportunity to visit the more hidden parts of Rarotonga, among lush gardens and family-run farms. The main road that surrounds the whole island is a ring of about 40 kilometers (to which you should add the various deviations to the main places of interest) and, although the road is mostly flat, it can only be traveled for the full length, only if you are trained and well fit. Alternatively, it is possible to limit the bike excursion in Rarotonga
only to the areas closest to the facility where you are staying. Bicycles are provided, sometimes for free, by many accommodations, or they can be rented from several operators scattered throughout the island. Other popular ways to get around in Rarotonga
are scooters, small cars and even public buses stopping on demand at any point along the main road.
In the flat areas at the base of the mountains that dominate the central part of Rarotonga, there are numerous farms and fields of tropical fruit, including pitaya
(top photo), banana, papaya and pineapple.
The archaeological site of Marae No Pa Ariki
is located along the secondary road (Ara Metua) which crosses the countryside along the eastern part of Rarotonga, and is marked on the tourist maps provided when renting cars, bikes or scooters. The ruins of the construction belong to Pa's Palace
built by coral bricks cemented together by clay and was the residence of the tribal chief of Takitumu district in the 19th-century. The two large stones represent instead a sacred place.
Arai Te Tonga
is another archaeological site represented by a structure of large stones where the most important political functions were held and where the chief tribe was elected, as a sort of parliament. The site was also used for particularly important holidays, such as the First Harvest.
Te Ara Nui O Toi
is one of the most important historical monuments in Polynesia and is the remains of the ancient road that surrounded the island of Rarotonga. The basement of the road was made of large pieces of coral, while the surface was probably made with basalt slabs rather common on the island.
As in all the other islands of the Pacific, chickens and wild roosters roam freely everywhere in Rarotonga.
Even in the Cook Islands, just like in other islands of the South Pacific (such as in Niue), it is customary to build tombs
in the garden of own home, although there are also real cemeteries in various parts of Rarotonga.
If you do not want to hire a car, a scooter or a bicycle, a good alternative is to get around Rarotonga by bus
. Two buses are available which, every hour, travel the whole island respectively clockwise and counterclockwise, stopping on request wherever necessary. The cost of the ticket is definitely above our standards, but there are also special rates for large families or for those planning to use the bus all day.
The Rarotonga main road
has more traffic than the various deviations that wind through the countryside, while on the side signs indicate the best way to follow in case of a tsunami alert.
is the capital of Cook Islands
and is also one of the smallest capitals in the world.
(first photo) and the court
Another sacred place in Rarotonga
currently used for some religious ceremonies.
is the most beautiful beach of Rarotonga
. It is a long stretch of sand overlooking a beautiful lagoon and four small islets where visitors can get to on foot, swimming or kayaking, depending on tide. This is also the most popular place of Rarotonga, the location where most accommodations are located and where most guided excursions depart. Even if these photos of Muri Beach
are mostly without people, the place may get a little bit overcrowded during weekends, holidays or special events.
In Rarotonga lagoon
there are large sea stars
of an intense blue color. Please remember to never get them out of the water (even if for a very short time), because this action can easily cause its death.
Off Muri Beach
but still inside the lagoon, there are four small islands that can be reached on foot during low tide, or swimming or kayaking at high tide.
The island of Rarotonga is surrounded by a turquoise lagoon
for much of its circumference and we suggest not to limit the visit to just Muri Beach. If you will stay in Rarotonga twice, going to or coming from other islands, it may be a good idea to stay each time at a different location, to fully enjoy the whole island.
The Rarotonga beaches
are coralline and in the wildest ones is possible to see large pieces of fossilized coral.
A dirt road goes into a small farms at the base of central mountains.
The lush vegetation of Rarotonga
, often dominated by plants with giant leaves and ferns.
For our stay in Rarotonga at Muri beach, we chose Muri Beachcomber
, a small lodge with bungalows equipped with kitchens, in front of the beach.
Instead for the stay in the opposite side of Rarotonga, we chose The Cook Oasis
where, even in this case, the bungalows are equipped with a kitchen (useful if you want to be self-sufficient with meals).