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 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:

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 Rarotonga by bicycles
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.
Pitaya plantation Pitaya tree
Banana plantation Fruit in Rarotonga
Papaya plantation Pineapples Rarotonga
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.
Archeology Cook Islands Marae No Pa Ariki
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
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.
Ruins in Rarotonga
Ancient coral road Road made by coral
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.
Rooster Rarotonga
As in all the other islands of the Pacific, chickens and wild roosters roam freely everywhere in Rarotonga.
Tombs in own garden Tomb in own house
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.
Rarotonga transportation
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.
Rarotonga roads Sign showing tsunami evacuation route
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.
Road in Rarotonga Avarua
Avarua is the capital of Cook Islands and is also one of the smallest capitals in the world.
Rarotonga museum Avarua court
Avarua museum (first photo) and the court (second photo).
Sacred place in Rarotonga
Another sacred place in Rarotonga currently used for some religious ceremonies.
Muri Beach Muri Beach
Beach in Rarotonga Rarotonga beaches
Muri Rarotonga Rarotonga beach
Muri Beach Rarotonga Rarotonga Muri beach
Kayak Rarotonga most famous beach
Muri Beach 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.
Giant sea star
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.
Rarotonga islet Rarotonga lagoon
Lagoon of Rarotonga Rarotonga islets
Motu Rarotonga island
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.
Rarotonga sea
Cook Islands
Sea around Rarotonga
The island of Rarotonga is surrounded by a turquoise lagoon and beaches 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.
Coral beach Fossilized coral
The Rarotonga beaches are coralline and in the wildest ones is possible to see large pieces of fossilized coral.
Rarotonga hinterland
A dirt road goes into a small farms at the base of central mountains.
Rarotonga forest
Rarotonga vegetation
The lush vegetation of Rarotonga, often dominated by plants with giant leaves and ferns.
Muri Beachcomber Bungalow in Rarotonga
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.
The Cook Oasis
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).

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