Update in progress March 2018

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 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 (see Food & Dining for price examples), however we dined out for most of our meals and prices were similar to what we would pay in NZ.


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

Punanga Nui Market Shop
McDonalds is miles away in Auckland
Punanga Nui Market Shop

Good To Know

Cook Islands Maori (15 dialects spoken over the 15 islands that make up the Cooks), 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 - includes non residents in the Cook Islands when the Census data was collected).

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: 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 motorcyle 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 provides domestic flights. Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Jet Star fly from NZ. There is an Air New Zealand International Lounge at the airport, when we checked in there was a sign saying the lounge was for members only, so as a plus one I lucked out, but you can always ask.

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.

Scooter Hire
Coral Limestone Church
Bus Stop

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, when 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). Super Brown in Tupapa (east of Avarua).

Mosquitos / Travel Warnings: I'm a mosquito beacon but they weren't an issue in the coastal area, although I may have been lucky. It's best to go prepared, 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


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
Punanga Nui Market
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

Bounty Bookshop, Takuvaine Road (next to the Post Office)
Bounty Bookshop stocks guide books, magazines, fiction and non fiction, and some recipe books if you'd like to recreate local dishes at home. Newspapers include 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. There are also public toilets in the green building opposite the Police Station, although twice I checked them during the day and they were locked.

Library Mural by Sue Trayler

Cook Islands Library & Museum Society, Makeatinirau Road, Avarua
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 or video recordings are not allowed. Displays include old photos and paintings, a big shell collection, a timeline of significant events in Cook Islands history, and an exhibition about RMS Maitai which ran aground in Avarua harbour. 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 in the library entrance).

Cook Islands National Museum, Victoria Road, Avarua
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 museum 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 sting ray tails that had been stretched and dried.

Other items on display include fishing implements, traditional dance costumes, and a large coconut grater along with other food preparation tools and carved bowls. 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)
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.

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.

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 - follow the link to see the artists and examples of their work, and more information about the museum.

The Little Red Gallery, opposite Punanga Nui Market, Avarua
I didn't get to The Little Red Gallery during opening hours, but it's easy to find as it is what it says - a little red gallery. The hours were written as Tuesday - Thursday 10.30am - 1pm, and Saturday at the Market, however the hours were written on a blackboard so no doubt they change.

CIRCLE - Cook Islands Recycling Creations Living Environment, Big Fish Dive Centre, Aro'a
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 plastic 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.

Island Living
Black pearls are an important means of income for the Cook Islands and a unique souvenir for visitors. Black pearls aren't something we 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.

TAV is a Rarotongan made fashion brand and they have a store in Auckland at 163 Onehunga Mall. (TAV did have a store at Beachcomber Gallery in Avarua). LuSantials clutches and coin purses are also made in the Cook Islands.

Punanga Nui market

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. Open 8.30am - 3pm, Monday - Friday. 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 in other shops.

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

Tivaevae Collectables is in Nikao, you can also shop online.

In The Water
Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruizes, Muri
On a Captain Tama's cruize you can snorkel out near the reef in Muri Lagoon (best snorkelling of our trip in 2012), 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. *You can buy a '7 Ways to Tying a Pareu' information card from a souvenir shop.

Captain Tamas Boat
Captain Tamas BBQ Lunch
Captain Tamas musical crew

The trip takes 4.5 hours (11am - 3.30pm) 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 fish feeding
Captain Tamas snorkelling - giant clam
Captain Tamas snorkelling

Koka Lagoon Cruises
The other day cruise option at Muri is Koka Lagoon Cruises (Sunday - Friday, departs 10am). Koka have also stacked up some excellent Trip Advisor reviews.

Ariki Adventures, Muri
Ariki Adventures offer a number of water based activities and tours including Glass Bottom Kayak Tours, Stand Up Paddleboard Tours, and Ocean Sea Scooter Safaris. I had a chat to a friendly 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 the tour again and ..... he saw turtles.

There are plenty of snorkelling spots in Rarotonga and most accommodation will likely have snorkelling options nearby. In 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.

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.

Snorkelling at Aro'a beach
Aro'a beach
You can also snorkel off the beach from Charlie's Cafe & Beach Hire which is walking distance from Fruits of Rarotonga. Charlie's hires out snorkelling gear, kayaks and paddleboards. Other snorkelling spots are Aro'a Beach and Black Rock in the north west, Black Rock has plenty of parking and an information storyboard. The snorkelling locations are labelled on the Cook Islands Sun fold out map, Dive Rarotonga have also put together some information about snorkelling.

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, reviewers also suggest heading out around the small motu (islands).

Muri Lagoon
Snorkelling in Muri Lagoon
Paddle Boarding, Muri Lagoon

A few sources note lagoon pollution including The Cook Islands News - WATSAN project moving ahead, newer articles - 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 and Captain Tama's website has information about their environmental contribution and clam repopulation initiative. 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 as there is now a charge - $5 per car, $2 per scooter. It's around a 2km drive to the waterfall which is in a bush setting. Reviewers note the mosquitos and the possibility 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 has plans to finish the project ......

Tours / Island Nights / Cultural Villages

On water
Adventure Cook Islands (Reef to See) - Padi dive courses and dive trips, Trip Advisor reviews
Akura Charters Rarotonga, Trip Advisor reviews
Captain Moko's Fishing Charters, Trip Advisor reviews
Ariki Adventures - glass bottom kayak tours, paddle board and snorkel tours, sea scooter tours
Raro Reef Sub, 4 trips daily, Trip Advisor reviews
Seafari Fishing Charters, Trip Advisor reviews

On land
Raro Quad Tours - quad bike tours
Pa's Treks - Cross island trek, and nature walk, Trip Advisor reviews
Raro Buggy Tours - Trip Advisor reviews
Raro Tours - various group and private tours offered
Raro Mountain Safari Tours - 4WD tours, Trip Advisor reviews

Stone circle that commemorates 7 canoes that completed the voyage to NZ
Coconut Husking - Captain Tamas
Or relax - Sunset Resort

On the town
Raro Pub Crawl
Raro Tours - Going Troppo Night Life Tours (every Friday 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
Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa - Legends of Polynesia Umu Feast & Drum Dance Show

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 didn't drive 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.

Hardly Davidson Rarotonga

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, the only danger may be a wandering bird or animal. 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 (6 locations), Tipani Rentals (opposite Edgewater Resort), and Island Car & Bike Hire (3 locations). Harley Davidson island tours were once offered, but not 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.

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, $16 for a day pass or buy a 10 trip ticket for $30 (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.

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.

VW convertible, our rental in 2012

In March 2018 we hired a Toyota Yaris from the friendly staff at Avis in Avarua. It was low season in Rarotonga so there was an excellent deal for $35 a day for a minimum three day hire. Petrol was $2.08 a litre. If you're keen on a convertible, we saw a few Mini Cooper convertibles around the island, Polynesian Rental Cars is one option for hiring those. 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.

Sport & Recreation
Rarotonga Golf Club, visitors welcome
Coco Putt 18 hole mini golf
Paddle board and boat hire - Captain Tama's, Muri
Kitesurfing equipment, paddle board, kayak, wetsuit and snorkel gear hire - KiteSUP, Muri
Rarotonga Sailing Club, Muri
Cook Islands Game Fishing Club, Tupapa (open from 1pm Monday - Saturday, visitors welcome)
Rarotonga Hash House Harriers

Rarotonga Sailing Club - Muri

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, 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, declare it at Customs on arrival.

Food & drink prices 2018: Foodland in Avarua - 250g Mainland cheese $5.70, Lisa's 200g dips $6.20, 1 litre Green Valley milk $4.99, loaf of Avarua bakery wholemeal bread $5.20, 6 eggs $3.30, 375g peanut butter $4.70, 60 Bell tea bags $5.40, 150g Bluebird chips $4.10. Wigmore's Supermarket in Vaimaanga - 200g Cadbury chocolate $6.50, Oyster Bay Chardonnay $28, Mills Reef Chardonnay $25, 330ml Steinlager Pure $3.20, 330ml Heineken $2.90, 1.5 litre Schweppes $7.60. Also see Prime Foods on Facebook as they often post their weekly specials.

Trader Jacks, by the sea and opposite the intersection of Ara Tapu Road and Takuvaine Road, Avarua
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.

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)
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).

Kikau Hut, Arorangi
We had dinner at colourful Kikau Hut during our first trip to Rarotonga in 2012. We ordered a chicken satay entree, two main fish dishes, two glasses of NZ wine and lemon cake to share for dessert, the bill was around $90. (Kikau Hut is within walking distance of Edgewater, and Sunset Resorts).

Kikau Hut
Kikau Hut
Kikau Hut
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).

Tamarind House Restaurant, Pue (just outside Avarua)
Tamarind House is a restored colonial style property by the sea, a couple of minutes drive from Avarua. It was closed for an annual holiday when we visited Rarotonga in 2018, but on our first trip we dined in the evening and it was beautifully lit with candles and fairy lights. Staff were delightful, and served one of my favourite dishes of the trip - a smoked chicken and tropical fruit salad with a honey and lime dressing. The $88 bill included two glasses of NZ wine, two mains, and a lovely lemon sour cream cake to share for dessert. (If you're staying at Club Raro Tamarind House is within walking distance).

Tamarind House
Tamarind House
Tamarind House

Alberto's, Arorangi
We didn't dine at Alberto's but if you enjoy a steak and like big portions it gets good reviews. We visited during the day (Alberto's opens at 5.30pm) and were impressed with their Cook Island marketing style - there's a menu on display as well as a customer comments book. There's also a blackboard for reservations. (Alberto's is walking distance from Edgewater, and Sunset Resorts).

Cafe Salsa

Cafe Salsa, Avarua
If Cafe Salsa could dance its way across the Pacific and onto the coffee filled streets of Auckland or Wellington it would be serious competition in the best cafe stakes. Open Monday - Saturday, 7.30am - 3pm. See the website for menus.

Flying Boat Fish 'n' Chips / Cook Islands Game Fishing Club, Tupapa
Flying Boat on Facebook
Order your fish 'n' chips from the cute blue and white boat that sits on the sand, a few steps from the sea. Add a beer from the Game Fishing Club at the same location. Flying Boat opens at 11am, Game Fishing Club from 1pm, both are closed on Sunday. (Another fish 'n' chip option is Palace Takeaways next to Avatiu harbour in Avarua).

Flying Boat Fish n Chips
Flying Boat Fish n Chips
Game Fishing Club

Le Bon Vivant

Le Bon Vivant, Avarua (and Muri Village)
If you're looking for something light like a pastry, paw paw muffin or sandwich, Le Bon Vivant is a good option. They also serve platters and wine to match. There's art work on the walls, a nice courtyard, and it's one of the few eating options that had free water for customers. Open from 8am Monday - Saturday for breakfast and lunch.

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

Local Brews
Matutu Brewing Company
brew Mai (lager) and Kiva (pale ale). Tours of the brewery in Titikaveka can be arranged by request, and t-shirts can be purchased via the website.

Cocktails, Crown Beach Resort

Happy Hour
Happy hour information has been deleted as it was out of date, but a couple of happy hour options - The Barefoot Bar at Pacific Resort, and Hula Bar at The Islander Hotel - $3.50 drinks all day.

Where We Stayed
Edgewater Resort & Spa, Arorangi (2012)
Edgewater is the largest resort on the island, it's family friendly and has a Kid's 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 but we were happy with our room, it was on the second level at the back of the property, was spacious, and had a sliding door out to a small balcony.

Garden room block , Edgewater
Edgewater Garden Room
Edgewater 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 Bar
Edgewater Restaurant
Edgewater Breakfast
Sunset Resort

Note: If you would prefer to stay at a smaller, more modern resort in the area for a similar price, I recommend you take a look at the garden/pool side studio rooms at Sunset Resort. Sunset has consistently excellent Trip Advisor reviews. Whilst we didn't stay, we did go to Drum Beat Bar for happy hour and the photos on the website are representative of the exterior of the property. It's not an option for all families though as it has a no children under 12 policy.

Activities at Edgewater
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
Edgewater 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 Tick Daniel's, 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.

The following is a random list of accommodation options with the exception of The Cooks Oasis Holiday Villas - a well priced self contained property recommended to us by fellow Kiwis. If you're booking your trip independently manages around 80 tourism rental properties. (Rentraro won an Air NZ Supreme Award for Excellence and Innovation in 2011). Island Hopper Vacations is another option.

Lagoon Breeze Villas
Crown Beach Resort
Te Moana Villa

Resorts with Kids Clubs
Edgewater Resort & Spa
Pacific Resort
Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa

Tie The Knot In The Tropics
Travel agents can give you brochures that include Wedding Package information. Tiare Films can film your special day and their website includes a Wedding Services Directory. It may be an option to incorporate an Island Night (feast and music/dance show) into your reception, especially if you're on a budget. Arrive quietly and in style for your wedding in a white e-tuk limo.

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 or poncho
Some people recommend ear plugs to silence the roosters, we never heard any though (first trip). Second trip we did, every day, they're handsome birds though and who can blame them for showing off.
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 (official tourism website for the Cook Islands)

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

Me'a Kai - The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific (Facebook) 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.

Look out for a free copy of Escape and Cook Islands Sun magazine.

Personal Note
It was our first trip to Rarotonga in 2012 and we were surprised and impressed by the tourism infrastructure and the number and quality of accommodation options. Camping isn't allowed on the island and there is no doubt the Cook Islands want to attract visitors with plenty of dollars in their pocket. Fair enough, the islands are small and there's already pressure on sewerage and waste water systems. Unlike Samoa, the Cook Islands don't actively promote budget accommodation but you'll find quite a few options if you extend your search further than travel agent brochures. Self contained, privately owned rental accommodation is plentiful and can be excellent value.

We visited late May/early June and found the weather perfect for us (thanks Lady Luck), mostly sunny, low humidity, and warm in the evening. We hadn't anticipated having a rental car for more than a day but given the reasonable hire rates and the convenience of being able to drive to different restaurants and bars to eat and drink we would hire a car (or scooter) for most of our stay next time.

It's easy to acclimatise to island time, locals are welcoming and it would be hard not to relax in Rarotonga. However if relaxing isn't what you're after there are plenty of tours and activities to keep you occupied. Rarotonga is of course not all there is to the Cook Islands - Aitutaki, Atiu, and outer islands.

Comments to date: 31. Page 1 of 2.

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 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).


Hi Ian
We can't help with fishing questions, however visit 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.


hi can you fish from the shore in raro?


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.


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



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 and ask if small group cultural shows are an option.


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?


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 - ) or contact other scooter rental options in the Getting Around section.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


Sorry for misspelling your name, RACHAEL!


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!


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


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.

Olivia Anderson

we have just come back from Rarotonga and had the best holiday in ages. Can recommend self catering as it's great with kids as food can be expensive. Stayed in a beaut place coral Sands which had very good trip advisor comments

Admin:  Thanks for the recommendation Olivia, I've added Coral Sands to the self contained accommodation section. It's a bonus in Rarotonga that there are quite a few self contained options for those who want to self cater, it's good to add another to the list.


For anyone's possible interest, we will be in Rarotonga during October 2013 at the Sunset Resort for 12 nights. It will be our third visit, the first being in 1997 at the newly reopened Rarotongan Beach Resort. We are so looking forward to our return to paradise, with a repeat day tour over to Aitutaki.


I have learned that arriving passengers can enter with 2 liters of wine each, and that CITC Duty Free in the Arrival Terminal sells Church Road (Hawkes Bay) for NZ$ 20 for 750 ml. Sounds like a plan.

Admin:  Cheers Ron - a good plan indeed.


Wine is my drink of choice and I would be interested in your recommendation as to where wines may be purchased for a good price. My first guess would be at CIC Supermarket or at Foodland, if wines are sold there. Other places?

Admin:  Hi, We didn't shop for wine, but The Bond Liquor Store advertises over 600 wines ...


is there somewhere in raro where you can hire an outrigger canoe ride??

Admin:  Hi, I would recommend you contact Cook Islands Tourism by email, they should be able to help, follow the Contact link here :


You're welcome Clare, thanks for letting us know you found the info helpful. Cheers to raising a glass of something cold as the sun sets. Happy holidays in Raro, if you have any recommendations on your return feel free to share them here.

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