The island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is one of those places you see photos of as a generic desktop background, but don’t think actually exists. I’m here to tell you it does exist, and the water is seriously that blue! If this destination wasn’t on your bucket list it should be now. If you want a tropical island vacation and Tahiti, Fiji and others seem a bit too out of reach (and expensive) this is the best solution. You can get a direct flight from LA on Air New Zealand, or travel from Auckland, NZ on an easy 3.5 hour flight. And then…..paradise!!
Even though it’s a small island you’ll want to make sure you make the most of your time. I’m all for laying out and soaking up some sun, but there are so many great spots here to see and great things to do, you won’t want to miss out. To do this, you should definitely think of your transportation options before you go.
The airport is all the way at the top of the island. Most hotels will offer an airport transfer and if so, you may want to take them up on it. It may seem expensive, but the airport may be far from where you’re staying, taxis charge per person, and are really expensive anyways. If you do the transfer to and from the airport through your hotel they’ll likely give you a lei when you land and shell necklace when you leave too, which is a great way to bookend your island experience.
If you want to get around the island we want to emphasise: taxis are not the best. That being said, there is only one bus system on the island and it goes either clockwise or anticlockwise. You can get a schedule at your hotel if you want to use this. It is a good way to get into town for restaurants or other fun things, but be warned, there is a VERY limited schedule on Sundays, and after 4pm everyday only the clockwise direction is operating.
Renting a scooter/car:
The BEST way to get around the island is to rent a scooter. They are really cheap, only $15 a day, compared to car rental which is $70/day (although I kind of wish we had rented a convertible because I saw a lot of these which looked really fun). The thing we didn’t know is that you need to go to the police department and get a scooter/motorcycle license. They’re pretty busy and slow there, like most government offices, so going early in the morning is best. It costs $40 and you need to take a written test and a test on the scooter where you weave in and around some cones. It was soooo fun to ride around the whole island on the scooter, which only takes about 50 minutes. Definitely the way to see everything. We snuck off the side of the road to see this cool waterfall that was a pretty drive too!
As good as the tanning may be wherever you are staying, to make the most of your trip you need to leave your hotel and check out some other spots the island has to offer. Muri beach is one of those spots! It is the best beach on the island and you can see on the map that’s on the east side, definitely worth a visit! There’s a small island there called Rocky Island that you can walk through the water to (it’s shallow enough) or swim/kayak to and it’s gorgeous!! There will likely be no one there and there’s one perfect sandy patch to lay out on.
Definitely do the market on Saturday morning! It goes from 6:30am-1pm in the Avarua District, but get there early because they close down quickly. I got a coconut to drink from which was fun!
Scuba diving with Dive Rarotonga! AMAZING!! You don’t need to be certified because they offer a class where they give you a lesson in the pool first then take you out. It was around $140 a person, but definitely worth it. The visibility in the ocean is amazing, it’s like swimming in an aquarium. Also, good for a rainy day otherwise there’s nothing to do when it rains!
Lagoon Cruise: We did Koka instead of Captain Tamas (the main two) because we heard it was better and we really liked it! Plus if you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon they bring you up to the front and give you a flower crown! It’s $79/person, for 9-2:30pm but includes a really yummy BBQ lunch and they take you to a great snorkel spot with a couple of giant eels!
Black Rock: You can see this spot on the west side of the island. This is a fun swimming spot where you can also climb to the tops of the rocks and jump into the pools from the ocean below.
Cross Island Trek: this is not something we did but did hear a lot about it. It takes about 3 hours and takes you up through the top of the mountain, and you pass a cool waterfall on the way down. Would be a good way to see the rugged interior and native trees of the island.
Dinner at Spaghetti House right next to the Edgewater hotel is a fun treat and great if you want a break from seafood. The spaghetti Bolognese is delicious and you can color on the paper table cloths and feel like a kid again.
Island night: Loved this! We had wanted to do Te Vara Nui which heard is the most authentic one, but it was full. Book this ahead of time because it’s only on certain nights! For $129 they do a combo island night (like a luau) with a village tour that takes you to the top of the mountain. We really wish we had been able to do this one, but since it was full we did the Edgewater Island Night for $65/person, which we were told was the best dinner option. The food here was a buffet and was really delicious! Plus, these two island nights include transfers (Te Vara Nui only does transfers for the combo package which leaves at 3:45pm) so if you don’t have a car or scooter you can still take part in these.
The Rarotongan Hotel: one of the best snorkel spots on the island. Also, eat lunch there in one of their covered boat-like tables, super fun! Their pool is really cute too and very family-friendly.
Trader Jacks: This restaurant was right in town and where we had our last dinner on the island. Really good food and one of the best restaurants on the island I think. Fun bar area, and outside seating right by the water. It’s a Rarotonga staple.
Dinner on the Beach: This was at the Crown Beach hotel and it was absolutely the highlight of our trip, best dinner ever! (Scuba diving was a close second highlight.) This is $302 so definitely pricey, but after doing it even my husband agreed it’s totally worth the money. You get an appetizer, main and dessert each plus a bottle of champagne to split. They even ask what your wedding colors were and decorate the table in those colors if you are celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary! You also have your very own staff, and you can pay extra to hire someone to play you music the whole time – very romantic! They might have things like this at other hotels, but you want one where you can watch the sunset and Crown Beach is the perfect spot on the island for that!
*all the prices are NZD which is what they use there