Rarotonga, called “Raro” by locals, is the most inhabited island in the Cook Islands. Most villages are located on the coast. The largest village of Avarua, for example, is on the north coast. It is also the capital of the Cook Islands and a super relaxed place with lots to do.
Another famous place is Muri on the east coast. Here you have one of the most popular beaches on the island. It is also an ideal spot for windsurfing. When we were there, there was very little wind but it was still wonderful to be on the water. Just south of Muri is also the beautiful botanical garden of Maire Nui.
Many tourists go to Arorangi in the southwest of the island. Apart from the beautiful beaches, such as that of Aroa, you will also find the Marine and Wildlife Eco Center here. And you have the Raemaru, a hill that is relatively easy to climb. If offers stunning views.
In the absurdly beautiful inland you will find nothing but mountains with steep, dense ridges and jungle. This is the terrain of the experienced hiker who doesn’t need a single village or beach to enjoy themselves on a tropical island.
What to see and do in Rarotonga
For such a small island, Raro has quite a bit to offer. But in our experience you should not go to the island for just that one beautiful walk or paradise beach, but more for the total experience. Life on Raro is relaxed. Go along with that as much as possible. Enjoy the beautiful beaches and lagoons, chilling at one of the many beach bars, the warm, crystal clear sea water, the fantastic cuisine, and so on. If you would like to do something more active, just like us, then go out by bike, go for water sports (including sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling or diving) or horseback riding, or take a nice, long walk through the interior.
Hiking in Rarotonga
Raro is perfect for walking tours. There are easy walks through the valleys, but for the adventurous and experienced hiker also more challenging climbing tours. Whichever hike you choose, exchange your slippers for hiking boots and bring plenty of drinking water, mosquito repellent and a lightweight rain jacket! And for your own safety, let someone know who you will be walking with, where and when. Here are some of the many beautiful walks you can take on the island.
One of the most popular hikes is the “cross-island track” which leads from the north via the Te Rua Manga (the “Needle”) to the south. It is a tough hike with climbs and descents that you can probably best do with a guide. The Needle is a pointy rock that rises above the jungle. Nice to see, but don’t make the mistake of climbing the rock! Close to the end of the hike you will arrive at the Papua Waterfall (also called Wigmore’s Waterfall). Don’t expect much of this unless it has rained a lot in the previous months.
Climbing the Raemaru
Another fun and – depending on the season – relatively easy hike is the ascent of Raemaru in the west of the island. The path to it is very easy to do, especially for an experienced hiker. Only at the end you have a steep climb that you only have to venture if it is not too wet due to rainfall and you are strong enough to pull yourself up on ropes or rocks. The walk takes about four hours in total. You always have a beautiful view, perhaps even more beautiful than at the highest point when you do the last climb.
Climbing Te Manga
The climb of the Te Manga is a difficult, arduous hike that is more suitable for the more experienced hikers, and only when it is relatively dry. Unfortunately we didn’t do it ourselves. But judging from the many photos and reviews that I have seen, you must have a fantastic view at the end that makes the climbing and scrambling absolutely worthwhile! Something to keep in mind: the signage is often missing, and the last part of the climb is really very steep. There is a rope that you can hold on to, but apart from that there are only a few protruding parts along the way.
The capital of the Cook Islands has about 2,600 inhabitants. Not particularly big, but certainly nice to walk through and to soak up some culture. Avarua has no significant highlights by itself. The town mainly relies on the fantastic, relaxed atmosphere that is so typical of a small tropical paradise in the South Pacific.
But while you’re there, consider attending a service in the CICC church, for example, just because of the beautiful singing. And on Saturday mornings, be sure to visit the Punanga Nui Cultural Market, a market where you can get just about anything from deliciously fresh food and souvenirs to handmade ukeleles and black pearls. And if you are a beer lover like me, then a visit to the Rarotongan Brewery for a delicious glass of “Cook Islands Lager” is definitely worth it!
Best time to visit Rarotonga
The best time to visit Raro is during the dry season, from May to October. This is an ideal time not only for beach lovers but also for hikers because the trails are not that slippery.
Accommodation in Rarontonga
There is a lot of accommodation in Raro, ranging from apartments and hotels to holiday homes and luxury resorts. Most couples reside in the vicinity of Muri in the east or in Arorangi in the southwest of the island. We ourselves stayed on a boat and for that reason we cannot recommend anything from our experience.
Getting around the island
Around the island, the main road Ara Tapu has two lanes: one for driving counter-clockwise, the other for driving clockwise. Inland you have more roads, but not all of them are paved. Maximum speed is 50 kilometres per hour. In some villages 30. You share the road with animals (including chickens but especially dogs), pedestrians, cyclists and other motorized traffic.
Because the distances between the villages are very small, you could walk or cycle everything. Another option is the bus or, even better, an electric bicycle (e-bike) or a scooter. There are many locations where you can rent an (electric) bicycle or a scooter. At many resorts you can rent an e-bike for NZD 10 per day.