We spent 6 days being beach bums in Rarotonga, the largest and most populous of the Cook Islands. Despite its relative size, it still feels very small – you can drive around the whole island in under an hour.
We spent our time on Muri Beach, the most popular beach on the island because of its white sand, clear water, and good snorkeling. While we kept our bottoms firmly planted on the beach, there’s a lot to do on Rarotonga. If you’re planning a visit, or want to learn about the island, here is some information about Rarotonga, including what we did and other advice we gathered during our stay!
Language: English and Rarotongan.
Internet: The wifi situation is horrible. Don’t expect to find free wifi here. When you can find a wifi hotspot, you’ll have to pay for a pretty slow connection at an average price of $10 per 100 megabytes.
They do have ATMs on the island, but if you can, you might want to bring some NZD with you. We had to pay for our accommodation and scuba diving in cash.
Since we knew about our trip to the Cook Islands way in advance, I was able to book accommodation early too. Accommodation in Rarotonga is not cheap and I suggest booking months in advance if you can. We stayed at one of the cheapest places I could find that got decent reviews: Aremango Guesthouse, which was $45 NZD per night per person, so it cost us $90 per night.
Good price relative to everywhere else
Cute outdoor area, including outdoor shower, couch, patio
Large, organized kitchen with all your cooking needs
Friendly and helpful staff
Common spaces are not very clean
Expensive price for the internet (but this is common on the island)
Unless you book a “special” (more expensive) room, you’ll have a shared bathroom
No air conditioning and some of the fans are extremely slow; it’s likely your room will get incredibly hot
Grocery store: we mostly ate food we purchased at the local, Muri beach grocery store (Tems), which is much pricier than the larger one in Avarua, but much more convenient (since we didn’t rent a car or bike).
Vili’s Burger Joint: This place was crowded and for a good reason – they have extremely reasonable prices and ridiculously delicious (and large) burgers.
Our advice: go before you get super hungry. The wait is very long – but worth it!
SilverSands: We went here for lunch on New Years Day since nothing else was open. The food and the ambiance were good; the service was a bit slow and the prices were a bit steep.
Night Market: every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at 5pm, there is a night market where they have various food stands. Here are some examples: fried calamari over salad for $15, mini pancakes for $6, kebabs from $4-10, etc.
We didn’t drink alcohol while in the Cook Islands (except on NYE) because it was insanely expensive. Plus, after our indulgent holidays, we decided it would be good to have a little breather. *pats self on back* If you want to enjoy some adult beverages, I’d suggest buying from the local store (as opposed to restaurants), or duty free when you arrive.
Rarotonga has all the classic “islandy” activities you’d expect. Here are some ideas for things to do on the island.
Scuba dive. We went with Pacific Divers and had a great experience. We were pleasantly surprised by their price: $99 for a two-tank dive including all equipment. Before arriving on this island, we hadn’t heard much about scuba diving in the Cook Islands, but after our dive, we’re not sure why! The diving is gorgeous with incredible visibility, vibrant coral, and tons of fish. The water is so warm, and they have no threat of jellyfish, that we didn’t need to wear wetsuits!
Snorkel. Scuba diving has sort of ruined snorkeling for us because whenever we go, we just wish we were diving instead. However, the area in front of Muri Beach was popular among snorkelers and had lots of fish to see.
Watersports. Rent a kayak or a SUP (stand up paddleboard). SUP-ing was incredibly popular near Muri Beach. With the calm and clear water, it’s an ideal place for this sport.
Hike. Full disclosure – we planned to hike on Rarotonga, but without a working fan in our room, we were too hot to even consider hiking. However, the hiking here is supposedly awesome. Check out “Area Attractions” section of the wikipedia page if you’d like some helpful info.
Buggy tour. We saw these buggies tooling down the road every afternoon, each passenger covered with dirt. If you want a little adventure during your trip and aren’t afraid to get muddy, check out the Raro buggy tour. Looks like a blast!
Waterfall. If you’re itching for another activity, check out the small waterfall on the island: Wigmore’s Waterfall, a.k.a. Papua Waterfall.
It’s really easy to walk everywhere in Muri beach. Staying at Aremango Guesthouse, we were close to everything we needed: the beach, restaurants, the grocery/convenience store, even a small shop where Pete bought a swim suit. If you’d like to explore more of Rarotonga (which we definitely would next time), you have some options. Keep in mind that you’ll drive on the left side of the road.
Scooters: we heard that renting a scooter is a fun activity and also a good means of getting around the island. However, you’ll need to pay $20 for a Cook Islands drivers license if you want to rent a moped/scooter.
Bus: You can see from the map above that there’s really one main road that encircles the island. For this reason, there are two bus routes on Rarotonga: clockwise and anti-clockwise. If you want to catch a bus, go out to the main road (on the side you want to go) and wave down the bus as it approaches; you don’t need to find a bus stop. The bus costs $5 a ride, but you can get a slight discount if you buy a card with many tickets at once.
Bikes: For a healthier means of transportation, rent a push-pedal bike. This would’ve been our preferred option had we gone to see the waterfall.
To/from the airport: Taxi transfers arranged with your hotel or hostel can be very expensive – ours charged $20/person. Considering the bus is $5 per ride per person, I think this is a much better option. The only downside is that you may have to wait a while for the bus to drive by.
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Have you been to the Cook Islands? Did we miss anything about Rarotonga?