Rarotonga is the capital and the hub of the Cook Islands. With so many things to see and do on, your Rarotonga vacation will not boring. You can fish and snorkel in the lagoon, dive in the deep ocean, see the marine life from a glass-bottomed boat or drive around the island on a scooter.
While being the largest island in the archipelago, Rarotonga is still pretty small.This elliptical island is ringed by the Are Tapu (Coastal Road) that is only 20 miles around. So everything is compact, easy to get to and there is never a rush to get anywhere.
But somehow, the actual distance is not important as the island feels spacious, especially when exploring the interior with it’s tangled jungles, high jagged mountains and beautiful lagoons.
You’ll arrive in Avarua, in the middle of the northern shore. It’s the commercial, governmental capital and social hub of the Cook Islands. This once quiet port has expanded to house many fine restaurants, pubs, art galleries, jewelry stores for pearls, as well as handicraft and clothing shops. If you want to meet all the locals, then show up at the Saturday morning Punanga Nui market in town. Everyone is out to sell something from fresh fruits and veggies from the back of a truck to crafts, sculptures and jewelry. A few other spots worth visiting in town are the National Cultural Centre, The National Museum and the all white coral, Cook Islands Christian Church.
You can get around Raro in a variety of ways. Most popular are the thousands of motor scooters zipping around the island. You can rent one, but you must get a Cook Islands drivers license and take a test at police headquarters. Car rental companies are plentiful in town but you’ll need an international driver’s license and driving is British rules. The island speed limit is 24 mph but if that’s too swift for you, then there is bus service around Raro from Cooks Corner in Avarua. In a totally civilized nod to it’s British history, the buses are signed either “Clockwise” or “Anti-Clockwise” depending on direction.
Avarua is also the base for many of the inner and cross-island explorations. Hiking to the Needle (Te Rua Manga) is the most popular, either up and back or as part of a cross-island trek. There are also a number of guided walks or jeep safaris around the island and the guides will fill you in on Cook Islands lore. Most scuba and sport fishing trips also depart from Avarua Harbor.
The entire western side of Raro is where you’ll find a heavy concentration of tourist hotels - Crown Beach Resort, Manuia Beach Hotel, Aro’a Beachside Inn, Lagoon Breeze Villas, Tamanu Beach Resort, and the adults-only Sanctuary Rarotonga on the Beach Resort. Two of the largest properties are the Rarotongan Beach Resort and the Edgewater Resort.
Dating from around 1,000 AD the Ara Metua (Ancient Road) runs inland and parallels the coastal road for parts of the island. It is definitely worth exploring, as you’ll see traditional life away from modern influences. You can also get a glimpse into pre-Christian era life at the Cook Islands Cultural Village at ‘Arorangi.
The south side of Raro is marked by long stretches of white sand beaches and the broad Aro’a Beach on the southwest side, is one of the best., Royale Takitumu Villas, Moana Sands and Reflections on Rarotonga are noted properties along the southern part of the island.
The east side of the island is highlighted by Muri Lagoon and Muri Beach, the most popular beach on the island. Hobie-cat sailboats and snorkeling gear are for rent to explore the four off-shore motus (islets). Muri Beach Club, The Pacific Resort and Te Vakaroa Villas are distinctive properties on this coast.
The fact that Rarotonga is relatively small, means you’re never far a good restaurant. Choices range from international fine dining to fresh fish and chips shops. Most of the restaurants are concentrated around Avarua but there are some noteworthy ones on both the southern (Yellow Hibiscus and Paw Paw Patch) and eastern sides of the island (Flame Tree, Sails and the Pacific Resort).