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Rarotonga is by far the most populated of the Cook Islands and is the capital, located in the southern group of islands. Locally known just as Raro.
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Points of Interest in Rarotonga
- Rugby Union is the primary sport here, as in New Zealand. Check out a game at the National Stadium, or one of the other rugby fields around the island.
- Maire Nui Gardens, is the botanical gardens of the island, around 3km clockwise from Muri, about 600m past the Fruits of Rarotonga. The gardens are nicely laid out, and contain many samples of much of the fruit and flora of the islands. Admission is $3. There is a cafe in the gardens, selling coffee ($4) and light homemade quiche and focaccia ($15-$20). Pineapple cheesecake is amazing ($9).
Popular events in Rarotonga in the near future
- The Dive Centre (The Big Fish), Aroa Beach, ☎ +682 20238. 8am-5pm. Padi 5 Star full service dive operation, direct in front of one of the best snorkel spots in Raroronga - The Aroa Marine Reserve.
They offer a wide range of courses from introductory courses up to Divemaster. Boat trips twice a day and also Lagoon dives. Onsite they have a well equiped retail shop and snorkel hire.
The diving in and around the reef is breathtaking. With warm tropical waters of around 27 degrees C in summer time, only a short 3mm wetsuit is required. If you are a certified diver, you can book a dive with one of many dive operators on the main island. A two tank boat dive will cost you about NZ$140 with all equipment provided.
There are wrecks (but well broken up)to explore, small cave systems and plenty of fish. In August you should be lucky enough to experience diving with whales that are passing by the island.
Black Rock located on the west coast of rarotonga Great for snorkelling
- Te Maire Maeva Nui (Cultural Festival of music and dance) Each year, performing artists from Rarotonga and the outer islands gather at the National Auditorium in Rarotonga to present tradtional dances, songs, chants, drum beats and costumes expressing the cultural theme chosen for that particular year.
- Vaka Eiva (Canoeing Festival) The Rarotonga Steinlarger Vaka Eiva has to be rated as one of the most fun outrigger canoe festivals in the world.
Snorkelling in Rarotonga is easy, and a great variety of tropical fish and corals can be seen snorkelling off the beaches in calm waters all around the island. Not all beaches are suitable - some rocky beaches are not so pleasant but head for the coral lagoons and sandy beaches.
Muri beach offers beautiful clear, shallow water - it remains shallow very far out so is ideal for beginners, and perhaps a bit better on the high tide. You can also book on a snorkeling cruise around this lagoon in a glass-bottomed boat, stopping off to snorkel by a small island, and a barbecue lunch and cultural show on the other side of the lagoon, however this doesn't really take you anywhere a competent swimmer with fins can't get to from the beach. Watch out for the currents between the island and the beach on the tide.
Snorkeling can be done at the Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve directly in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, you can access the lagoon either side of the resort. The Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve has been continously operating as a dedicated Marine Reserve in Rarotonga as well as being a natural breeding ground for several hundreds of species of tropical reef fish. The result is that you will be able to see hundreds of fish with metres of the white sand shores of Aroa Beach. There is no need to feed the fish! and please avoid standing on the corals. Snorkeling equipment, lessons and guided snorkeling tours (both night and day) are complimentary to guests of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa or are available at The Dive Centre just 200m up the road. Expect large schools of trevally, moray eels, butterfly fish, sea bream, wrasse and much more. Also expect to see octopi, clams, and eels.
Also try the beach in front of the Fruits of Rarotonga, which is where the first permanent marine reserve was established on Rarotonga.
In front of fruits of rarotonga the snorkeling is quite good, also try in front of The Dive centre - right next to the rarotongan.
Rarotonga boasts some of the best big game fishing in the Pacific. Catch marlin, tuna, wahoo and mahimahi. Try Akura Fishing Charters for the best boat and crew!
There are several inland walking tracks which can be followed for a pleasant few hours in the bush. The Needle & Cross-Island Walk crosses the island from Uruau Drive to Wigmore's Waterfall, and the Raemaru track goes up to Raemaru Peak (350m).
Rarotonga was formed by a giant, rocky volcano. Just a few thousand years ago, it collapsed into a beautiful, round island teeming with wildlife. There are lots of small peaks around the area and waterfalls hidden in mini-sanctuaries around the jungle. They are easy to tramp to and to bike to.
There are walks along streams providing opportunities for fresh water swimming.
The local guidebooks recommend a guide for the more difficult treks which cost around $60 which includes a lunch and transportation to and from the trail heads. For people who are experienced hikers this is not the case. The needle trail is marked with green markers. Guides are good for information on local flora and fauna. A guidebook is available at the Treasure Chest which has topographical maps along with information on flora and fauna.
The Sea wall is relatively close to the airport, you can stand on the sea wall and when the jets come in it's about ten feet above your head. Check the wind sock to see which direction the planes will land. The locals call this getting jet blasted. If getting jetblasted during landing is a bit too tame, head for the eastern end of the runway: Getting jetblasted during takeoff is much more exciting (and deafening if you live dangerously and forgo the reasonable precaution of earplugs).
Muri lagoon is a great place to windsurf, although the winds are never really that strong, great for beginners. You can rent them in the building right beside the sailing club.
Local produce tends to be seasonal. Mangoes grow wild, and are plentiful and cheap during summer. Avocados are also plentiful in summer/autumn. Outside of season, however, these fruits can be hard to come by. Passionfruit, guava and paw-paw and oranges are other seasonal fruits freshly available in season. Starfruit, pawpaw and coconuts tend to be plentiful year round, and these can be just as cheap at the village convenience stores as they can be in Avarua. Fresh reef fish is available daily near the harbour in Avarua, but not in the supermarket. Taro, kumura (sweet potato), and breadfruit are also grown locally, and make delicious island fries. Island spinach known as Bele is popular, as are the leaves of the Taro, and which are commonly available.
There is an Island Night on every night at one of the resorts. Ask at tourist information for the roster for the resorts.
There a selection of some 30+ restaurants and cafes on the island to choose from. Making a booking can be a good idea, if you want to be sure not to end up hungry. Pacific Rim, Italian, pizza, Mexican, are all options, or try the seafood platter at the Sailing Club on the lagoon at Muri, with reef fish, octopus, and rukau (taro leaves). The resorts and some of the other accommodation all have a choice of restaurants.
Expect to pay around $18-$25 at a restaurant for a main course. Burgers at Fruits of Rarotonga cost $6. There are takeaway hot meals in Avarua for $7. Espresso coffee is available widely, expect to pay $4, look for some blends of Atiu coffee to try the local produce or coffee from the "Cook Islands Coffee Company", imported beans locally roasted .
The island has major problems with waste management, so please consider using the available refilling facilities for water and beer. Drinking coconuts also produces no waste.
Vaima drinking water is localy produced. It is available in many supermarkets and can be refilled on the backroad in Avarua.
There are 2 microbreweries on the island, so before you buy imported beer and produce even more waste on the island it's a good idea to try the local beer which you both can refill:
- Matutu Brewery, Tikioki, Titikaveka (100m anti-clockwise from Fruits of Rarotonga, 10 minutes walk from Muri), ☎ +682 26288. 9AM - 4PM. Matutu Brewery a 100% locally owned micro-brewery in the Cook Islands. The microbrewery produces Mai Lager, Kiva Pale Ale & Matutu Draught. Sales at the door, or they will fill containers. The beer is available in most restaurants to try and can be purchased at Foodland, Super Brown and Oasis supermarkets.
- Cook Islands Brewery (just behind the Budget car hire in Avarua). They offer an informal tour of the brewery (and taste of the beers on draught); look for the sign on the main road. They brew a lager, blonde, and darkie. You can buy and refill containers.
Imported alcohol can be purchased in the supermarkets and convenience stores until 9pm - but not on a Sunday.
There are ANZ and Westpac ATM's scattered at regular intervals along the villages of the main road. All the supermarkets accept credit cards for supplies purchased above NZ$20 minimum. Currency exchange is available at the ANZ, Westpac banks and Western Union in Avarua, and the fees for exchange are around $8 per transaction.
Due to import of supplies, non-local foods and groceries are expensive, therefore it is worth the trip into Avarua to shop at the large grocery outlets. Expect the range available to be limited to service the small island population.
Black pearls are local produce, and there are several shops selling these in Avarua and other villages.
The resorts at the Rarotongan and Pacific have their own resort shops, as do some of the smaller accommodation providers.
Every saturday there is a growers market in Avarua, called Punanga Nui, where you can listen to live music buy music, local fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, souvenirs and cooked food platters. It ends at noon, make sure you get there before then. There is also a variety of food stalls at the market.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Rarotonga on Wikivoyage.