For a small island – a leisurely coastal circumnavigation on a scooter or a convertible rental car takes about an hour – Rarotonga packs in plenty of places to eat. While you're deciding between another lazy afternoon of snorkelling or a more energetic mountain bike adventure, these are the dishes you need hunt down and tick off your Rarotonga foodie bucket list.
Fish sandwich at Charlie's Cafe & Beach Hire
Look for the big blue shipping container near the reef at Titikaveka beach and chow down on quite possibly the South Pacific's biggest fish sandwiches. Huge slabs of tuna or mahi mahi are crammed between loaves of focaccia, and tropical fruit muffins and generously poured fruit smoothies are also good reasons to linger. If you're keen to explore the nearby reef, the laid-back owners rent out kayaks, paddleboards and snorkelling gear.
Tuna sashimi at Tahiti Cafe
Owned by a friendly couple from Tahiti – the interior is crammed with Tahitian postcards and posters advertising Hinano beer – this rustic spot at the eastern end of Avarua town has a simple but standout menu showcasing super-fresh fish. Tahitian and Asian flavours are integrated with delicate slices of tuna, and the ika mata (raw fish marinated in coconut and lime) goes really well Tahiti Cafe's homemade lemonade or zingy juice from a nu (young coconut).
Octopus curry at Cafe Salsa
As well as serving good wood-fired pizza and NZ-style coffee, one of Cafe Salsa's signature dishes is their eke (octopus) curry. Grab a shaded outside table while you're in shopping in downtown Avarua, and partner the Thai-style red curry with a frosty Mai lager from Matutu, the Cook Islands' very own craft brewery. Indian influences also feature with a crunchy poppadom and refreshing mango and papaya salsas served as side dishes.
Doughnuts at LBV at Muri Beach
Welcome to the best bakery in the Cook Islands. LBV (Le Bon Vivant) also has a smaller branch in Avarua, but this bigger operation near Muri Lagoon is the best place to pair a robust espresso with superb doughnuts. Your biggest decision of the day could be choosing between a jam-filled delight or a cinnamon doughnut – this writer's favourite – but it's always comforting knowing you can return the following morning and do it all over again. If you do slightly over-indulge, kiteboarding or paddleboarding around Muri Lagoon is just a few sandy footsteps away.
Island food at the Punanga Nui Market
Crammed with handicrafts, souvenirs and some of Rarotonga's best food, Saturday morning's Punanga Nui Market is an essential Cook Islands' experience. Local dishes on offer often include rukau (steamed taro leaves) or poke (banana combined with arrowroot and coconut), and world-famous-in-Raro stalls include the Maoate family selling hot pork rolls with apple sauce, and freshly-made waffles with tropical fruit at The Waffle Shack. They're also open until around 2.30pm from Tuesday to Friday and serve great coffee.
Coconut and chocolate pie at the Muri Night Market, Rarotonga
Held four nights a week – on Sundays and from Tuesday to Thursday – the Muri Night Market is a smaller evening dining option for travellers staying around Rarotonga's southeast coast. A couple of stall holders whip up tasty seafood curries and pasta dishes, and an essential detour into dessert is a slice of coconut and chocolate pie. Serving sizes are massive – it's easily a dish that can be shared – but it's a true taste of the Pacific. The Muri Night Market often features buskers, and it's OK to bring along a bottle of wine or a few beers and settle into the tropical twilight.