It's incredibly tempting to spend your entire Rarotonga trip lazing on the sand – but you'd be missing out, says Brett Atkinson. Rouse yourself from the beachtowel and check out one of these great guided tours.
Explore Muri Lagoon
Discovering Rarotonga's most stunning lagoon with either Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruizes or Koka Lagoon Cruises is an essential Cook Islands experience. Both super-friendly outfits depart from the beach at Muri to meander in a leisurely route around the improbably scenic lagoon. Get up and close and personal with the local marine life either by viewing from a glass-bottom boat or snorkelling in the warm waters. Both crews double as ukulele maestros and stand-up comedians, so look forward to lots of laughs from energetic characters like Captain Awesome. Highlights include a fish barbecue on a deserted motu (islet), and learning the essential 21st-century skill of how to climb a coconut tree.
Traverse Rarotonga by jeep
Expect more irresistible Raro humour on a rollicking 4WD expedition with the crew from Raro Safari Tours. Clamber in the back of one of their jeeps and travel around the island, all the while being entertained with information, advice, and plenty of laughs from the wisecracking drivers. Highlights of the half-day adventure include journeying off-road into the rugged and forested interior, and stopping at Arai-Te-Tonga marae, the island's spiritual hub and legendary meeting place for the great chiefs of pre-missionary Rarotonga. Raro Safari Tours have a stall at the excellent Punanga Nui market on Saturday mornings, but if you hear a laughter-packed jeep drive up, they've probably just found you.
Negotiate Rarotonga on two wheels
Join a tour with Storytellers Eco-Cycle Adventures to offset the impact of must-eat treats like the cinnamon doughnuts from Muri's LBV cafe. Experienced local guides lead small groups around the island's byways and backroads, armed with quintessential Raro warmth and humour, and plenty of information on the history, environment and culture of the Cook Islands. All three tours end with a well-earned lagoon-side lunch and a swim, and there's even the opportunity to cycle through the spookily forlorn buildings of the abandoned Sheraton resort site. Options range from the Discover tour – around 8 to 12km on easy roads – to the Excite tour, a 20km adventure taking in streams and forest switchbacks for fitter and more experienced riders.
Drive yourself to island distraction
Join a convoy of bright yellow off-road vehicles with Raro Buggy Tours. A cross between a go kart and a beach buggy, the compact open-sided cars take two-passengers, but the best place to be is definitely in the driver's seat. Tours initially stick to the island's coastal road, allowing drivers to become comfortable with the steering and gears, before heading inland for more rocking and rolling exploration of Rarotonga's interior. Most exciting are the off-road sections and the opportunity to gun the hardy open-sided vehicles through riverbeds, fords and the occasional tropical island puddle. Look forward to remote waterfalls, the spectacular surf breaks near Avana lagoon, and the best fish sandwich you'll ever eat at The Mooring Fish Cafe.
Discover Rarotonga's reef
Rarotonga's other yellow-hued attraction is the Raro Reef Sub, a semi-submersible craft that journeys from the sleepy harbour at Avarua to explore the undersea world of the reef encircling the island. Topped with a thatched shelter, the open-sided upper deck offers excellent views of the spectacular and jagged profile of Rarotonga's mountains, while the lower observation deck allows underwater viewing. Regular piscine attractions include patrolling 'GTs' – 'Giant Trevally' to those in the know – and the interesting century-old shipwreck of the RMS Matai. Turtles, sharks and puffer fish are often sighted, and departures from around July to October sometimes see migrating humpback whales.