The temptation of an island holiday is something that is hard to ignore. Just a short 3 hour flight from New Zealand you’ll find Rarotonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and many more affordable holiday spots. Our Flightie Akeera Dharmapala chose the tropical islands of Rarotonga for her winter holiday and shares with us her top things to see and do.
The ultimate place to escape for a relaxing holiday – Rarotonga has amazing weather, beautiful friendly people, and the traditional laid back culture where time just isn’t that important. I was so determined to relax that I turned off my cellphone, read no newspapers, watched no television, avoided the internet and and technology in general. Being that disconnected from the world was a liberating feeling and exactly what I needed. With nothing but the island to entertain, here’s how I kept busy….
Shopping & gifts
Rarotonga’s main market is located at the west end of Avarua at the waterfront. To best experience it be sure to arrive early morning on Saturday around 9am as it is the best time of the day to go when it’s not too hot. There’s a great buzz and atmosphere as most of the people on the island seem to be there.
For must buy gifts, fresh water pearls or black pearls are popular for loved ones but can be expensive. Rarotongan Drums make good gifts for the boys, while cultural handicrafts make a great all-round souvenir.
There’s plenty of special pampering treats available in the Cook Islands. Body massages and spa treatments can be arranged with many hotels. Try one on the last day of your stay to relax you for the flight home.
Entertainment and Bars
I’d highly recommend attending Island Night at the Staircase bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s a guaranteed fun-filled night with fantastic Cook Islands cultural dance entertainment. At NZ $35 per person Island Night was incredible value and included a variety of delicious Rarotongan samplers. Make sure you pre-book and phone to reconfirm a night in advance so you don’t miss out.
Other night spots to check out include Whatever! Bar & Grill, Trader Jacks, Café Hideaway Bar and Niteclub (a bar for a mature older crowd) and Rehab Nightclub (a popular club for the younger people).
For the party goers, there is a Friday night pub crawl organised by a Rarotongan guide. We took in eight pubs from 9pm until 2am closing time. A fantastic way to meet and hang out with the locals.
Churches and Religion
Another great way to meet the locals is by going to church on a Sunday. Although the service was mostly in Cook Island Maori it’s an experience we really enjoyed. After the service, we were offered finger food and drinks.
Rarotonga is jam packed with fantastic places to eat – from traditional cultural nights at many of the resorts and hotels, to steaks and grills at The Whatever!, to Stefano’s Italian Cuisine at Muri Beach.
If you’re eating on a budget, Super Brown is a good value for money takeaway shop. It has the best burgers, so tasty and fills the spot after a good night out partying. Open until 9pm, it’s great if you need food after regular restaurant dinner times.
Tour and Cruises
Captain Tama Cruises, at around NZ$75 per person, will take you out on a glass bottomed boat to a great snorkelling spot. This tour also visited a tiny island where we experienced a fish BBQ, learned about the importance of the coconut tree to Cook Island culture, and the many different ways to tie a sarong.
For Cook Islands culture Te Varanui Tour will give you an appreciation of the local culture and the people. This tour tells the story and history of the people of the land and their origins and way of life. What makes this show real is the storytelling and the reenactment of the tales of their ancestry.
Complete with invigorating island drumming and dancing, this tour includes a buffet of yummy food and cost us roughly $NZ$125 per person – buffet and show included.
There are several transport options to get around the island. We hired a convertible for a day from Island Car & Bike Hire which cost $NZ46. Catching the bus is also another way to get around. There are buses on the hour travelling in a clockwise direction around the island, and one at 25 minutes past on the hour going anti-clockwise. A Bus Pass ticket will get you 10 rides for NZ$24. When you book tours and activities they will usually send a shuttle van to pick you up.
Beach, water and the outdoors
A must do activity is snorkeling. Rarotonga’s waters are perfect for it and the fish are really friendly. You can also feed fish in knee deep water, which is great if you have the kids with you on holiday. Take goggles or snorkel and mask with you to really experience and see the tropical fish underwater.
Also try diving, kayaking, bike riding and swimming or hike in the mountains to see Wigmore’s Waterfall and to the Needle - the highest point on the island.
In the shallow waters of Rarotonga’s beaches are sea cucumbers – large black sea creatures. Squeeze them, and the eggs come out, it is considered a local delicacy and craved by the locals.
- Take a back pack, I know it’s touristy but it came in handy! Also baby wipes to help cope with heat and sweating, wipe your face and you feel refreshed instantly.
- Go for dinner before 8.30pm as places start closing then!
For lunch go before 2.30pm.
- Try not to miss the bus – especially on the weekends.
The next one is some time away!
- Everything is closed on Sundays, perfect for just relaxing by the pool!
- Black pearls – Exquisite black pearls can be purchased from Rarotonga’s souvenir outlets, but if you’re not worried about perfection you can save by searching through the loose pearls at the local stores. Of course you’ll still have the jewellers cost of the setting once you’re home.