Rarotonga: Wikis


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Rarotonga Island from space, September 1994.
Location Central-Southern Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 21°14′S 159°47′W / 21.233°S 159.783°W / -21.233; -159.783
Archipelago Cook Islands
Major islands Mo tutapu
  • Oneroa
  • Koromiri
  • Taakoka
Area 67.19 km²
Demonym Rarotongan
Population 14.153
View of a Rarotongan beach.
Typical scene along the Ara Tapu (main road) on Rarotonga.
Rarotonga's highest peak, Te Manga, as seen from the south coast.
A Rarotonga beach, Avaavaroa
The Ara Tapu (main road) near Tikioki Beach, Rarotonga.
Looking towards the mountains from Muri Beach area.

Rarotonga is the most populous island in a group of islands known as the Cook Islands, with a population of 14,153 (census 2006).

Cook Islands' Parliament buildings, as well as the international airport, are located on Rarotonga. Because it is the most populous island, Cook Islanders may be referred to as Rarotongan, but they may in fact come from one of the other 15 islands in the group, such as Aitutaki or Mangaia. Rarotonga is also a very popular tourist destination with many resorts, hotels and motels. The chief town, Avarua, on the north coast, is also the capital of the Cook Islands.



The island of Rarotonga stands over 14,750 feet (4,500 meters) above the ocean floor. The island is 20 miles (32 km) in circumference and has an area of 26 square miles (67.19 km²). At a depth of 13,000 ft (4,000 m), the volcano is nearly 31 miles (50 km) in diameter. Te Manga, at 2,140 ft (658 m) above sea level, is the highest peak on the island.

The island is surrounded by a lagoon, which often extends more than a hundred yards (meters) to the reef, then sloping steeply to deep water. The reef fronts the shore to the north of the island, making the lagoon there unsuitable for swimming and water sports, but to the south east, particularly around Muri, the lagoon is at its widest and deepest. This part of the island is the most popular with tourists for swimming, snorkelling and boating. Agricultural terraces, flats, and swamps surround the central mountain area.

Along the southeast coast, off Muri Beach are four small coral islets within a few hundred meters of the shore, within the fringing coral reef, listed from north to south with their areas in hectares:[1]

  1. Mo tutapu 11.0
  2. Oneroa 10.6
  3. Koromiri 3.0
  4. Taakoka 1.7

The interior of the island is dominated by eroded volcanic peaks cloaked in dense vegetation. Paved and unpaved roads allow access to valleys but the interior of the island remains largely unpopulated due to forbidding terrain and lack of infrastructure.

A large tract of land has been set aside in the south east as the Takitumu Conservation Area to protect the islands' native birds and plants, especially the endangered Kakerori, the Rarotonga Flycatcher.


On May 30, 1965, five sounding rockets were launched from Rarotonga for studying a solar eclipse.[2]


Rarotonga is divided into five districts. Avarua constitutes the large north district.

Places of interest

Palm-studded white sandy beaches fringe most of the island, and there is a popular cross-island walk that connects Avatiu valley with the south side of the island. This walk passes Te Rua Manga, the prominent needle-shaped rock visible from the air and some coastal areas. Hikes can also be taken to Raemaru, or flat-top mountain. Other stops should include Wigmore Falls and the ancient marae, Arai te Tonga.

Popular island activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, bike riding, horse back riding, hiking, deep-sea fishing, boat tours, scenic flights, restaurants, dancing, island shows, squash, tennis, zipping around on mopeds, and sleeping on the beach. There are also many churches open for service on Sunday, and the beautiful a capella singing alone makes them a must. The pace of life is so relaxed at night people congregate at the sea wall which skirts the end of the runway and watch the jets land.


There are three harbours, Avatiu, Avarua and Avana of which only Avatiu harbour is of any commercial significance. Avatiu harbour serves a small fleet of inter-islands and fishing vessels and cargo ships regularly call from New Zealand. Large cruise ships have to anchor off shore.

Rarotonga is encircled by a main "ring" road that traces the coast. In places there is also a secondary ring road slightly further inland. Due to the mountainous interior, there is no road crossing the island. Rarotonga only has two bus routes: Clockwise & Anti-Clockwise.[3] Although they have bus stops, the bus drivers drive around picking up anyone they see and dropping them off when the passengers want them to.

Rarotonga International Airport is the main hub of inter-island transportation with daily flights to Aitutaki, regular flights to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro and occasional flights to the remote Northern Atolls of Manihiki, Tongareva (Penrhyn) and Pukapuka all operated by the local Airline Air Rarotonga.

In the media

  • The travel writer Robert Dean Frisbie died on the island, after having lived there only briefly.
  • The 1995 album Finn by The Finn Brothers ends with the song "Kiss the Road of Rarotonga", which was inspired by a motorcycle accident that Tim Finn had during a visit there.
  • The U.S. television series Survivor: Cook Islands was filmed on Aitutaki, one of the islands in the southern group. One of the tribes was called Rarotonga (or Raro for short).
  • Two feature-length films are set in Rarotonga: The Other Side of Heaven, and Johnny Lingo.
  • In the 2008 film Nim's Island, Rarotonga is portrayed as a waypoint for fictional adventure writer Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) on her journey from San Francisco to a South Pacific island located at 20°S 162°W / 20°S 162°W / -20; -162.

Nagisa Oshima's 1983 film 'Merry Christmas Mr Lawarence' was partly filmed in Rarotaronga.


External links

Coordinates: 21°14′S 159°47′W / 21.233°S 159.783°W / -21.233; -159.783

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Avarua harbour
Avarua harbour

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, pronounce it as if the start of the word rhymes with far.

Get in

By plane

Rarotonga International Airport (IATA: RAR) is the main gateway to the Cook Islands. There are daily services to Auckland. The international airlines at present are:

The Pacific Blue flights arrive and depart at midnight, and the early hours of the morning. The Air NZ flights have a more civilised arrival and departure time, but depart too early and arrive too late for connections to Australia.

Air New Zealand has code share arrangements with all other Star Alliance members including United Airlines and Rarotonga is a popular stopover on round-the-world flights.

There is an Westpac ATM at arrivals after you pass through immigration and customs. There is a duty free store open to meet all incoming international flights. There is a cafe open in the departures area for departing flights, but don't expect to be able to get anything to eat or drink if arriving on one of the late night flights.

Get around

Rarotonga is made up of several villages around the coastal fringe of the island. Avarua is the main village on the northern side of the island and has most of the population and services. People tend to refer to it as the town. Muri on the eastern side is probably the main tourist centre, with apartments and the Pacific Resort scattered around the lagoon. Aroa is on the western side is a protected lagoon and beach, and home to the Rarotongan. The airport is close to Avarua, about 2km anti-clockwise.

Rarotonga's main island is encircled by a 32km two-lane (one each way) bitumen road that is in good condition. There is also an inner road that is paved, but narrow, and doesn't quite go around the entire island due to property owners.

If you head off on any of the unsealed roads that start off heading inland, expect them to quickly peter out to narrow unsealed roads, with stream crossings often more suited to quad bikes.

The main road doesn't have a name. The inner road, and the link roads between the inner and outer roads are named. Addresses with just the village name in the address can be assumed to be on the main road, or not far from it. The local free maps available at the airport and tourist information are quite detailed, and list the villages, and most places of visitor interest.

By car

To drive a car you need a Cook Islands driver’s license, which can be purchased from the police station in Avarua for $20 upon presentation of your drivers licence. Rental car companies can issue a temporary licence that is valid until noon the following day, but they usually charge $2 for this. If you are in a group of drivers, the rental car companies can issue a temporary licence to each driver, each valid until noon the day following issue. This may work for you, and save you a trip to the police station if you are only hiring a car for a day or two. You will get a nice plastic photo licence valid for one year. If you happen to be travelling to Aitutaki licences can be obtained at the police station there quicker and cheaper than in Avarua.

Expect a remarkable number of chickens to cross the road. It is hard to understand why they do this, but they do. Dogs, walkers, children, and coconuts provide other hazards on the roads that keep driving interesting, and keep your speed down.

The speed limit is 50km/h, with 40km/h in Avarua, and even this speed seems fast and often unattainable. Allowing 30 minutes should really get you anywhere you want to go on the island, provided you start off in the right direction.

There are a number of rental car choices around the island. Island rental, Budget, Avis all operate from multiple locations. Expect to pay around $50-$60 per day for a small car. $15-$20 extra to pick up or drop from the airport. The opening hours, like everything else on Rarotonga can be limited. Expect many to open around 10AM, and close again before 3PM on weekdays, expect some to be open for very limited times on Sundays, if at all.

By motor scooter

If you want a motor scooter licence be prepared to do a short test, where an officer will follow you around a short circuit to make sure you know what you are doing. The police station is open from 8AM until 12PM, is closed for lunch between 12PM and 1PM, then opens again at 1PM and closes for the day at 3PM. The drivers license office stops administering the tests at 2:30PM, or perhaps before then if they feel like it. It is best to arrive in the morning or as close to 1PM as possible to ensure that you can get your license. Pay $20 for the licence, and $15 for the test. Expect to pay around $20 per day for scooter hire.

It is compulsory to wear helmets by law, but the requirement is almost universally ignored by locals and visitors alike. Rental agencies say that helmets are only compulsory if you travel over 40km/h.

There are lots of motor scooter hire options. You will find a couple in most villages.

Digital watch owners, beware
Digital watch owners, beware

The bus circles the island clockwise and anti-clockwise every hour. It leaves town clockwise on the hour, and anti-clockwise at 25 minutes past the hour, and takes around 55 minutes for the trip. The locals all own scooters, so it is usually visitors using the bus service. The anti-clockwise buses break for lunch, and don't run Saturday afternoons, Sundays, early mornings or in the evenings. The sign on the front of the bus states its direction. If you're going to use it regularly, you can buy a day pass or a book of 10 tickets. Both buses don't run on Sunday evenings.

The bus has designated stops on the map, and there are a few bus shelters around, to wait in. However the bus will pick up and drop off almost anywhere on the round island route, although the drivers prefer spots where they can pull off the road to let traffic pass. Make sure you read the small print on your bus ticket: it says "please smile"!. Single trips are $4, return trips are $7, day pass is $16. All day family pass $26, for two adults and an unlimited amount of children in the one family (children are 15 and under).

The buses have buttons to request a stop, but these are just for show. Pressing them will probably see you doing another lap of the island. Simply stand up and tell the driver when you want to get off.

By bike

Bicycles are a very practical way of getting around. Road speeds are slow, and taking the inner road is also an option for cyclists. It is illegal for bicycles to travel two abreast, and you must ride single file at the left of the lane.

Bicycle hire is available widely, most rental places and resorts have them. Don't expect them to be very high in quality.

By foot

The villages each tend to be around 15-20 minutes walk from each other. Most places on the island are within walking distance of a beach, an ATM or small convenience store. There aren't many footpaths outside of Avarua, but traffic is slow and walking on the main road isn't a problem. Walking along the beach between villages is usually possible, especially at low tide.

  • 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).


Scuba Diving

The diving in and around the reef is breathtaking. With warm tropical waters of around 27 degrees C, only a short 2mm 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$120 with all equipment provided.

There are wrecks to explore, small cave systems and plenty of fish. In August you may be lucky enough to experience diving with whales that are passing by the island.


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 no 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 is the longest continously operating 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. Snorkeling equipment, lessons and guided snorkeling tours (both night and day) are complimentary to guests of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa and are available at a small charge to other visitors. Many of the fish here are used to being fed. Expect large schools of Trevally and even Butterfly Fish following you around expecting a feed. Also expect to see octopuses, clams, and eels.

Also try the beach in front of the Fruits of Rarotonga.

In front of fruits of rarotonga the snorkeling is quite good, also try in front of the dive centre.

Off the perimeter road, the terrain is rough
Off the perimeter road, the terrain is rough

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 used to be a giant, rocky volcano. Just a few hundred 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.

Jet Blast

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.


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.


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. Currency exchange is available at the ANZ and Westpac banks in Avarua, and the fees for exchange are around $8 per transaction.

Supplies such as food and groceries are expensive, and it is worth the trip into Avarua to shop at the large grocery outlets, but still expect the range available to be limited.

Black pearls are local produce, and there are several shops selling these in Avarua.

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 market in Avarua where you can listen to live music buy music, local fruits, vegetables, fish and souvenirs. It ends at noon, make sure you get there before then. There is also a variety of food stalls at the market.


Local produce tends to be seasonal. Mangos grow wild, and are plentiful and cheap during summer. Avocados are also plentiful in summer. 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 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 can become island fries. Island spinach are the leaves of the Taro, and are also 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. An alternative is the the cultural centre, which has shows twice a week.

There are a selection of around 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. 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 island spinach. 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 [4].

  • Matutu Brewery, Tikioki, Titikaveka, Rarotonga (100mtrs anti-clockwise from Fruits of Rarotonga, 10 minutes walk from Muri), +682 26288, [5]. 9AM - 4PM. Matutu Brewery is the only local 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, but not at the supermarkets.  edit

Alcohol can be purchased in the supermarkets and convenience stores - but not on a Sunday.


There are a few backpacker type places, many villas, from large complexes to one or two villas in a group. There is also resort style accommodation.

Consider where on the island you want to stay, and pick a location near a beach or lagoon if you are looking for the beach and snorkelling activities. The accommodation providers are used to people arriving and departing at odd hours, according to the flight schedules. Don't expect any discounts for arriving at accommodation at 2AM, and expect to pay extra to check in early or to get a late checkout. Resorts like the Rarotongan and the Pacific have their rates for early and late checkout by the hour on their website.

  • Backpackers International hostel. A family-run place with internet access (slow!), a bar, kitchen facilities and it's close to the beach. The hostel also offers pick-up service at the airport.
  • Edgewater Resort & Spa, PO Box 121, Avarua, Rarotonga, +682 254 35 (fax: +682 254 75), [6].  edit
  • Crown Beach Resort (Arorangi), +682 23953 (, fax: +682 23951), [7]. A boutique resort in Rarotonga.  edit
  • Pacific Resort Rarotonga (Muri Beach), +682 20427 (fax: +682 22427), [8]. 64 room waterfront resort right on Muri Beach with bar and restaurant. Cultural shows on Monday and Friday nights.  edit
  • The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa, Aroa Beach & Marine Reserve, (682)25800, [9]. checkin: 1400; checkout: 1000. The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa is located directly Aroa Beach & Marine Reserve, snorkelling direct from the beach. Daily resort activities, swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms, and a choice of buffet ($36), a-la-carte restaurants ($18-$27) and cafe ($5-$10). Bar and restaurants open to guests and casual diners. Family friendly with a kids club for young kids, and kids are welcome at the activities. Interconnecting rooms and two bedroom bungalows available.  edit
  • Vara's Accommodation, (About 15 minutes outside of town in the clockwise direction. Located on Muri beach.), 682 23156, [10]. checkin: Flexible; checkout: 10:00AM. Vara's has many different types of accommodations, ranging from the dorm rooms to the Grand View Lodge. Split between the hillside location, which is usually quieter and has a pool, and the beach there are quite a few beds available. The beach dorms look out over the lagoon to the east, and share the best beach on the island with the expensive resort hotels. Vara's beach location has a, perhaps well deserved, reputation for late night revelry and partying. If you are looking for quiet and solitude this is perhaps not the best location, but if you are looking to meet people and have a good time you will find that at Vara's. One of the best features of Vara's is that the Koka Shack is on premise. This business offers kayak and snorkeling gear rental, as well as spear fishing, deep sea fishing, guided hikes, BBQs, poker nights, betting days, and plenty of games. By organizing these events on premise you get to know many of the people staying with you. 20-120 NZD/night.  edit
  • Vai Villas, Vaimaanga, Titikaveka, Rarotonga (Opposite Wigmores Superstore), +682 23333, [11]. Vai Villas offers two spacious one bedroom Pacific Island style villas overlooking the magnificence of Titikaveka lagoon, a quiet and peaceful beach.  edit


Mobile phone towers are located at regular intervals around the island, and mobile reception is good. Roaming or picking up a prepaid SIM card are both options.

Payphones are available at the airport and in Avarua.

Wi-Fi hot spots are available in Avarua, in the resorts, some hotels, and some restaurants. T You are never more than a few minutes from one, but there is no free access. Internet terminals are located in Avarua, in the resorts, and at the airport. Expect to pay $2-$3 for ten minutes or so.

Get out

Rarotonga is the gateway to all the other islands in the group.

The uninhabited islands of Takutea and Suwarrow and also Palmerston can be visited with a research vessel stationed at Rarotonga

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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