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Rarotonga is the largest of the 15 islands which make up the Cook Islands. The population of Rarotonga is around 9,000. The island is one of the most beautiful in the South Pacific making it popular with around 90,000 visitors each year. The volcanic peaks and white sandy beaches with overhanging palm trees, inside a coral reef make Rarotonga a paradise island.
Rarotonga is in the southern island group of the Cook Islands, with only Mangaia being further south. Just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, Rarotonga is at 160 degrees west.
The volcanic island stands over 4,500 metres above the ocean floor. It is 32 kilometres in circumference and has an area of 67.19 km2. At a depth of 4,000 metres the volcano is nearly 50 kilometres in diameter. Te Manga, at 658 metres above sea level, is the highest peak on the island.
The island is surrounded by a lagoon, which often extends more than a hundred metres to the reef, then slopes 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 metres of the shore and within the fringing coral reef. From north to south, the islets are:
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 native birds and plants, especially the endangered kakerori, the Rarotonga flycatcher.
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One of the most popular events of the year, the Cook Islands dance-off is held annually at the National Auditorium of Rarotonga sometime in April or May. Bringing together some of the best dancers from across the land, the competition is divided by age group, from juniors to intermediates, seniors, and the “golden ladies.”
The Tiare Festival is an annual flower show held in Rarotonga in October. Among the highlights are the Miss Tiare Pageant and the Young Warrior Contest.
Vaka Eiva or the Canoeing Festival is held during mid-November. The annual event hosts races around Rarotonga and attracts more than 850 competitors, divided into 100 teams. The winners receive the prestigious Pacific Cup.
Rarotonga has a tropical climate, meaning warm and humid weather year round but with constant sea breezes bringing some relief on the hotter summer days. November to April are summermonths when it is around 28 °C during the day. Temperatures at night are usually just 5 °C cooler or so. These months also have the most rain, with some tropical downpours during the afternoon, followed by sunshine again. Sometimes, several rainy days are possible. This is also the time that hurricanes are a possibility, although these don't strike every year of course. Wintermonths are cooler (around 25 °C during the day) but also drier and sunnier.
Rarotonga International Airport (RAR) is 3 kilometres west of Avarua. There are only a few airlines flying to the Cook Islands and their routes are subject to change.
There are no regular ferries to and from Rarotonga. The only option is to take a cruise which stops at the island. Unless you have your own yacht of course or have passage on one.
Rarotonga is a small island with a single airport.
There are no trains on Rarotonga.
The most popular way to travel around the island is by motor scooter. These, along with cars, can be hired from a variety of local companies across the island. To drive legally on Rarotonga, it is necessary to hold a Cook Islands driving licence. These are issued at the police station in Avarua at a cost of NZ$20. Be aware that the licence covers you from the date of issue up to your next birthday.
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.
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 obstacles on the roads that keep driving interesting. The speed limit is 50km/h, with 30km/h in some towns. Allowing 30 minutes should really get you to the fartherest point on the island, provided you start off in the right direction.
The main road is called Ara Tapu. The inner road, Ara Metua, links side roads between the inner and outer roads and have more recently been given names. 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.
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.
There are two public bus routes that travel around the island. One goes clockwise, the other travels anti-clockwise. Tickets are $4.00 wherever you want to go and $7.00 for a round trip. If you expect to use the bus on a regular basis, ask the driver for an extended ticket, which will be better value than single trips. The buses originate and terminate in Avarua and you can flag one down everywhere along the road or get our everywhere as well. Buses don't run on Sunday and only half a day on Saturdays.
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 (and scooters) 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.
The villages tend to be around 15-20 minutes walk from each other. Most places on the island are within walking distance to a beach, an ATM or small convenience store. There aren't many footpaths outside of Avarua & Arorangi, 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.
There are several fishing boats which offer trips around the island.
Rarotonga boasts plenty of places to eat. There are restaurants scattered around the island. These are often small family run operations offering a range of locally produced food. Each main resort has a restaurant and non-residents are welcome. Prices vary, with the smaller family restaurants being very inexpensive, with some resorts being quite costly.
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.
Matutu Brewery is based on Rarotonga and produces local beers. There is a choice of bottled or draft lager and pale ale. These are available in all of the island bars and many shops. Other drinks are imported from New Zealand or Australia. Sunday is a day of rest in the Cook Islands and all bars close at midnight on Saturday. A few places do serve alcohol on Sunday, but the majority only offer soft drinks. Locally fruit is grown in abundance and a fruit smoothie is an ideal alternative to something stronger.
Vaima drinking water is locally produced. It is available in many supermarkets and can be refilled on the backroad in Avarua.
On Rarotonga you are spoiled for choice with accommodation. Shared hostel accommodation is very cheap and is a great way to meet fellow travellers. Family owned beach bungalows are both popular and numerous. Most of these are self-catering and some have a small restaurant nearby. At the top end of the market are the resorts, catering for all meals and have comfortable but sometimes quite basic rooms. Camping is not permitted on the island.
|Aremango Guesthouse||P.O Box 3115, Avarua Muri Lagoon Beach,||Guesthouse||75|
|Atupa Orchid Bungalows||Avarua, Rarotonga P.O. Box 64||Guesthouse||61|
|Backpackers International||P O Box 878 Avarua||Hostel||78|
|Tiare Village||PO Box 719 Atupa Rarotonga||Hostel||71|
|Vara's Beach House||PO Box 434 Muri Beach||Hostel||-|
|Raro Beach Bach||Vaimaanga Turoa Beach||Hotel||-|
|Vaimaanga Views Studio||Vaimaanga||APARTMENT||-|
|Rarotonga Vacation Villas||Kiikii, Tupapa Avarua (P.O. Box 629)||Guesthouse||-|
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Rarotonga searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Rarotonga and areas nearby.
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