Rarotonga, the biggest and main island of the Cook Islands has a lot to offer tourist from spectacular watersports in the lagoon to treks high up into the rugged mountains in the center. A trip to Rarotonga can be as busy or as relaxing as you want it to be.
For those that like an action-packed trip there are plenty of things to do in Rarotonga to keep you busy for a few days or even a week. Here is our list of the best things to do in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
1. Pa’s Cross Island Trek
One of our favorite actives we did while in Rarotonga was to take the cross-island trek with Pa. As the name describes, this trek brings you across the island from the north side of Rarotonga up over jagged mountains and back down on the south side of Rarotonga.
The leader of the trek is a 77-year-old Rarotongan man named Pa who has been doing this tour for the past 34 years. Over the years he has trekked across Rarotonga over 5,000 times promoting ecotourism in the Cook Islands.
During our visit, Pa talked about slowing down and having his son do some of the treks, but last time we checked that hadn’t happened yet.
2. Raratonga Lagoon Cruise
Get out on a boat for the day and explore the lagoon. We spent the day out with Captain Tama’s out on their half-day Muri Lagoon cruise with a BBQ lunch for only $54.
Make sure to book online here in advance to get this price. Before stopping for our snorkeling spot we enjoyed watching the fish swim by in the glass-bottom boat. After a little snorkel, we made our way to an island for some fresh Tuna on the BBQ.
If a lagoon cruise isn’t your thing rent a kayak for the day and do your own little lagoon cruise. We stayed at Sea Change Villas and they had free kayaks for us to use and we did our own lagoon cruise every day. Just make sure to check when high tide is.
3. Rarotonga Scenic Plane Tour
One of the best views of Rarotonga is from above and the Rarotonga Scenic flight is super affordable. The flight lasts 30 minutes and only costs 129 NZD per person which is roughly $88 USD, with a maximum of 2 people.
Because it’s so reasonably priced it books out well in advance during high season, click here to book online. We’ve been on many scenic flights over the years and this is by far one of the cheapest scenic flights we’ve ever seen.
4. Visit the Wigmore Waterfall
Before making your way to Wigmore Waterfall make sure to apply a thick layer of mosquito spray, the mosquitos here are terrible. We visited the waterfall twice, the first time it was the ending spot of our cross-island trek with Pa and another time on our own. It’s pretty and a great place to cool off in some freshwater.
You can drive right up to the waterfall but you’ll have to pay $5 per car or $2 per moped, we aren’t exactly sure why you’re paying as it’s a public road. If you are heading to the dog shelter on the road tell them and you shouldn’t have to pay the fee.
5. Visit the Best Beaches in Rarotonga
Driving around Rarotonga you’ll be tempted to pull over all the time with all the gorgeous beaches. It’s hard to name the “best beach in Rarotonga” as every beach in Rarotonga is worth the stop. We spent most of our time swimming right in front of our villas at Sea Change Villas.
6. Snorkeling in Rarotonga
If your part fish like us make sure to head out snorkeling every day. We had great snorkeling right in front of our villa at Seachange Villas just time your day right with the tide. M
any hotels offer free snorkel equipment, even though we suggest traveling with your own a set like this only cost $12, click here to buy online. No one likes a leaky mask or fins too small or too big.
7. Island Night
Island night on Rarotonga is a must. There are several hotels and restaurants that host an island night complete with a show and a massive buffet. Every night of the week (except Sunday) there is an island night in Rarotonga happening at various locations.
The best island night is said to be the Highland Paradise Sunset Cultural Show & Feast that is every Wednesday and Friday. Here is the complete Rarotonga island night schedule:
- Monday: Muri Beach Club Hotel $59 adult
- Tuesday: Te Vara Cultural Centre and Edgewater Resort $99 adult
- Wednesday: Highland Paradise Sunset Feast and Show $99 adult, The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa $65 adult
- Thursday: Te Vara Nui Cultural Centre, Staircase Restaurant & Bar $99 adult, Muri Beach Club Hotel $59 adult
- Friday: Highland Paradise Sunset Feast and Show $99 adult, Staircase Restaurant and Bar $35 adult, Pacific Resort Rarotonga
- Saturday: Te Vara Nui Cultural Centre, Edgewater Resort $99 adult, The Rarotongan Beach, and Spa $65 adult
- Sunday: NO ISLAND NIGHTS
8. Drive Around the Entire Island
It will take about an hour to drive around the entire island of Rarotonga if you don’t stop. We made a whole day of it and stopped to check out all the different beaches in Rarotonga and visit some of the best restaurants in Rarotonga.
You know you’re halfway around the island when you are at Saltwater Cafe which is right by Seachange Villas, where we stayed and highly recommend.
9. Black Rock Beach
Black Rock Beach in Rarotonga is located just past the airport. It got its name from the unique black rocks that are located right off the beach. It’s also a great spot for sunset.
10. Diving in Rarotonga
There are several dive shops in Rarotonga to jump on a dive boat and go explore the underwater world. We sadly didn’t get to dive as we were scheduled three days in the row with Pacific Divers and they canceled on us every day the day of an hour before the dive…We wouldn’t suggest going with them as they messed up our schedules 3 days in a row even after they confirmed the dive the night before.
11. Try Ika Mata
You’ll more than likely have Ika Mata on your plate a few times when eating out at restaurants in the Cook Islands. Ika Mata is the Cook Islands raw fish salad that is often served on platters or for some an entire meal or appetizer.
In Rarotonga, the best Ika Mata we had was at the progressive dinner where one of the houses had fresh homemade Ika Mata for us. If you’re at Trader Jacks get an order as an appetizer to share with the table.
12. Go on a Brewery Tour
There are two breweries in Rarotonga where you can sample some local brews. Matutu Brewery advertises daily tours at 12 pm and 1 pm however when we went on a Sunday they were closed. Their tours are a good deal at $10 NZ which includes free beer samples.
If you happen to run into some rain in the Cook Islands this would be a good thing to do in Rarotonga. Rarotonga Brewery doesn’t have an official brewery tour but it’s worth stopping in and doing some sampling and getting a growler filled to bring back to your hotel.
13. Progressive Island Dinner
To get a look at life in Rarotonga and try some local food make sure to save a night for the progressive island dinner. Every Monday and Thursday a set of local families invite you into their home and to their dinner tables.
The tour picks you up at your hotel and you’ll visit three different homes, the first for appetizers with Ika Mata of course, the second for the main courses (there was a ton of food), and the third for dessert. Book progressive island dinner online for $67. You’ll leave the dinner stuffed!
14. Sunset at Wilson’s Bar
There are several great places to watch the sunset in Rarotonga but we think Wilson’s Bar is one of the best spots. Wilson’s Bar also has a good happy hour deal every day from 3 pm-6 pm. Grab a sundowner and watch the sun sink into the ocean.
15. Have dinner at the Muri Night Market
Check out all of the unique and local dishes served up fresh every night at the Muri Night Market located near Muri Beach on the east side of the island.
16. Watch the stars
On a clear night in Rarotonga, you can see millions of stars. If you are lucky enough to catch a night without too many clouds near a new moon you’ll see just about every star in the sky. The Cook Islands are far away from any major light pollution which makes it a great place to watch the stars.
Timing is important though, the moon can be a bigger source of light that inhibits you from seeing the stars than things here on earth. A new moon of a few days on either side of it are the best days to see lots of stars.
We spent a week in Rarotonga and we’re so glad we did. When initially planning our trip to the Cook Islands we didn’t think we wanted to spend more than a night or two on the island. So glad we decided to spend as there are so many things to do in Rarotonga we wouldn’t have been able to do half of them with only two days on the island.
If you only have one week in the Cook Islands we’d suggest splitting your time up between Aitutaki and Rarotonga, you won’ t be disappointed.
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