Updated blog: Thinking of heading to the tropical Cook Islands?
Luxury. Relaxation. Tropical beaches.
Rarotonga has it all, and they're waiting for you.
(There are no affiliates in this post.)
The Little Polynesian Resort - jaw-dropping!
Where to stay on Rarotonga.
Rarotonga is a relaxed Pacific island where all budgets are catered for. From expensive 5 star resorts to more low-key accommodation.
We opted for a middle of the road Airbnb house. We could have self-catered and saved money, but the Cook Islands rely heavily on tourism. Now was not the time to save money, but to do our bit in supporting the local economy. But we loved having our own space.
The local currency is the NZ dollar, but they do have some different coins that gave me the thrill of working out foreign money!
The simply beautiful Muri lagoon, Nautilus Resort.
Our more humble abode...but with snorkelling straight off the beach!
My favourite spot!
Keeping yourself and the islands safe from covid.
Rarotonga is all set up and ready for tourists, with very clear and easy covid practices in place.
Coming from NZ we wore masks on the plane, of course. I'm a stickler for people to wear masks properly. The mask needs to cover your nose and mouth to be effective. This whole exposing your nose thing doesn't wash with me. When nursing Infectious patients I've worn them for hours on end, with glasses.
On arrival in Rarotonga keep your masks on until you leave the terminal. We were greeted with warm welcomes and hand sanitizer. We then entered the terminal to go through customs.
On the flight you complete a health card and customs card.
On arrival you can log into the airport WiFi and get 30 minutes free while you're queuing for customs. You can notify friends and family that you've arrived in paradise.
After clearing customs and collecting your bags, as you leave the airport you hand over your health card (this will have been checked at immigration).
Hygiene around all places is high and the Rarotongan's are taking this very seriously.
They recommend wearing masks on the buses, but we didn't see this much.
Stay healthy on Rarotonga
Protect yourself from mosquitoes by covering yourself up, wearing insect repellent, and keeping your insect screens closed at night.
Dengy fever is present at the moment and that's not something you want to take home with you.
Drink filtered water only. There are filtered water stations around the island where you can top up your water bottles. And you can drink boiled water. Just don't drink water from a tap.
Stay Sun Smart. The tropical rays are strong, so protect yourself from skin cancer and aging by covering up, wearing a wide brim hat and sunglasses, and protecting exposed skin with sunscreen.
I asked a friend who has a beauty salon, what is the absolute best anti-aging treatment out there? Her answer..."Sunscreen".
The locals recommend wearing aqua shoes in the lagoon to prevent coral cuts and infections.
Protect yourself from mozzies - especially at night.
What to do on Rarotonga.
Your choices are endless here. From fishing and diving, to snorkelling and kitesurfing, or swimming with the turtles. Or just relaxing in a hammock or a sun-lounger. The locals are super friendly and only too welcome to make recommendations of their favourite places to go or things to do.
Saturday morning markets in the main town of Avarua are a great spot to pick of local food and souvenirs.
The night markets in Muri Beach have a great selection of food. It's a popular place for tourists and locals. Just check with locals as to what nights the markets are open.
Tropical gardens Maire Nui on the south coast.
We walked through these gardens that are beautifully maintained. The cafe was closed when we were there, but there's a sign out front displayed when the cafe is open. An honesty box by the cafe asks for donations to the gardens, which I think is worth it.
Snorkelling. We stayed near the marine reserve opposite the Fruits of Rarotonga on the south of the island. We woke up each day and snorkelled straight out our door in crystal clear waters.
I try to minimize the use of sunscreen when snorkelling as it's harmful to the coral. There are coral safe sunscreens but I'd rather cover up and reduce the damage. So I wore a rash vest and exercise leggings.
The fish life was more abundant than on previous visits and there was no one else around.
Water sports and daytrips.
There are plenty of tour operators to see the turtles, go fishing, learn to kite surf and places to hire water sport equipment. Many of the resorts and accommodation providers have their own equipment available for use during your stay.
Guided walking tours up into the bush-clad hills are an active option. A good level of fitness and good walking shoes are needed for these walks.
You can't beat a book and a hammock on holiday.
Eating out in Rarotonga.
There are food options for all budgets here.
Meals at the resorts are on par with good restaurants in NZ, but the setting is unmatchable. And you don't need to be staying there to enjoy the ambience. You should book though.
You can't beat poolside dining, sitting over the beach and watching the aqua blue water, golden sand and a tropical island in the distance.
We literally ate our way around the island - boosting the local economy and our waistlines.
Antipodes up on the hill behind the golf course has a great view of the sunset. A local told us, "the food here makes the sunset look just OK." They weren't wrong - but you must reserve a table.
Big shout out to Charlie's Cafe south of Muri. Their prawn kebabs and raw fish was phenomenal. A relaxed beachside cafe, local musicians and super friendly staff and owners. We were staying nearby so this was our local.
There are just so many options of places to eat and drink. Just make sure you check if your choice of restaurant is open on the day you want to go.
For coffee lovers there are plenty of great coffee with breakfast options around. My favourite was The Little Polynesian Resort (they have an over 15 policy). Coffee and a view to die for.
Sushimi & salad at Charlie's Cafe.
There are small food shops around the island and a few larger supermarkets that stock most things that you'll need.
The fruit stalls around the island are also great for getting your fill of local tropical fruits.
Homemade smoothie with local bananas, star fruit, oranges & pawpaw!
Beauty treatments and massage on Rarotonga.
There are enough beauty and massage spots to keep you thoroughly pampered for your entire stay in Rarotonga if you wished!
Donna at Miri Miri Massage Wellness Center, just north of Muri Beach gives a great deep tissue massage. Our local friends recommended her, and if the locals say she's good, you know she will be.
Within the resorts there are plenty of spas to pamper yourself. I tried out the Nautilus Spa and it was gorgeous. Lots of lovely touches that made me feel extremely pampered.
Keeping in touch in Rarotonga.
It's pretty easy to log-off and zone-out on Rarotonga.
Phoning and texting. Check your phone plan before you fly to see if your phone plan covers The Cook Islands. If not, it's expensive to call.
Wifi is expensive here.
Check with your accommodation if Wifi is available as part of your booking. From what I could see, it was really only some of the resorts that offered it.
Wifi is not available in many places, and is not available in cafes like in other countries.
You can purchase Wifi and top up from many stores. Look for the red and white Vodafone sign.
The island also has Wifi Hotspots. But if you are outside of these zones you won't get any coverage.
Skyroam and similar devises don't work here.
Getting around Rarotonga.
The island is 32km around. Speed limits vary from 30 to 50km per hour. And they drive on the left here.
Cars, scooters and bikes are all available for rental.
If you rent a scooter you will need to get a motorcycle license unless you already have one at home. Your hirer will talk you through the process. It's done at the police station. Helmets on motorcycles are now compulsory.
There is a reliable bus service that operates hourly. There is a clock-wise bus and an anti-clckwise bus. On Sundays, only the clockwise service runs.
There are daily flights to the tropical paradise island of Aitutaki. We'd been there previously and it truly is heaven on earth.
Having your own wheels (car, scooter, or bike) certainly helps with sightseeing.
A wee note about working on holiday...
It's been a funny few years of working from home, and we've possibly developed some habits of just checking the email, just finishing a report, just answering that call.
But you owe yourself a break. You can't keep working at a busy pace. The body needs to relax and rejuvenate - that's what holidays are about.
You've waited over a year to have an overseas holiday. Don't transfer the WFH to WFB (beach).
But if you really have to work - do what digital nomads do -
- Set aside times of the day that are work times and relaxation times.
- Communicate with your partner, family or travel companions about what your commitments are and let them know how you can meet work and fun obligations.
- Check the forecast - it does rain in Rarotonga - so book in work time for rainy days.
- Suggest your non-working partner has some "me-time" - personally I find massages and health spas good for this!!!
My husband still needed to take calls and check the business while we were away, but these tips did help to keep us both happy.
How to pack light for a tropical holiday?
I've got a whole blog on what I packed last time I went to Rarotonga. And it was pretty much the same this time too. You can read it here. It goes into more of the why I packed certain stuff.
But here's the list I packed this time... (A) is what I wore on the flights.
- 1 merino tee shirt (A)
- 1 white tee
- 1 long sleeved merino tee (for snorkelling) (A)
- 1 pink shirt (used as a jacket in cooler evenings) (A)
- 3/4 merino leggings (for snorkelling) (A)
- 1 pair denim shorts
- 1 floaty cotton dress (I lived in this!)
- 1 silk dress and slip (for a 60th birthday and a dressy dinner out)
- 1 denim skirt (A)
- 1 sarong
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 scarf (A)
- 1 pair of socks (A)
- 3 underwear
- 1 pair of jandals (flip-flops)
- 1 pair of white sneakers (A)
- Toiletries, liquid bag and First Aid Kit
- Hair straighteners
- Coffee maker and coffee
- Microfibre cloth
- 2 x necklaces
- 1 hat
Everything got worn multiple times, and I was really thrilled with my travel capsule wardrobe.
I did hand washing three times in the ten days we were away. Things dried easily overnight.
It looks like a lot of stuff, but remember I wore some of it on the flight. I did not look like a Michellin- man! And my carry-on bag weighed 5.2kg (11.4lbs). Not bad, eh!
I can't wait to go back...again!
Rarotonga was just the treat I needed. It was so great to be out there exploring the world again.
You can check out the Rarotongan tourism website. It's worth it just to drool over the photos!
A very warm and overdue welcome awaits you.