We fell absolutely head over heels in love with Rarotonga on our visit, with it’s wonderful smiling locals, laid back attitude and endlessly happy music. Before we had even finished our trip, we were already making plans about when we might be able to come back and spend more time living the ultimate island life and exploring this beautiful paradise.
Despite being a tiny island floating in the middle of the South Pacific, Rarotonga is absolutely packed to the brim with activities and experiences that are not to be missed on your visit. Here are 25 things to do in Rarotonga that will show you the very best of this little island and also make you feel like a local.
1. Koka Lagoon Cruises
Rated the number 1 tour in Rarotonga on TripAdvisor, this might just be the happiest tour we’ve ever been on! Take this 3.5 hour cruise around Muri Lagoon to snorkel in the most beautiful Marine Reserve, enjoy local music and a delicious BBQ lunch, and learn more about life on the islands. Tickets include return hotel transfers, use of snorkelling equipment, endless entertainment and lunch on a tiny island in the lagoon.
When: Tours run from Sunday to Friday at 10am.
Where: Muri Beach, Rarotonga
Admission: $79NZD per adult.
Find out more: kokalagooncruises.com || Ph: +(682) 55 769 or +(682) 22 769
2. Take a day trip to Aitutaki
Explore the Cook Island’s second most visited island – Aitutaki. Home to one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons, there’s beautiful azure water for as far as the eye can see.
Air Rarotonga’s day trip to Aitutaki shows you the very best of what this stunning island has to offer. Experience a land tour of the whole island, before jumping abroad the phenomenal Vaka Cruise and explore some of the remote islands around Aitutaki’s lagoon, including the famous One Foot Island.
When: Air Rarotonga offer the Aitutaki Day Tour from Monday to Saturday, departing at 8am and returning back to Rarotonga at around 5:30pm.
Where: Flights depart from Rarotonga International Airport, but return airport transfers are included in the price. The Air Rarotonga office at the airport is also open from 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 2pm Saturday.
Admission: $493NZD per person.
3. Visit the Rarotonga Brewery
We drink our own beer here! Take a free tour of Rarotonga’s brewery and try the local beer, Cook Island’s Lager, straight from the source. Cook Islands Lager is available in most bars and restauraunts around Rarotonga and Aitutaki, but there’s nothing better than trying it right where it’s made. Everyone here is so lovely, and if you grab one of their flagons you can get $14NZD refills while you’re in the Cook Islands!
When: The brewery is open from 10am until 6pm Monday to Saturday, with free tours at 11am and 12pm.
Where: The brewery is located across the road from Oasis, by the airport in Nikao.
Find out more: rarotongabrewery.com || Ph: +(682) 26 657
4. Get your Cook Islands motorbike licence and rent a scooter
Renting a motorbike or scooter on an island is always a fun and exciting way to explore, but Rarotonga take safety seriously. Unless you have a full motorbike licence from your home country (and it’s written in English), you will need to sit a theory and practical test at the local police station in order to rent a bike.
Where: You can get your motorbike licence from the Police Station Driving Licence Desk, at the Police Headquarters in Avarua.
When: The licencing desk is open from 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.
Price: It costs $40NZD to get your scooter licence in Rarotonga, $20NZD to sit the tests and then $20NZD for the issue of the licence.
5. Explore more of the island with Rarotonga Safari Tours
Explore more of Rarotonga with a mountain safari that takes you off the main roads and jungle bash through the middle of the island. These safari tours take you along the island’s back roads, up inland valley’s and steep mountain tracks to see more of the island and check out some incredible views.
When: There are morning and afternoon half-day tours available Monday to Friday, and one tour on Sunday’s that departs from 12 midday. All tours include return transfers from your hotel and go for about 3.5 hours.
Admission: $69NZD per person.
Find out more: rarosafaritours.com || Ph: +(682) 73 444
6. Visit the Punanga Nui Market
The biggest market in Rarotonga can be found right in the middle of town. While it’s technically open during the week, Saturday is definitely the biggest and best day to visit, with all of the stalls open and both locals and tourists flocking to check it out.
You can find just about everything at the Punanga Nui Market, fresh fruit, veggies and fish, local island food, live and recorded music, beautiful head ei’s, clothing, handicrafts, gifts and souvenirs, second-hand books, pastries, black pearls, literally just about everything!
When: The market is on every Saturday morning from 7am until 2pm.
Where: Located right on the waterfront of Avarua, in the main town.
Find out more: punanganui.com/ || Ph: +(682) 29 370
7. Catch the bus around the island
There are only two buses on Rarotonga, the clockwise and anti-clockwise bus. The drivers are lovely and friendly and the buses are clean and air-conditioned and a nice easy way to get around the island.
You won’t find many bus stops around the island, something that confused us for our first couple of days. Instead, you can just wave down the bus wherever you are and the bus will stop for you. Let the driver know where you’re going when you board, they’re normally pretty good at remembering where you want to go.
When: Both buses run from 7am to 11pm each day and take about an hour to circle the entire island, so generally the bus will be at the same place on the island every hour.
On Sunday however, there’s only the clockwise bus running, from 8am to 12pm and then 2pm to 4pm.
Admission: $5NZD for an adult one way ticket or $8NZD for a return trip.
Find out more: busaboutraro.com || Ph: +(682) 25 512
8. Experience Polynesian culture at Te Vara Nui Village
Spend the night at Te Vara Nui to experience the best of Polynesian culture with a delicious buffet dinner and a spectacular over water night show. Try local dishes, hear the story of the legend of Tongaiti and soak up this beautiful atmosphere making friends with other people from around the world. You can also take a 2 hour village tour before dinner to learn more about the Cook Islands history, navigation, local medicines, old fishing techniques, costumes, tapa making, carving, coconut husking, legends and more.
When: Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night. The village tour is from 5pm to 7pm, dinner starts at 7:30pm and the overwater show begins at 8:30pm.
Where: Te Vara Nui Village can be found in the main street of Muri.
Admission: $109NZD per adult for the dinner and night show. To combine the village tour as well, book the combo extravaganza package for $129NZD per person, which also includes return hotel transfers.
Find out more: tevaranui.co.ck || Ph: +(682) 24 006
9. Watch a hermit crab race
You would be surprised how big crab races are around Rarotonga. We saw signs for them everywhere, at our hotel, at bars and restaurants, and on most of the tours that we took.
Pick your hermit crab out of a bucket, place it in the middle of the circular ‘race track’ and cheer it on until it crosses the finish line!
10. Attend a church service
Cook Islanders are very traditional and religious people, and Sunday’s are for church. Head to one of the white coral and limestone churches that you see around the island and experience a service filled with songs of worship and community congregation.
Cook Islands tours offer a special return bus service for those wishing to attend the local Cook Islands Christian church service on Sunday, just $10NZD for a round trip. If you decide to observe a church service, please dress appropriately. Shirts and long pants for men, and longer skirts or pants and long sleeve tops for women.
11. Check out life under the sea and snorkel in the Marine Reserve
Rarotonga is surrounded by a beautiful reef, teeming with colourful fish, turtles, eels and al kinds of marine life. One of the best ways to explore the South Pacific is to check out life under the sea.
The ocean break, which you can see surrounding the island, protects the reef inside the lagoon from rough water and harsh conditions, making it the perfect conditions for snorkelling and exploring this underwater world.
Check out snorkelrarotonga.com to find out absolutely everything you need to know about snorkelling around Rarotonga, including the best spots, facts about the marine life and reef system, and a map of where you should and shouldn’t swim or snorkel.
12. Take a fishing charter
Head past the lagoon break to catch some of Rarotonga’s big game fish. Whether you want to go fishing for marlin, sailfish, tuna, wahoo or mahi-mahi, you can fish for anything you want to. There are half and full day tours available, either shared to private, that include snacks and refreshments, all safety equipment and the latest Shimano fishing gear.
When: Marlin Queen charters offer shared charters every day, departing at either 7am or 1pm. Get in contact with them directly to chat about private charters.
Where: The offices for Marlin Queen can be found on Avatiu Road, Avarua.
Admission: Charters start from $180NZD per person for a half day (5 hour) shared charter.
Find out more: marlinqueenrarotonga.com || Ph: +(682) 55 200 or +(682) 20 683
13. Visit Wigmore’s Waterfall
Located in the Takitumu District, just outside of Muri Beach, Wigmore’s Waterfall – previously named Papua Waterfall – offers a great place for a dip or a picnic. The falls are only flowing if it has been raining, so you can’t guarantee to see the waterfall itself, but the small waterhole and surrounding mountains are still a beautiful spot to check out.
February or March is the best time to visit, in the later stages of the wet season, you’re more likely to actually see some water flowing.
Where: Along the main road in the Takitumu District, a colourful street art covered box will let you know where to turn for the waterfall.
Admission: It costs $5NZD per car to head down to the waterfall, to help maintain the area.
14. Try the local dishes at the Night Food Market in Muri
Experience the very best of Rarotongan food at the Muri night food market. You can find all sorts of dishes and cuisines here, meat and rice combinations, skewers, pizzas, noodles, even Asian dishes. And like with any market, there’s always more desert options that you could ever need. Head to the Island Crepes Rarotonga tent for our favourite nutella and banana crepes.
There’s also nightly free entertainment at the market, with live local acts keeping you entertained while you eat. Acts change all the time, but live music or a DJ is usually present, with cultural shows and dances sometimes making an appearance too.
There are no credit card facilities at the night market, so make sure you grab out some cash before you head down. If you forget, there is an ATM next door for last minute withdrawals.
When: The night market is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 5pm until 8pm.
Where: Muri Beach Rarotonga
Find out more: murinightmarket.com || Ph: +(682) 52 241
15. Check out a few different happy hours
Most of the restaurants and bars around Rarotonga offer happy hour because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a cocktail! Bar hop across a few different hot spots around Raro to try some of the best local drinks and of course, get a great discount.
Not sure where to start? Head to Vaima On The Beach in Takitimu for a to die for margarita with the sand underneath your toes, my favourite on the island! Ph: +(682) 26 123.
16. Take a walk around Marie Nui Tropical Garden
Even an island as small as Rarotonga has it’s own tropical botanical garden. Explore the beautiful tropical plants and trees and enjoy the smell of tropical island life as soon as you walk through the gates. Stop for lunch at their Hidden Spirit cafe, which serves organic salads, olive bread and freshly made cakes and muffins each day.
When: Open from 9am to 5pm each day.
Where: Ara Tapu Road, Rarotonga
Admission: A $5NZD donation is requested per person at the entry, to help maintain the gardens.
17. Trek the cross-island hike and see The Needle
Te Rua Manga, also known as The Needle, is a tall rock formation that appears out of the mountains of Rarotonga. It’s visible from many different points around the island, but for the best of the rest of Rarotonga, the cross-island hike will take you right to it, and then across to the other side of the island.
The hike takes around 3 hours to complete and offers you some of the best views on the island. The track should also be completed from the north to the south, as many parts of the track are extremely difficult and it’s easy to get off track if you’re going the wrong way.
The local tourist office recommends that you join a guided tour, but it is possible to complete the walk by yourself. Make sure you follow the orange track markers carefully and leave your name and details in the book at the start of the hike.
Hot tips: Make sure you wear adequate shoes, take plenty of water and lots of sunscreen and bug spray.
Where: The road to the starting point is south of Avatiu Harbour. Continue along Avatiu Stream until you reach a sign announcing the beginning of the walk. The hike comes out on the other side of the island at Wigmore’s Waterfall.
18. Spend the day in the water
Whether it’s kite-boarding, stand-up paddle-boarding, fly kite flying, glass bottom kayaking, snorkelling or diving, there’s an endless amount of water sports to try when you’re in the Cook Islands.
Muri Beach is where you can find more water sports options than you could possibly fit into your holiday schedule, so why not start with something you’ve never tried before?
19. Take a sea scooter safari
Ariki Adventures offers sea scooter safaris, sharing with you more of the beautiful lagoons around Rarotonga and the incredible life under the sea. There are two different types of sea scooter safaris – the shipwreck safari takes you under the sea to check out the Masai shipwreck position just off the reef, and the turtle safari gets you up close and personal with some of the most loved animals in the ocean. On both safaris you’re sure to come across eagle rays, moray eels, giant trevally and beautiful tropical fish.
Where: You can book your sea scooter safaris at Ari’s Shack on Muri Beach.
Admission: Both safaris cost $110NZD per person.
Find out more: arikiadventures.rezdy.com || Ph: +(682) 27 955
20. Spend an afternoon or evening at Charlie’s Cafe and Bar
Fairy lights, live music, an open air breeze and the sounds of the ocean right next to you, what more could you ask for?! Charlie’s Cafe & Bar offers lunch and dinner during the week, with a great selection of meals and light snacks. Think communal tables, a chilled back vibe, and endlessly happy locals.
Happy hour is from 4pm to 6pm weekdays and live music is offered from 6:30pm until 8pm.
When: Open from 11am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 3pm Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
Where: Ara Tapu, Takitumu District Rarotonga
21. Get your very own head ei
Before we arrived in the Cook Islands, I kind of thought that maybe head ‘ei or flower crowns were just worn by visitors, you know, more of a tourist thing. So it was so lovely to see when we arrived just how much a part of the every day life of the locals these flower crowns really are.
You will spot locals everywhere wearing head ‘ei, some made of real flowers and some artificial flowers. In the Cook Islands ‘ei are used on many occasions, both in times of celebration and time of sorrow. They are a symbol of friendship, love and respect and can be worn day or night, on special occasions or even just as the perfect accessory to complete your outfit.
Lots of the local shops sell head ‘ei, but if you’re not sure where to start, I bought mine from Wigmore’s Superstore. I chose to buy an artificial one because I wanted to take it home with me as a souvenir. It was $30NZD and they come in all different colours and types of flowers.
22. Catch a movie at the local cinema
As we mentioned, we had an extremely late flight out of Rarotonga, it didn’t depart until about 3am, so we had many hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport. Driving through the main town in the afternoon on our last day we came across Empire Cinema, Rarotonga’s only movie theatre.
Check out their Facebook page to see what movies are playing each week.
When: The cinema only screens movies in the evening, open from 5:30pm – 11pm each night.
Where: Ara Tapu, Avarua District
Admission: From $11.2oNZD per adult, per movie.
Find out more: facebook.com/empirecinema/ || Ph: +(682) 23 189
23. Make friends with the local animals
All over the Cook Islands you can find pigs, chickens and goats. Keep an eye out for them when you’re driving, or give them a friendly pat when they come up to you looking for snacks.
24. Hit up the Islander Hotel
The Islander Hotel is the perfect place to wait for those super late night (or early morning) flights. Located right across the road from the airport and open 24 hours, there’s really no where else to go when you have a flight at 2:30am.
Home to the Hula Bar and the Tiki Bar (boasting the worlds best cocktails) and located right on the beach, the Islander Hotel offers something for everyone. There’s a huge swimming pool, big outdoor dining and lounge areas, and if you’re stuck for accommodation, there are also boutique hotel rooms here too if you’re stuck for somewhere to stay.
Serving food from 8am to 10pm and with an open bar until 11pm, the Islander Hotel is open when the whole island is closed. They also have a fabulous happy hour.
Where: Main Road, Panama Beachfront, Rarotonga
Find out more: islanderhotel.co.ck/ || Ph: +(682) 21 003
25. Relax on the beach
And last but not least, soak up some rays and enjoy that warm turquoise water and the beautiful beaches that surround Rarotonga.