Highland paradise is a cultural village based not on reproduction but actual archeological finds of a traditional village of Cook island Maori. Prior to the arrival of Europeans the CI maori lived in the mountains for protection against enemies, only coming down to the coast to farm and fish. Most of the villages are now abandoned and forgotten but a local family has painstakenly excavated this site and turned it into a cultural village. Bith day tours and a night tiem cultural show are offered.
Just a little past Muri Beach is the Te Vaka monument that commerates the voyage of 7 canoes (vaka) that settled New Zealand. There is also a monument to modern sailors who recreated the journey in 1992.
Given our location just one minutes walk from Aro'a beach, we took full advantage of some local advice and went to explore the beach at night. There is an amazing variety of wildlife to be seen with the help of a strong torch all along the beach and you won't have to go very far to spot some huge hermit crabs which are scattered all over the beach...watch your step.
Shine your light into the lagoon waters and you can even spot squid and octopus not o mention HUGE water snakes...makes you think twice about taking a dip the following day :)
You won't have to go far to sample the delightful Rarotongan sunsets. Stunning sunsets can be enjoyed from the northern, southern and of course the western shores of the lagoon. While the hills in the centre of the island would undoubtedly offer the best views of the sunset, trekking through this part of the island in the dark is definitely not recommended as the paths and trails are rough, sometimes slippy and it is very easy to get lost.
The best place we went to watch the sunset was at the Beachside Inn at Aro'a beach, located on the south-western corner of the island, where we enjoyed the sunset over a few cold beers purchased from the Shipwreck Bar. The beach was deserted and we could enjoy the sunset to ourselves at this great spot.
If you’r after a bit of secluded beachy bliss then you will love Turoa and Titikaveka Beaches. The sweeps of sandy beaches which stretch between Aroa and Muri beaches are less crowded than the aforementioned (although it’s a struggle to find any patch of overly crowded beach on Raro!)and offer a more peaceful atmosphere where you can be sure to find a prime spot of sand for yourself. There is a splattering of bungalow and guesthouse accommodation along these stretches of beach as well as a few upmarket hideaway resorts so you will only have to share the beaches with a handful of people (if any). You can reach the beaches using the island bus service but having your own transport gives you more flexibility and options to find a quiet spot for yourself. The walk between Turoa and Titikaveka Village is a pleasant stroll along the white sand beach but you will have to leave the beach at times to skirt around water inlets and private property but you can easily carry on along the beach after the short detours? In Titikaveka village you can buy snacks and drinks or lunch.
While undoubtedly commercialised and touristy, an Island night is nonetheless a great way of gaining an insight into traditional Cool Islander music, dance, food and custom. There are a variety of island nights to choose from varying from expensive dinner and show affairs to cheaper performances where you can just show up and pay a few dollars to just watch the performance. Most of the island nights involve a preshow dinner often cooked in an umu (traditional earth ‘oven’) followed by a frenetic dance, drum and music display. We went to an island night in Avarua at the Staircase Restaurant and Bar (without meal) and for $5 were treated to a fine performance where audience participation is wholly encouraged! although talking to some other people who had paid for the meal, we were glad we hadn’t come for the food which was reported as being pretty poor.
The island night at the Staircase is one of the most reasonably priced performances but there are a huge variety of options ranging from expensive formal affairs to relaxed cheaper alternatives.
Some of the other popular island nights in Rarotonga include the Rarotongan Resort, Pacific Resort, Te Vara Nui and Highland Paradise.
You haven’t truely experienced the Cook Islands until you’ve dived its crystal clear waters. Haven’t that many dives under my belt having just qualified in December 2009, but if my future dive experiences are anything like this, I’ll be happy.
We had a great days diving with the ‘Dive Rarotonga’ company who were friendly, professional and provided top quality gear and thorough safety procedures which as novice divers was comforting and assuring.
There are a variety of dive sites in Rarotonga and choosing your sites should depend on your experience and ability. There are challenging dive sites such as ‘Dead Man’s Gultch’ and other passage and wall dives which should only be attempted by advanced divers but there are other dives suitable for open water beginner dives. We chose ‘Dive Rarotonga’ because we felt so comfortable with Ed, Karen and Henry and they advised us on the best and safest dive options for us while still bringing us to spectacular sites. We dived the Coral Gardens and the Mataora Wreck and weren’t left wanting for variety of fish and cora with sightings of reef sharks, turtles, lion fish, moray eels, trumpet fish, angel fish and a curious and unusually friendly trigger fish who followed us around for the entire dive!
As the only mountainous island in the Cook Islands, Rarotonga offers the best hiking opportunities in the island chain. The interior of Rarotonga is mountainous and covered in lush tropical jungle which makes for a challenging hike. It is not an easy hike but shouldn’t cause too much trouble to experienced hikers although after heavy rainfall the trail can be very slippy and muddy. Mosquitoes can also be a nuisance. The trail cuts straight through the centre of the island from north to south and passes Te Rua Manga rock formation (more commonly known as ‘The Needle’). You can do the trail in the opposite direction but is easier and better signposted from the north. Beware that the trail is not well marked and it is easy to get disorientated especially in wet weather. The hike should take between 3 and 4 hours and you can enjoy a refreshing dip in Papua Waterfall at the end of the hike.
On the south-western corner of Rarotonga is Aro’a Beach which became our favourite hangout spot on Rarotonga. The beach isn’t as crowded or as developed as Muri Beach and while still pretty popular you will normally be able to have a stretch of beach to yourself. The water of the lagoon here is glorious and filled with shoals of curious fish. Snorkelling here is much better than at Muri and the water is clearer.
Aro’a beach stretches around the south west corner of the island and the most popular part of Aro’a Beach is near the Rarotongan Beach Resort. This beach is not overcrowded but it is popular so if you want peace and quiet you can move further north along the beach which although narrower than at the Rarotongan Beach Resort section of beach, it is more peaceful and tranquil. The sunsets here are spectacular!
Muri Beach is located on the eastern side of Rarotonga and is the island’s most popular and beautiful beach. While you will find more secluded stretches of sandy beach around the island, Muri is still worth visiting due to its impressive location. The beach is situated at the stunning Muri lagoon and there are several small motus (islands) sitting within the lagoon’s turquoise waters. The water of the lagoon is very shallow and you actually swim out to the motus or rent a kayak to paddle to and around these sandy islands. To the north is a marshy area which is home to a variety of wildlife.
There are several resorts located along the beach and also plenty of places to get a bite to eat which makes it a great place for families as all your food, accommodation and other needs are catered to nearby. A lot of package holiday tourists base themselves at Muri Beach and accommodation can be more expensive than other parts of the island. However no matter where you stay on Rarotonga, you can easily reach Muri Beach either through your rented transportation or using the island public bus which passes very close to Muri Beach on its round trip of the island’s main road.
Located on the northern coast of Rarotonga Island, Avarua is the capital of the Cook Islands and seat of the Islands’ parliament. It is the only urban centre of any significance on the island and while being credited as the capital of the Cook Islands, Avarua is basically a small village and doesn’t take long to look around. However, Avarua is the economic and commercial hub of Rarotonga with banks, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, police headquarters and hospital all being located in or around the town. The International Airport is also located just outside Avarua.
There isn’t a huge amount to see and do in Avarua itself (apart from the National Museum and CICC chuch) but you will find yourself in Avarua several times during your trip for banking and shopping. The biggest concentration of tourist shops and handicrafts stores is in Avarua and there is also a weekly market every Saturday in the town. It’s a pleasant enough place to stroll around and there are a few nice spots to grab a bite to eat and shop but with such abundant natural beauty on show elsewhere on the island, your best memories of Rarotonga are unlikely to be of Avarua ;)
We had a fantastic time learning to scuba dive on Rarotonga with Dive Rarotonga. Definately the most memorable part of our vacation. The course took 4 days and involved classroom and pool stuff on the first two days and then 2 days of boat diving on the outside of the reef. Our instructor was friendly and patient, just as well seeing as we were possibly not the easiest of learners! Anyway, the dives were great and we got to see a ray and shark along with all the fish. When we got home our dive cards were waiting for us in the mail, excellent service. At around $400 dollars it worked out to be about half the price of a course back home. All in all we'd definately reccommend giving scuba a go and Rarotonga is a good place to try it.
Around 15 years ago the Sheraton chain, who were building a resort (to the displeasure of the locals) ran into some controversy involving the embezzelment of funds. the abandoned building, which was already almost complete. So for the last 15 years, this shell of a resort stood, with only the weeds progressing around it. For someting that is only 15 years old, it looks really delapadated.
However, this is all about to change, the the Hilton chain are now going to have a go. Still shrouded in controversy, the Hilton hotel chain are planning to start building within 2 months. They plan to build out to the beach, which would require the main road that circles the island to be re-directed behind the resort. But as the locals say. all beaches are crown land & can't be privately owned - so the locals are hoping that this doesn't go ahead.
But whether it sits there, untouched for another 15 years, or the Hilton get their way and start to build, it's still a must see.
From the outside, this place only looks like a library, but as you walk inside, you can see the small room off to the right that is the museum.
The national museum and library in Rarotonga is now privately owned, so what was a voluntary donation is now a NZ$3pp minimum. Entry in to the library itself is free, but this is more for the locals. There are big signs befrore you entre the museum warning of no photography once inside the room.
The museum is only one room, but still quite interesting. While you won't be there for hours, there is still pleanty to read and lots to look at.
One of the best things about Rarotonga is that it is still not caught up in providing 24 hour stimulation - unless your idea of stimulation is relaxing on the beach with a tropical breeze ever so slightly caressing your body. Raro is also a great place to snorkel! Snorkelling in the crystal waters of Aitutaki lagoon or off the shores of any Rarotongan beach is heaven.
The day trip to Aitutaki, from Air Rarotonga, is well worth mentioning. Great service, informative guides, fresh lunch - caught by fisherman and delievered right to the boat, and most of all the lagoon cruise. I have never seen so much beauty in a single place. The waters were as blue as can be and some people suggested that the lagoon looked like a swimming pool!