Cook Islands National Museum
The Cook Islands National Museum is located in a modern building on Victoria Road in Rarotonga's capital city, Avarua.
Entrance is free, but there is a donation box in reception for you to make a contribution to the museum's upkeep.
As you'd expect from a country as small as the Cook Islands, its National Museum barely fills one room!
The exhibits begin with a wall showing aerial photos and descriptions of all the islands that make up this nation (15 in total.....including Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu and Manihiki). Read about the history, the geology and the economy of each of these small islands.
The main wall down the left hand side of the room shows photographs of key moments in the nation's history, such as its gaining of independence from New Zealand in 1965.
One exhibition displays a selection of traditional Cook Islands weapons (mainly spears) and boat paddles, while another displays various locally produced mats, bags and hats.
The rest of the room is filled with a few pieces of local artwork and crafts (mainly paintings and wood carvings) and some small wooden boats.
The upstairs of the building features a photo gallery. It's very much an amateur set-up......photos sellotaped onto boards and the feeling of being in somebody's loft rather than a country's National Museum!!
There are photos of all the prime ministers that have served during the nation's brief history and a section of photos devoted to "Royal Visits" (a visit by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1960s; photos of Prince Edward being carried around the streets by locals in the early 1990s).
Other exhibitions in the photo gallery include "Education" (a series of photos of school classes and graduating students) and "Tourism" (including photos of the opening of Rarotonga's international airport).
Both the old (green) and new Cook Islands flags hang from one exhibition board, while the words of the national anthem (in both English and Maori) are displayed on another exhibition board.
Muri Beach is one of the most popular and developed beaches on the island of Rarotonga.
This picturesque beach, with a shallow turquoise lagoon, is located on the south east coast of the island, about 10km from the capital, Avarua. It is easily reached by the island bus, although many visitors to the island choose to stay in and around Muri Beach itself.
Just a little way off shore there are 4 small palm covered islets (Taakoka, Koromiri, Oneroa and Motutapu). These are close enough to the shore, and the water is shallow enough, for you to wade out to them.
Compared to other beaches on the island, Muri Beach is relatively busy and it has the best facilities of any beach on the island. There is a good selection of beachfront accommodation here, ranging from cheap, basic guesthouses to luxury studios. Some of the most impressive restaurants on the island are located here, so you can enjoy a light meal or a drink right on the beach.
There are a few organised watersports at the beach. You can hire small wooden pedaloes and canoes, but no noisy speedboats or jet skis! There are dive centres nearby where you can hire snorkelling and diving equipment. Many people (a lot of whom were on their honeymoons) seemed content just to lay on their sunloungers soaking up the sun with a cold drink at hand.
Unlike much of the island, Muri Beach has a fairly developed tourist infrastructure away from the beach. There are dozens of cheap guesthouses available, mini markets, souvenir shops, a variety of restaurants and an invaluable (but certainly not inexpensive!) Internet cafe located in a wooden hut.
Muri Beach really lives up to the images of the perfect South Pacific beach.....soft white sands, impossibly blue seas, palm trees, cocktails.....
Avarua - the island's capital
Avarua is the capital of Rarotonga and is referred to, ironically, as the "bright lights" by the locals!
This is the only major settlement on the island, but is still little more than a small village. Having said that, it does have most of the amenities that you require and a reasonable choice of shops and restaurants.
If you arrive in Avarua by bus, your first stop will be Cook's Corner - this is where the two island buses arrive at and depart from. There are a few duty free shops here, including the relatively large Cook Islands Trading Company (CITC) shopping centre, as well as cafes and restaurants.
Avarua is a good place to sort out your monetary requirements - there are a handful of banks with ATMs in the capital. Although ATMs are available elsewhere on the island, especially near Muri Beach, they are few and far between and your accommodation may not be near one of them.
Cook Islands Telecom has an office in Avarua - you can make international phone calls and access the Internet from there.
The seafront houses a few restaurants (including a Raro Fried Chicken fast food joint) and some laid back cafes and ice cream parlours. There is a reasonable selection of craft shops (selling traditional Pacific artwork, crafts, black pearls, coconut soaps, wooden masks, sea shells, clothing, fabrics, perfumes, carved ornaments) and souvenir shops, selling the usual array of postcards and touristy items with Rarotonga logos on them. More such items can be purchased at the Punanga Nui Cultural Market, located just west of the village. You will also find a small cinema, pharmacies, a music shop, a couple of small museums and the national library.
Away from the commercial centre of the village, simple, but colourful, wooden houses and schools can be found in lush gardens. There are also some impressive church buldings.
There are excellent views from Avarua of "The Needle" - the towering rock that lies at the centre of the island.
Titikaveka Beach stretches for several kilometers along the southern coast of Rarotonga and, in my opinion, is one of the best beaches on this island full of great beaches!
I stayed in a guesthouse that was listed as being in Titikaveka, but was actually a good few kilometres west of Titikaveka centre. On my first morning, I crossed the quiet road in front of my guesthouse and walked for about 8km (mainly along the beach) to Muri Beach. This gave me a great opportunity to see the whole of Titikaveka Beach.
The majority of the southern coast of the island consists of soft white sandy beach, turquoise seas, palm trees, fallen coconuts, the occasional beach house (read wooden shack) and the even more infrequent hotel. I walked for long stretches without passing another person - only when I reached the far end of Titikaveka, near Moana Sands Beach and Muri Beach, did I begin to encounter sunbathers, swimmers, a few beachside restaurants and some luxury beachside studios.
While I walked along the beach where possible, there were a few parts where it was not possible due to rocks or trees overhanging the edge of the sea and blocking the beach. On these occasions I had to walk up onto the road and return to the beach at the next convenient point.
You can leave your belongings on the beach without any fear of them being stolen. So put your things under a palm tree, lay out a towel and go for a refreshing swim in the beautiful, clear, warm waters at Titikaveka. You can see colourful fish and coral formations just a few metres from the shore, and the water shelves very gently so you can walk out a long way before the sea even reaches knee depth!
Titikaveka Beach is also a good place to go to in the evenings to watch the sun set. I sat on a log on the beach watching the sun set on my final evening in Rarotonga.
The hotel that was never completed!
Rarotonga remains a largely unspoilt island. However, this almost changed in the early 1990's when the Sheraton chain decided to build a luxury hotel resort on the island.
The project was always going to be a controversial move and, in the event, (and probably to the delight of many), building work was abandoned in 1993, following a scandal which involved the embezzlement of funds out of the country by an Italian investment firm.
At this stage, the hotel's main shell and the shells of a number of annexes in the garden had already been built. I read somewhere that the building work was 80% complete at the time of the abandonment.
Since that date, the incomplete hotel has stood amongst even increasing vegetation - looking more and more like an ancient ruin than a modern hotel.
If you want to see this somewhat bizarre sight, you can find it just off the main coastal road near the village of Vaimaanga.
Papua (Wigmore's) Waterfall
Papua (Wigmore's) Waterfall is a public waterfall which is located a couple of kilometres inland from the main coastal road near the village of Vaimaanga.
A paved road leads off from the main perimeter road in the direction of the waterfall, but there are no signs to indicate where to turn off. You'll know that you're heading in the right direction if you pass the empty shell of the never-completed Sheraton Hotel on your left hand side soon after leaving the main road.
Be careful if you're travelling to the waterfall by moped! The paved road deteriorates into a muddy track in places once you venture inland, and there are a fair few blind bends to contend with. I accepted a lift from a Kiwi guy on the back of his moped. Part way there, he lost control on a muddy bend with a 4x4 coming towards us. We ended up in a muddy ditch at the side of the road - but things could have been much worse!
You can swim in the water at the foot of the waterfall, as I did, but it is pretty cold compared to the nearby sea! The water is a bit murky and you will find leaves on the surface and branches below the surface. You can leave your belongings on the rocks at the entrance to the waterfall, then climb down the embankment (watch your footing, the stones are slippery) and wade into the water. The water gets quite deep after a few metres (I could just about stand up on tip-toes and I'm 6ft tall), but then gets a little shallower again at the foot of the fall.
I didn't see any life in the water, but a couple of girls there claimed to have seen an eel. There was certainly a lot of life out of the water - my arms and back were covered with midges and ticks when I was getting dried off - so take insect repellent with you.
Aro'a Beach is located on the south-western coast of Rarotonga. It lies 2km west of the village of Vaimaanga and about 12km from the capital, Avarua.
This beach is one of many sandy, palm-fringed beaches along the coast of Rarotonga. Like so many of them, this beach was almost empty at the time of my visit in May 2006. In many parts of the world, a beach as nice as this would be crowded with swimmers, snorkellers and sunbathers.....but here it was no problem to find a long stretch of empty sand on which to lay my towel and go for a refreshing swim in the warm, crystal clear sea.
The impressive looking (and seemingly popular) "Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa" is located on the eastern edge of the beach, while a small minimarket, a dive centre from which to hire diving and snorkelling gear and a couple of small restaurants can be found on the road opposite the beach. Apart from these few humble establishments, there is nothing else here but the fabulous beach.
The sea is sparklingly clear and you can see coral formations and colourful fish within a few metres of the shoreline.
The small village of Titikaveka is located on the southern coast of Rarotonga, about 5km east of Vaimaanga and 4km west of Muri Beach. The capital, Avarua, is about 13km away.
As well as its long sandy beach and crystal clear waters (one of the best beaches on the island), it also has a few shops and other notable buildings. This might not sound too impressive, but on an island as unspoilt as Rarotonga, this classifies Titikaveka as a "built up area"!
A grassy village square is surrounded by colourful wooden huts. One of these is a school. Another one is a nursery. Yet another is a community centre. Walk through the trees at the far end of the square and you're right on the beach.
Along the quiet road that runs through Titikaveka, you'll find the impressive CICC Church (built from coral slabs in the 1840s), a wooden building that houses Titikaveka College, a couple of grocery stores, the occasional cafe or simple restaurant and a handful of guesthouses strung across several kilometres of coastline.
The grocery stores seemed sparsely stocked - not surprising given the island's small population and its reliance on imports. The half empty shelves do offer the basic essentials - fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, tinned goods, chocolate, crisps, fruit juice, bottled beers, ice cream, washing powder, newspapers.
I stayed a couple of kilometres outside Titikaveka, midway between Titikaveka and Vaimaanga, and this proved to be a good base for exploring the southern coastline on foot. Of course, the island buses will pick you up anywhere along the road as well.
Venture out at Night!
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 :)
The Needle...and cross-island hiking
The Needle (or "Te Rua Manga") is the large conical rock that dominates the skyline of Rarotonga.
This dramatic peak stands 413m high and can be seen from almost anywhere on the island. There are particularly good views of The Needle from the capital, Avarua, which sits at the foot of Rarotonga's lush green interior mountains.
For those with energy to burn, it is possible to trek to the top of The Needle for breathtaking views over the whole island. The guidebook recommends that you do not attempt to undertake such a trek without the services of an experienced guide.
An easier hike, and one that I would have liked to have done had I had another day on the island, is the cross-island hike. This hike through the island's lush interior starts on the northern coast at Avatiu (between Avarua and the airport) and ends at Vaimaanga on the southern coast. As well as seeing The Needle up close, this hike will also take you past Papua Wigmore's Waterfall (see separate tip). I was told that this hike would take around 4 hours to complete.
There are no snakes on Rarotonga and no poisonous insects either, so you don't need to worry about treading on anything nasty during your hike. There are no dangerous mammals either, so don't worry about straying off the beaten path. You should take insect repellent though, as there are mosquitoes and ticks to be aware of.
Also, be sure to take refreshments with you. There is nowhere in the interior to buy water or food.
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!
Avarua's tiny Peace Gardens are located on Makea Tinirau Road, next to the Cook Islands Library and Museum (NOT the larger National Museum).
This small grassy area offers a handful of benches, sponsored by local businesses and residents, lots of greenery, a large anchor implanted into the grass, and plenty of shade beneath the trees in which to sit and relax.
There are quite a few mosquitoes and midges around, so apply insect repellent to avoid getting bitten.
I would usually go and sit in the Peace Gardens of a city to escape from the crowded, noisy streets.....but this being Avarua, the streets are almost as peaceful as the Peace Gardens are!
Cross Island Hike
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.
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.
Constituion Day Parade
If your trip is falls on the dates of August 26 to 1st od September you will find week of fun. There will be a huge day Parade with floats and dancer's and entertainment. On the friday night that we where there thay held the World Fire dance compertion which was a truley spectacular evening, a must see if its on when you are there. There is also plenty of other things happening around the island so check out the local paper for details of whats on where and when.
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