There are many pearl shops on the island, and you can get great deals on some real beauties. But I'd advise you to do a bit of research if you know in advance you want to buy pearls. Best to be sure you are buying from a member of the Cook Island Pearl Guild.
Black pearls are cultured on the islands of Manihiki and Penryhn, then sold primarily on Rarotonga.
Don't miss out on the Saturday Market in Avarua! Mix with the friendly and witty locals, buy some beautiful hand-dyed pareaus or coconut fiber jewelry, a Rito hat made of palm shoots fibers, or a Tivaevae quilt.
All the while you'll hear some of the lovely local music playing, both live bands and recorded music.
What to buy: If you get hungry or thirsty, sample some of the food vendors wares, including fresh fish and various preparations made from the luscious local fruits.
A large figurine of the favored deity, Tangaroa, sits outside the little shop in Avarua. A whiff of frangipani or gardenia leads you into the little shop. The shopkeeper greets you with a generous smile, and offers you a sample taste of the liqueurs that are on the counter, while you allow your nose to explore the shelves full of exotic floral scents.
What to buy: Essential oils and perfumes manufactured on Rarotonga are available at bargain prices, inlcuding their own lovely Pearl of the Pacific perfume.
But don't stop there, you have to sample the luscious banana and mango liqueurs, and maybe take one home in a ceramic Tangeroa bottle.
What to pay: Not much, and worth every penny!
Taste-test & buy the most luscious tropical fruit chutneys and preserves from these friendly ladies, right across the road from the best snorkeling spot on the island (leave your bags with them, behind the counter, while you go ogle the blue starfish in the lagoon).
Tokerau Jim does the most exquisite carvings on pearls and shell. He and his wife have a shop on the eastern side of the island and also a place at the Saturday market. They sell a range of black pearl/shell jewelry including pendents for men/women, earrings and rings as well as key rings and other item. These are my favorite bring home gifts as they are so unique.
What to pay: A pair of carved mother of pearl earring or a pendent from Tokerau Jim will cost apporoximately $35 - 40NZ . Pearls range in price depending on size and quality so do a little research and shop around but as far as I know Tokerau Jim is the only local that does this kind of carving.
Along the road to town there is a little island shop that makes beautiful perfumes, bath oil and soaps. The products are made right there in the open air shop. I couldn't resist the coconut oil and coconut soaps. They have a few different fragrances that are made from the gorgeous island flowers. It's nice to support the local cottage industries too.
What to pay: They are about $14.00 NZ for the oils . Pretty reasonable.
If you are in the market for black pearls you'll see lots i Rarotonga. I am spoiled by the even better buys in Asia so I resisted ....but as the days went on I found myself weakening...
They had some lovely strings of pearls . I noticed the prices to be pretty consistant from store to store. I think you could do OK in any of them , so it would be a matter of finding the item you liked best. You could also buy loose pearls too. There were some items that came from Asia ...so if you want South Pacific pearls...make sure you ask.
What to buy: Here's a web site from Klassic Pearls ...which is located in Avara
The Saturday morning market is a must for locals and visitors alike. Pick up all your fresh fruit and veggies for cooking at home or look for local crafts and gifts - colourful pareaus, black pearls, shells, art work, etc. There's food of all kinds to be had - full grilled meals, fresh coconut milk, fresh baked goods, and delicious pawpaw with shredded coconut. There's usually some kind of live entertainment on stage and lots to see and do.
Avarua is the Cook Island's capital and has the most shops. If you are on a self-catering holiday on Rarotonga, this is the place to go for groceries. If you want to get a motorbike licence (you must have a Cook Islands one regardless of your own licence status), you need to go to the police station here. There is a range of nice cafes here (The Cafe, Mama's Cafe, and Blue Note Cafe are all good and I can recommend them) and there are plenty of shops to get souvenirs of your Cook Island holiday. The Post Office is tucked down the road that heads inland from the round-about (trafic circle). Just look for the monstrous red-brick, Chinese built Ministry of Justice building. Next to the PO (which is a bit hard to spot at first) is the Bounty Bookshop, with a great range of literature about the Cook Islands.
What to buy: I went for:
a wooden carving of Tangaroa (the god of the sea);
a Cook Islands t-shirt.
Other things to look out for:
paeru (sarongs) - but be careful of Thai and Indonesian ones - the Cook Islands style ones are quite different - not so Thia-dyed;
CDs of Cook Islands music.
What to pay: Things aren't cheap as a rule in the Cooks. I did find that the "Treasure Chest" stores were cheaper for souviners as a rule. The Punanga Nui market is also a good bet for souvenirs.
There are some wonderful fresh fruits that grow abundantly on Rarotonga. My favoirite was the paw paw ( papaya) . It tasted something like a mango very different than the papaya we saw in the Caribbean.. They were great and only $1.00.
We had a banana tree by our cottage. One day the maid brought us a whole stock she had just picked . They were tiny but ripe and sweet.
There are lots of little tourists shops in the town as well as along the way on the road. Along with T Shirts we saw woven things like purses and woven placemats. and some beautiful wooden art works ...loved the masks.
The shops close early on Saturday and are not open on Sunday.
If you get a $3.00 bill back as change its legit....they actually have $3.00 bills!
Arutanga is the administrative centre of Aitutaki. The main wharf is here and located right on the "harbour-front" is the large building known as the Orongo Centre. This building used to be a packing shed and it still looks like a packing shed. There was only one "shop" there when I visited and a few shelves appearing to be stalls, selling vegetables. The Blue Nun Cafe is on the waterfront side and the police station is tucked away on the south side. The one and only shop (pictured) is about the best local craft shop on the island - in fact it's the only one I saw!
What to buy: A cold beer at Blue Nun cafe and a few postcards from the shop!
Small and crowded, Raro offers the best of recorded music from the Pacific Region. Lots of Tahitian and Fijian stuff especially, and all the local Cookies too.
What to buy: Papa Ru is a great ukelele player and singer, and actually works in this shop, so that's a good start to look for his CDs.
If you like the music you heard in CI churches, they've got albums of that too (what do you mean you DIDN'T go to a Sunday mass -- it's one of the highlights to hear the rafters being raised!)
From ancient traditional Pacific stuff to the latest contemporary dance fusion (Black Rose), just ask to listen to a few and you'll soon work out what you like and what you don't like.
What to pay: CDs are much the same price as in Australia and New Zealand (they're priced in NZ Dollars anyway) so around US$20 per CD.
A general open air marketplace! Great atmosphere, selling everything from fresh produce, to locally produced clothing, and homewares.
A must do at least once whilst in Rarotonga.
What to buy: Fresh food and fruit is absolutely beautiful.
What to pay: Local food is cheap, however beware anything imported (which includes ice cream!) Fish and seafood is relatively cheap compared with steak!
The Perfume Factory is a beautiful place set back from downtown Rarotonga. It is filled with beautiful island fragrances. The T-Shirt Factory is downtown and carries, t-shirts, shorts, skirts, dresses, pants etc.. for men, women and children.
What to pay: Varies
PO Box 700, Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Good for: Business
This place is amazing! The service is top notch. The resort is very nice. We were greeted by...more
Titikaveka, Cook Islands
Good for: Solo