Cook Islands, South Pacific
main road near Muri beach, with the lagoon just visible to the left
and the main peak lurking out of shot on the right.
Beaches | Culture | Downsides | Activities | Climate
Why holiday in Rarotonga?
Rarotonga is a quieter, better value, English-speaking version
of a French Polynesian island. It's in the Cook Islands 900 kms west of Tahiti and ringed by
a partially broken coral reef.
Cook Islands, fifteen of them in two groups (north
and south, with Rarotonga and its exquisite sibling Aitutaki in the
southern group), were mapped in 1773 by Captain Cook and are about
halfway between Tahiti and Fiji, sharing a lot of ancestry, customs
and habits with French Polynesia, though they are less developed and
the people are - as a consequence? - more relaxed and friendly than
their eastern cousins.
The islands, an ex-colony of Great Britain, became a colony of
New Zealand in 1901 and then self-governing in 1965, though they still
maintain strong associations with New Zealand, including use of the
Kiwi dollar as their national currency. Most of their imported goods
originate from New Zealand so vegemite and strong cheddar appear on
Cook Island's tiny capital of Avarua on Rarotonga; what you see is
just about what you get.
like many other Pacific islands, is dominated by riotously green peaks
with a simple, 20 mile (32km) two-way ring road between the rocky
outcrop known as 'The Needle' and the beaches. Accommodation is mainly just off that road, on the beach side, but
the road is little used and doesn't create much in the way of noise
Aroa beach, one of Rarotonga's finest.
Rarotonga is not loaded with great beaches and that should not be your main reason to come to this distant island. A couple of stretches of sand are superb but quite a few are terrible, particularly
along the north east coast, where there are stretches of smashed coral
that are uncomfortable, unattractive and fundamentally useless as
beaches. e.g. Sunrise Beach. Rarotonga offers a good range of accommodation, but when booking your
place to stay make sure you enquire about the sand quality of the
adjacent beach and preferably inspect pictures of beaches online.
on the south coast is our choice of best beach, with soft tan sand, an attractive palm
fringe, some not very lively coral but some colourful fish and plenty
of elbow room.
Muri beach on the south-east coast came
second best though the lagoon there is shallow, the beach narrow and some
pricey hotels hog the sand. If you're staying at one of those hotels
Muri would do you fine.
Guide books recommend Muri and Black
Rock beaches but Black Rock beach did not impress us at all, large but well scattered
with uncomfortable coral chips, while Sunrise beach is virtually unusable
due to both large and small coral fragments.
Beach. Beach? Pah! It's a derelict bombsite of broken coral chunks
as far as the eye can see, while swimming there - even with sea boots
- is miserable.
shows are enjoyed by the dancers and local people as much as by tourists;this was in
in the capital Avarua.
Culturally there's at least something going on in Rarotonga, as opposed to Bora Bora or even Moorea, where very little happens off the beach. Taking in a Polynesian
dance show - however touristy it may seem - is a must, and reputedly
more sensual and suggestive than those in French Polynesia. Locals
attend the shows too and show great appreciation. April sees the Dancer of the Year competition.
churches and spectacular harmonies from the congregation, all dressed in white.
Church services are often stunning - even for atheists, with wonderful
female-led, male backed hymn singing harmonies, though the priest's
sermonising may be dreadfully tedious. Try to wear something smart
as locals will be dressed to their all-white nines.
Otherwise it's a trip to the Cook Islands Cultural Village for a meal
and lively presentation of the local way of life or a guided walking
tour of the island's nature or culture.
some beaches old coral clusters can make swimming awkward. This is
part of Muri beach, with the main ring reef visible on the horizon.
Obviously snorkelling, though the lagoon is quite shallow and not
as colourful as, for example, Moorea or Aitutaki. Scuba diving outside
the reef is low price and high quality while fishing is excellent and golf
or hiking possible though not spectacular.
If you wish to hire a scooter/car on the island you will need
to present your driving licence to the police in order to get a Cook
Island driving licence. It's not expensive or very time-consuming.
view inland from Rarotonga's almost only road, showing the central
'Needle' peaks and a typical bungalow.
Cook Islands downsides
food is a lot simpler than in French Polynesia, fine if you just
need basic refuelling, not so good if you're looking for style with
tropical islands see a lot of cloud and some rain due to the heat
and humidity, so don't expect constant sunshine even in the dry season, May-October.
mosquitoes will always be out looking for blood so prepare yourself.
For outdoor patio life, i.e. having a drink outside your bungalow
after dark, the old favourite mosquito coils can't be beaten by electronics,
while inside mesh nets on windows, mosquito nets over beds or electric
mats are preferable.
A 31 days visa is available on arrival to just about anyone owning
a passport and a return flight ticket.
locals do genuinely wear flowers in their hair on a daily basis, a
charming custom, though the obligatory lei-giving on arrival at the
airport can seem a little forced.
months: May, June, September, October. The South Pacific
lies in the tropics so all islands are warm and humid year round.
The dry season is climatically best, May to October, with less humidity,
cloud cover, rain, wind, rough seas and seaweed on beaches. However,
July and August get very crowded with visitors, especially Australians
and Kiwis escaping winter back home.
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