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There's so much more to do in this archipelago than simply soak up the sun.
Renowned for its champagne beaches and water that entices with rippling crystal waves, Rarotonga might be a haven for beach lovers, but it’s also home to a rural, offbeat interior. Green, lush and wildly overgrown, cattle graze the plains and bendy palms lollop over rolling farmland. Storytellers Eco Cycle Tour provide the perfect means to discover these barren backtracks, with a variety of bike riding tours from the very sedate to the very active. Guided by a Raro local, weave from lanes to tracks, soaking up the Polynesian heritage as you pedal. Learn anything and everything, from the harvesting of taro crops to the manner in which Raro women make their Pareus. And when it all gets too hot for cycling, dive into a refreshing water hole; cool, calm and framed by a veil of jade foliage.
By 8am the stalls are already bustling; a commotion of vendors, sellers and buyers, all pushing or pulling at food, handicrafts and wooden ukuleles. The Punanga Nui Market in Avarua jostles at its best between 8am and 12pm every Saturday. We wholly recommend the endless selection of food options. Start with a local coffee and a coconut bun, and then work your way up to fruit smoothies and golden waffles. The scent of battered dough sits heavily in the air, alongside the sweet notes of island delicacies: starfruit and passionfruit, coconuts and poke (a mix of local fruit and cassava). Pass the sewing circles, live music and native dance performances before stopping on a short sliver of grass for a healthy serving of ika mata (marinated raw fish). The Cook Islands are called the Cook Islands after Captain James Cook, but we like to think it's because they are also profound cooks.
...Feeling stuffed? Head to the massage tent and relax while you digest.
The colour of cyan, water that laps the equally gorgeous Muri Beach is warm and for the most part, perfectly calm. Providing ideal conditions for Stand up Paddle boards. Quieter than Avarua, you and your brightly coloured board will glide across the lagoon with little opposition. Being so safe, serene and perfectly sheltered, the area is also a popular option for snorkellers. Or of course, you could simply lollop on the beach and take a photo of those playing on the water. Blue sky, azure water, glowing tans and bright boardies, you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be a frame-worthy picture.
You’re weightless. Gravity, as much as it tries, ceases to exist. The world as you know it has changed and all that is left is a watery underworld and a torrent of colour. You’re diving off the island of Rarotonga. With 40 dive sites scattered across the isle, there’s a spot to suit all abilities and each site presents a bucket list experience. Beginners will love The Caves (6-16m) on the north-west side of Raro. The shallow coral shelf is replete with reef life, while the caves themselves are light and easy to exit – ideal if you’re new to cave diving. For veteran divers, Jade Reef (16-26m) on the north-east offers enormous overhangs and the opportunity to swim amidst whitetip sharks.
As the Cook Islands’ longest and most astounding cave, get lost in Anatakitaki’s multiple chasms. Experts estimate that this spectacularly creepy enclave is at least one kilometre in length and characterised by its large chambers and labyrinth of corridors. Also home to the kopeka, a bird unique to Atiu, listen out for its distinctive calling clicks. Echoing off the cave walls, you’ll be spellbound by both the calls of nature and the forestry in which this lair exists. Enveloped by banyan trees and dense jungle, access requires a short but relatively steep hike, but the setting is a fabulous one.
The Cross Island track weaves from the north to the south, from open fields to mountainous jungle culminating a few hours later at The Needle; a sacred Polynesian rock formation that has stood for hundreds of years. Follow an intrepid route through arching palms and a canopy of native trees; past excitable wild fowl and gleaming waterfalls, before reaching a height 413 metres offering incredible views across chestnut and shampoo trees. The sapphire ocean for which Rarotonga is renowned shimmers majestically in the distance. If you’d like to experience the Cross Island track with a native Rarotongan, join Pa - a 70-something hippy who has led multiple visitors through his homeland. Find out more about it here.
Ready to pick your own adventure? Incredible island holidays are just a click away.
Better yet, chat with one of our friendly travel experts. We love pairing Kiwis with their perfect holidays!
Rarotonga is a 4 hour flight from Auckland.
Once in Rarotonga there are three or four daily (except Sunday) scheduled air services to Aitutaki operated by Air Rarotonga, with a flight time of just 45 minutes. Some international flights into Rarotonga are timed to link up with these flights to Aitutaki..
No visa is required for a tourist stay up to 31 days. If you intend to stay longer, you'll need to apply for an extention permit.
You'll get tropically warm throughout the year, but the best time to visit is the dry season from May to October. It’s less humid and slightly cooler with temperatures ranging 21 to 23°C.
You’ll gain a day on your outward journey as you cross the International Dateline and you’ll lose that day again on your way back.
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