I don’t know about you, but during the winter all I can think about is sunshine, beaches and warm weather. It’s been especially bad this winter. Hailing from a sub-tropical climate I can honestly say I have never been as cold in my life as I have been this winter. Therefore, my thoughts have been firmly placed on tropical islands. Rarotonga to be exact. This little island defines paradise.
The Cook Islands is a collection of 15 small islands located in the South Pacific Ocean. Rarotonga has the largest population of the 15 islands and houses both the international airport and the Cook Islands’ Parliament buildings. Typical temperatures in Rarotonga range from a balmy 64°F (18°C) – 86°F (30°C) making it a very popular tourist destination, particularly with New Zealander’s and Australian’s
Our decision to go to Rarotonga happened very quickly. The idea was formed and 48 hours later our flights and accommodation were booked. My family and I decided to opt for a two bedroom vacation rental for our stay rather than booking a hotel or resort. I found vacation rental at Muri Beach – known as the best beach in Rarotonga, right on the lagoon, with a pool right outside the door. We couldn’t have asked for anything better! We had a full kitchen, immediate access to the beach and walking distance to a number of great restaurants.
This option proved to be much more cost effective than renting a room in one of the many Rarotongan resorts saving over $150 per night! During our planning phase we stayed in close contact with the home owner who provided us with all the help and advice we could possibly need. Through the homeowner we were able to organize an airport transfer through Tiare Transport
. Our driver from Tiare Transport was there to meet us at the airport and drive us around the island. Half way through the drive he pulled over and walked into the bushes, coming back with a handful of passionfruit he had just picked fresh off the tree for us! There is truly nothing like fresh passionfruit! At the end of our stay the driver returned to our vacation rental to collect us and drop us at the airport in time for our flight. It couldn’t have been any easier!
Rarotonga has a ‘small town community’ feel about it. Most people who arrive in Rarotonga want to get around by car or scooter. There is a bus that goes around the circumference which is only 20 miles (32km) and takes approximately an hour to circle the island. In order to rent a vehicle in Rarotonga, you will need a Cook Island driver’s license. This can be purchased from the police station in the main township, Avarua, for $20. You must have a driver’s license from another country to do this. To drive a scooter, the process is much the same if you already have a motorbike license. If you don’t then you must take a short test ($5) to demonstrate your ability to control a bike.
My parents already had motorbike licenses (from some past life I know nothing of), so they were able to easily get their Rarotongan license and hire a scooter. My sister and I needed to sit the test. Jessica decided she didn’t want to manage the heavy scooters, but I obtained my license easily. With our new mode of transport we were able to explore the island more freely. We split our time walking along the beach, swimming in the lagoon and exploring the area.
Muri Beach itself is a great location for families as the water is shallow, warm and smooth in the lagoon and the sand is soft and golden. The lagoon here is the broadest on the island and has three smaller islands within swimming and canoeing distance. There are plenty of water activities you can par-take in. Situated right on Muri Beach at Sails (a delicious restaurant well worth a try) is Nautica. Nautica hires catamarans, kayaks and windsurfers. If you’re travelling with children, it’s easy to hire a double kayak for $10 an hour and paddle around the coral reef where you can see all kinds of fish and sea life!
Other popular island activities include snorkeling around the reefs, scuba diving, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, hiking, flights over the island and boat tours. There are many boat tours on the island but I would recommend Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise where you visit a marine reserve for a snorkel, visit the small island of Motu and enjoy a fresh fish open fire BBQ lunch. If you don’t suffer from sea sickness, check out the Raro Reef Sub – you may even get to see a turtle on this trip!
If you find yourself around Muri Beach make sure you check out Te Vara Nui Village where you can learn all about the history of this Polynesian community and watch an amazing night show over a traditional Cook Island dinner. As part of the night show you will be treated to traditional hip-shaking Rarotongan dancing. Many resorts and restaurants around the island also perform traditional dance shows and feasts for their guests so make sure you head along to one of these performances for a fun, carefree night out.
Along with the beautiful beaches, Rarotonga has some amazing lush greenery, mountain treks and waterfalls to be explored. Most of these can only be reached on foot, but it’s worth it! The freedom of having transportation allowed us to explore many areas of the island, and discover many gems! One such gem was the Maire Nui Cafe & Gardens. This beautiful Polynesian style café is set amongst the tropical gardens of Rarotonga.
We stumbled upon this place by accident. We were taking a ‘scooter rest’ break in the parking lot of this café. Once we decided to carry on our way, I jumped back on my scooter – I had become reasonably confident on the beast by now – and turned the motor on. Unfortunately I forgot the handle bars also doubled as the accelerator and the scooter was off and running before I had time to realize what was going on. It was almost something of a cartoon; me hanging off the handle bars with the motorbike driving around with a life of its own. The bike skidded on the gravel, I fell off, the bike landed on me and together we were dragged across the stones.
Needless to say I was in quite a lot of pain, covered in dirt and displaying some pretty impressive gashes and bruises all down my side. I was later told they’re called “Scooter Scars” and are quite common in Rarotonga. Before I knew it I was bundled off in the Rarotongan ambulance and taken to the hospital. While I don’t recommend going to the hospital in Rarotonga, the view from that place was pretty spectacular!
Once I had been cleaned up by the hospital, I hobbled off on my way assisted by the friendly island police. A few weeks later I was put on crutches with ligament damage and promised myself not to try motorized two-wheelers anytime soon, but for the rest of the trip I was content with the hobbling.
We returned to Maire Nui Cafe & Gardens a few days later (I traveled via bus…) as I needed to thank the staff who had helped me. (In fact they had carried me to a staff property across the road and started cleaning me up before the ambulance arrived). It was only then that we realized the beauty of this place. Acres of beautiful plants, trees and flowers! Right in the middle stood a gorgeous little café. I ordered a banana split. Before this day I wasn’t a huge banana split fan. That all changed. The ice cream was made locally and the banana I assume had been picked from a nearby tree. The grated coconut on the top had been freshly grated. I never had and have never since tasted coconut that good. It was exquisite. Another recommended eatery is the beautiful Tamarind House in between Tupapa and Avarua. The restaurant is situated right on the water’s edge with an incredible view over the sea; this is also a perfect place to watch the sunset. The food at the Tamarind House is divine and they go out of their way to accommodate all their guests, including those with food allergies.
On our last day in Rarotonga, just around the corner from our vacation rental, we discovered a black pearl shop. While you do have to be careful with authenticity when buying pearls, this shop was excellent, and they’re a true souvenir of the Cook Islands. My sister, my mother and I left the shop carrying new black pearl pendants, all slightly different, yet symbolic of our amazing holiday. To this day all three of us still treasure these pendants.
We stayed in Rarotonga for just over a week, and had a magical time. Before I’d even left the island I was planning my return to the Cook Islands. The people, the atmosphere, the sunshine and the golden sand all equal perfection. As I said, Rarotonga defines paradise
Have you ever been to Rarotonga or are planning to go?
Ra Manea! (Have a nice day – Cook Island Maori)