This piece was contributed by Samantha Stock.
The weather is fantastic, there’s plenty to do, the food and drinks are delicious, it’s easy to get around and it’s safe – Rarotonga is the perfect holiday destination for everyone. It’s a piece of paradise that’s a true home away from home. The minute you step off the plane you hear Papa Jack welcoming you in song, and the Aunties are waiting as you enter the terminal to point you in the right direction for hotel transfers or car rental. You know you’re in the islands when the Avis car agent hands over the keys while reminding you not to park under coconut trees and to watch out for piglets, dogs, chickens, roosters and kids!
1. Choose the right type of accommodation for the holiday you want
It takes just over 30 minutes to drive around the island, so if you hire a car, your only worry needs to be whether to turn right or left when you exit the airport. The accommodation options in Raro are endless; if you’re looking for modern, luxurious, high-end, self-contained accommodation then you can’t go past Sea Change Villas. Right on the lagoon, you arrive to a stocked fridge for breakfast and even specially sourced Rarotongan beer from the local brewery! Another property that really stands out is Ikurangi Eco Retreat. Nestled at the foot of the mountains, this intimate eco retreat is the Cook Islands’ only glamping hotel. Indulge in a bath under the stars or take a stroll through the lush organic gardens. The whole resort is environmentally friendly and fully sustainable, with a luxurious feel. Couples looking for a resort on the beach should make a beeline for the Crown Beach Resort – adults-only accommodation in lush green settings. You can enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner on the beach or under a private gazebo, and there’s the acclaimed Flambe restaurant, with outstanding cuisine and a fire show.
2. Don’t miss the markets
Make sure your trip to Raro includes a Saturday, as the Saturday morning markets are not to be missed – the fresh fruit smoothies are out of this world, there’s so much food to try, and better yet, you’re supporting the local traders selling their handmade artifacts. The best part is they are so happy to tell you all about how they made their wares and what they do. There are also markets on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and on Sunday from 5–8pm Muri Beach hosts the night food markets, where the atmosphere is electric. Long, colourful tables are surrounded by all sorts of food trucks, live music is pumping plus you can BYO drinks! The Cook Islanders are a generous bunch and this sure is clear in the portion sizes. You absolutely cannot go past the fresh, lightly fried salt and pepper calamari.
3. Enjoy eating the fresh seafood
The Cook Islands are famous for their fresh fish, whether it’s sashimi or the most epic fish sandwiches I’ve ever experienced! For sashimi you can’t go past the Islander, perched between the airport and the beach. Muri Beach Club also does a mean sashimi, but allow more than just a stop for lunch here, as you can easily spend an afternoon enjoying the sunshine and the beach activities. Take a moment to enjoy a ‘banana colada’ I guarantee you will not be disappointed! Charlies in Takitumu District and Moorings Beach Café in Muri Beach fight for the title of the best fish sandwiches, so my suggestion is to try both. You won’t be disappointed. Charlies has live music every night, it’s a fun atmosphere with a good mix of tourists and locals. Charlie and Mary make everyone feel at home – but you must eat ALL of your food!
4. Experience the beautiful lagoon and the Cook Islands culture
There is no denying that on the Aroa side of Rarotonga you can find beautiful snorkelling, but undeniably the best place to go is the Marine Sanctuary at the Rarotongan on the Beach. The team at the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa will share maps that show you the different routes you can explore and all of the different types of fish. Keep an eye out for feeding stations where the fish line up to be cleaned by other fish, and if you’re really lucky you might even see a turtle.
Highlander Paradise is a fantastic way to learn about the rich history and culture of the Cook Islands people, starting the minute you’re picked up and taken way up in the mountains. Your bus becomes your vaka and the other passengers your tribe for the night. You arrive at the camp high up in the mountains and tour the village while the Chief describes what happens in real tribal life. This is followed by a dance show by a local dance school and a beautiful buffet dinner including all of the local delicacies cooked traditionally, in an umu (underground oven).
5. Seek out the perfect sunset
The sunsets in the Cook Islands are some of the best in the world, and there are some really great places to nestle in and enjoy happy hour drinks while watching a sunset that will take your breath away. The shipwreck bar at Aroa Beach Resort is small and fun, the service is fantastic, you’ll know about it when you meet Alone, the live music rocks and like everywhere else in the Cooks, the food portion sizes are huge!