I’m sitting in my chilly house, wearing my Icelandic cardigan, with Lola keeping my legs warm whilst the rain hits the window behind me. This couldn’t be further removed from my tropical birthday getaway to Rarotonga just last week.
For those that don’t know, Rarotonga is the most populous of the 15 Cook Islands located in the South Pacific. It’s a lush green volcanic island surrounded by a lagoon, which is teeming with inquisitive and colourful sea life.
We considered several Pacific islands for our trip (Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, etc.) but after some Google imaging and several recommendations we booked a secluded apartment on Air BnB and hopped on a four hour plane ride to paradise.
Five days in Raro
The first thing to know about Raro is that its small. Even though it’s the most developed of the islands, it only took us about 25 minutes to drive round the entire place. There is a bus system that circles the main road but it isn’t that regular so its worth renting a car. Most people ride scooters but as we were taking beach bags and snorkelling equipment out with us everyday, it would have been impractical.
There are lots of dogs (not necessarily homeless) that roam and hang out on the island. All the ones we met in the tourist areas were super cute and friendly – particularly the one that patrolled Muri Beach in the evening wearing a life jacket (Baywatch pups). We went for a run inland around the local farms and got chased off by a few guard dogs so I’d recommend giving those a wide berth.
The dogs tend to run out in the road a lot so if you’re hiring a car or a scooter – drive slow! The speed limit is only around 50 km/h but there’s nothing that will ruin your holiday sooner than running over mans best friend.
Things to do on the island
It depends on what type of traveller you are but for us, five days was enough on the island. If we were to stay longer I’d probably get a flight over to nearby Aitutaki for a few nights for a change of scene.
The most popular (and free if you take your own gear) activity on the island is the snorkelling. On our first day we headed over to Muri – the most touristy of the towns but nonetheless stunning. Unfortunately, the lagoon here doesn’t have as much on show as other parts of the island, but the water was warm and the palm tree lined, white sand beach is inviting. Worth a visit but we didn’t spend a whole lot of time here.
Our favourite snorkel spot was just a stones throw away from where we were staying at Aroa Beach. As soon as you duck your snorkel mask beneath the water you enter into an underwater fish metropolis. Highlights include the Convict Surgeonfish, Moon Wrasse, Moorish Idol, Picasso Triggerfish and loads of species of Butterfly fish. It was magnificent!
A trick is to click your fingers or bash your hands together under the water to create noise, this attracts the fish over to you and they’ll come and check you out before darting off. The Picasso Triggerfish can sometimes bite in summer as they lay eggs and get territorial so give them their space.
One morning we took a boat out with a German guy who works at Adventure Cook Islands and snorkelled the outer reef and the 100-year-old Mai Tai shipwreck. This was such an incredible experience and again I saw more fish here than I’ve ever seen in my entire life! I would highly recommend the trip – we were out for three hours and it only cost us $70 each.
The tour guide pointed out loads of cool sea life, demonstrated some impressive free diving skills, and gave us tips on keeping our masks fog-free (cover the clear plastic with toothpaste overnight and wash off in the morning).
There is an awesome cross island hike you can take up to Te Rua Manga aka ‘The Needle’. It starts in Avarua, the main town, and ends on the south side of the island by the abandoned hotel. It took us around 3 hours return to do the walk, we hiked back down the same way we came as our car was parked in Avarua.
Parts of the hike require you to climb a little but for the most part its well sign posted and painless. The views from the summit are spectacular and we also met some curious chickens at the top who hang out waiting for hikers to share their lunch.
I recommend taking mozzie spray, you go through pretty dense and humid rainforests full of the blood suckers! There are also warnings about biting centipedes and stinging paper-wasps but we didn’t meet any of those, thankfully.
At the start of the trail we came across old macdonalds farm and met some goats and pigs, which was a delight! Matt got his wildlife photographer hat on and went in for a few close-ups.
Arrive on a Friday so you can visit the Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market in Avarua. You can stock up on fruits for the week as there is much more selection at a lower price compared to the supermarkets. Grab a chilled coconut whilst you’re there. They sell the usual toot – souvenirs, tie dye t-shirts, sarongs and sun hats. It’s worth it for the tasty smelling food stalls.
On Thursday, Muri holds a night market selling savoury and sweet treats. Good atmosphere and cheap food. I’m pretty sure they have this on other nights but you can grab a weekly event guide from the airport which gives you the low down on restaurants and live entertainment on the island.
4. What else…
Well there’s the islands many cultural nights. We went along to one and to be honest, it wasn’t really our cup of tea. It’s very “resorty” – I know I just made that word up but you know the type of activity where you get herded around with a big group of tourists (wearing the local sarongs and shirts they picked up at the market) and then queue up alongside the buffet exchanging small talk…yeah, nah probably wouldn’t sign myself up for that again. Snob? Maybe. Sorry? Not sorry.
If you’re into whales the Whale and Wildlife Centre is excellent for a rainy day! Loads of cool animal bones and pickled things in jars. Plus some history about the islands marine life as well as information on the greats such as Jacque Cousteau.
The last day rained so we grabbed a massage at the Muri Beach Club Spa which was a perfect way to kill some time before our flight.
The night skies are beautiful! If you have a clear night the stars are out in force. Just try and find a dark spot away from the lights of the resorts.
Eating and drinking
Fresh coconut water! Lots of fresh coconut water. And only $2 for a whole coconut. Electrolyte heaven.
Apart from that, being a vegetarian on the Cook Islands SUCKED. If I was lucky there was one option I could have at a restaurant. I’m not sure I can say I had one good meal.
But how about those coconuts!
Conveniently, some of the restaurants offer free transfers to and from your accommodation (thanks Kikau Hut), and a lot of the restaurants are situated right on the beach (the Waterline) – even some with tables on the sand. The atmosphere, cocktails and entertainment make up for the lack of meat-free options. Sort-off.
On a positive note, the LBV Bakery in Muri is a top spot for brunch!
Hugely thankful to Matty-Boom-Batty for whisking me away and winning the man vs coconut contest. What a babe!