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Know Before You Go
- While you can rent a car with an international driver's license, you need to pass a skill test if you want to drive a scooter. It's a much better way to see Rarotonga, and the license is a nice souvenir to remind you of your trip to the island.
- Free Wi-Fi is not something you will find in the Cook Islands. If you do need to get online, it will cost you NZD 15 per 100 MB, and the connection speeds aren't going to be fast either.
- Bus fares around the island aren't cheap. A single ride will cost you NZD 5 and a return NZD 8. You will also need to pay NZD 2 extra if you have a big backpack with you.
- Muri Beach may be in a touristy area of the island, but it's also home to one of the most beautiful beaches. You'll find loads of hotels with paddleboards and kayaks nearby making it the perfect place to stay while in Rarotonga.
- While most nationalities receive a visa on arrival for the Cook Islands, you will need NZD 55 in cash to pay your departure tax at the airport before you can leave.
Getting Around Rarotonga
- Rarotonga has only one major road, a loop that goes around the coastline for 32 km. You can hire a taxi to get around the island, but they are expensive and hard to find.
- The cheapest way to explore Rarotonga is by bus, even if the tickets aren't that budget friendly. If you plan on using the bus more than once during your stay, buy ten rides in bulk for NZD 20 to save money.
- Rides are also transferrable, so if you don't get around to using them all, you can give them away to another traveller.
- If you want to take the scooter driving test, it will cost NZD 20 and take 10-minutes to complete. Motorcycles cost NZD 15 to rent for the day, or if you don't want to spend the money, you can hire a bicycle for NZD 7.
When is The Best Time to Visit Rarotonga?
Besides a minor difference in temperature during the summer and winter months, there is no bad time to visit the Cook Islands. It all depends on your budget and when you want to go.
Rarotonga's low season is during its summer months (November to March). It's also the island's wet season with the possibility of cyclones. If you plan on flying in around December, you may have a hard time finding flights with many Cook Islanders returning home for the holidays.
However, accommodation will still be cheaper than in high season as the island is busier with locals rather than tourists.
High season (April to October) is in the middle of the island's tropical winter. Temperatures are lower than the summer months, but it's nothing too drastic that it will ruin your tropical beach holiday. With high numbers of tourists visiting during this period, flights are more expensive and hotels increase their rates.
But if you do decide to go, you'll be able to witness the migration of humpback whales just beyond the island's coral reefs.
Airports in Rarotonga
Rarotonga International Airport
Rarotonga International Airport is the main international gateway to the Cook Islands. It's located 3 km from downtown and is served by five airlines: Air New Zealand, Air Rarotonga, Air Tahiti, Jetstar Airways and Virgin Airways.
Getting to and from Rarotonga Airport
No hotels or guesthouses on the island offer a free airport transfer. So if you aren't in a rush consider taking the bus that departs every 30 minutes. It's NZD 5 one way, making it a more affordable option with transfers costing NZD 10 - 25 each way.
There is also a taxi rank at the airport and a car or scooter rental in the Arrivals area.
What to do in Rarotonga
Relax on the Beach
It’s no surprise that Rarotonga is home to some pretty incredible beaches. The beaches of Rarotonga offer a serene, tropical atmosphere. Each one is made up of beautiful palm trees, soft white sand, and bright blue water. Some of the top beaches to have on your radar for your visit to Rarotonga include Titikaveka Beach, Muri Beach, Aroa Beach, and Nikao Beach.
Experience Local Culture
Rarotonga has such an exciting Polynesian culture. One of the best ways to learn about the culture is to attend an Island Nights show. At the show, you’ll experience Polynesian dancing, music, and a feast of local foods. These Island Nights shows are full of energy and are a favourite among visitors to Rarotonga.
Go Snorkelling or Diving
Rarotonga is surrounded by a barrier reef and coral atolls. These reefs keep the water on the beaches relatively calm and provides visitors with some great snorkelling and diving. Snorkelling in Rarotonga, you’ll get to see some beautiful coral, lots of colourful fish, and even the occasional turtle. The top spots to go snorkelling during your trip to Rarotonga are Aroa Beach, Tikioki Beach, and Blackrock Beach. If you want to try diving, you may also see some white tip reef sharks. Lots of dive centres are available to take you to the best diving spots around Rarotonga.
Hike the Cross-Island Track
To witness some beautiful Rarotonga nature outside of its beaches, head inland and take a hike through the jungle. The Cross-Island Track stretches from the north to south coast of Rarotonga and takes between three to four hours to complete. Throughout the hike, you’ll see lots of amazing sights, including the Needle (a tall rock rising above the jungle), Wigmore’s Waterfall, and Papua Stream.
Getting Around Rarotonga
Rarotonga operates a public bus that runs in a circular route around the island. The bus operates in both directions. Buses depart every half hour throughout the morning and afternoon and stop at many hotels and attractions throughout Rarotonga. For the freedom to explore Rarotonga at your own pace, the island offers a variety of rental car services as well as motorised scooter rentals. If you do decide to rent a car or scooter, be careful, as traffic rules may be different than what you are used to. Several companies also offer organised tours that can take you to attractions all over Rarotonga and the Cook Islands.