Holiday Guide to Rarotonga, Cook Islands

rarotonga holidays and hotels scene

Holiday Inspirations  —  Rarotonga Travel Guide —  Activities —  Travel Info

Rarotonga is the heart-beat of the Cook Islands with the international airport and where the majority of tourists stay for their entire holiday. The island has a population of under 10,000, is just 67 sq km in size and takes less than an hour to travel around. But this small volcanic island packs a punch with stunning tropical scenery, beautiful beaches and with its harmonious ambience it is our favourite "fun in the sun" holiday destination throughout the South Pacific.

Reasons To Visit Rarotonga

  • Romantic Holiday Break
  • Family Holiday on the Beach
  • Relaxing Island Style Atmosphere
  • Excellent Crafts, Restaurants & Bars
  • Sightseeing by Moped or Walking

Rarotonga Holiday Inspirations

West Coast

picture of west rarotonga

This is the sunniest side of the island with two of the largest resorts on Rarotonga and plenty of restaurants. The coast is good for beach-combing but the lagoon is poor for watersports.

South Coast

picture of south rarotonga beach

Quiet stretch of coastline with an almost endless beautiful palm fringed beach. The lagoon here has the best snorkelling on Rarotonga with boutique resorts aimed mostly at couples. Walk to the waterfall.

Muri Beach

picture of muri beach

Muri is the most picturesque spot on Rarotonga with a long curved beach, sandy bottom lagoon and four offshore islets to explore by kayak. Great for watersports, lively ambience and a good selection of restaurants.

Avarua Town

picture of avarua harbour

Avarua Town is a good spot for those who like to explore. There are no proper beaches along the north or east coast but back roads with small farms and valleys with wonderful mountain views.

Rarotonga Travel Guide

Rarotonga is populated along most of its coast with local family houses and tourist accommodation sitting side by side. There are beautiful beaches along the entire west, south and south-east coastline with Muri Beach being the most popular. The interior has steep mountains. lush rainforest and several hiking tracks to summits. Rarotonga has a very charming and laid back holiday atmosphere with good restaurants and bars making it a popular choice for those looking to have a little fun on holiday.

Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is where almost 90% of tourists spend their entire holiday. The international airport and main town are along the rocky north coast of the island. Most of the beach hotels and other Rarotonga accommodation properties fronts an almost unbroken stretch of sand running down the west coast, along the south coast and midway up the east coast ending at fabulous Muri Beach with its uninhabited lagoon islets. The island of Rarotonga takes under an hour to travel around the coastal road with great views of the lush tropical mountains along the way. The most popular way to travel is by moped and costing from just NZ$ 75 for four days, many tourists give it a go.

West Rarotonga

picture of rarotonga holidays

The West coast of Rarotonga is one long stretch of sandy beach backed mostly by iron-wood trees with plenty of small resorts and self-catering bungalows along the coastline. There are six good independent restaurants which all within walking distance of each other. Being leeward side of the island, it is protected from the prevailing winds and has the sunniest weather making it more favourable for sun-lovers. Sunsets are a another definite bonus. The main disadvantage is the lagoon which is generally too rocky for swimming and too shallow for snorkelling.

See our detailed West Rarotonga Accommodation Guide

South Rarotonga

tourists wealking along road in rarotonga cook islands

The south coast is the quietest stretch on Rarotonga and has lovely beaches making it a good choice for romantic holidays. There are several lovely small collections of beach bungalows here and the lagoon has the best snorkelling in the Cook Islands. The south coast is about 30 minutes by road from the airport and Avarua Town.

See our detailed South Rarotonga Accommodation Guide

Muri Beach, South East Rarotonga

view of lagoon from rarotonga island

Muri Beach is the liveliest and most developed tourist region on Rarotonga with almost twenty accommodations to choose from and a number of independent restaurants for dining out. This is a good spot for both couples and families with a protected sandy bottom swimming lagoon and lots of watersports. Whilst the beach and uninhabited islets make for the most picturesque beach setting on Rarotonga, the downside is that the tradewinds can pick up in the late afternoon sometimes blowing in cloud cover whilst the rest of the island bathes in sunshine.

Tiana's Beach Villas$$

picture of Tiana's Beach Villas beach
Excellent budget option with bungalows and self contained units right on the beach.

See our detailed Muri Beach Accommodation Guide

Avarua Town, North Rarotonga

boats in harbour on rarotonga

One of the highlights of Rarotonga is its Saturday morning market in Avarua Town where you'll find local handicrafts sold alongside exquisite black pearls and can sample fresh coconuts and other local delicacies.

Avarua Town sits on a rocky coastline five minutes from the international airport. There's only a handful of motel style accommodations along this north coast which makes a good base for more adventurous holiday-makers to revel in the town's island style night-life and explore the foothills which give an insight into the laid back Cook Islands lifestyle as well as having beautiful mountain scenery.

See our detailed Avarua Town Accommodation Guide

Rarotonga Activities & Sightseeing Tours

One of the great charms of a holiday on Rarotonga is there are plenty of things going on around the island and nothing is more than 30-minutes away. The four scuba diving operators all do hotel pick-up's. Most accommodations provide snorkelling gear and kayaks, but you can hire snorkel gear from a few places around the island, or kayaks and windsurfing gear from Muri Beach. Game fishing charters operate from Avana (near Muri) and Avarua Town and there are several glass-bottom lagoon cruises with snorkelling stops from Muri Beach. Surfing isn't great, but a few passages have semi-decent breaks.

On land, there's a cultural village, a water park for kids, a golf course, botanical gardens and plenty of organised sightseeing tours by air-conditioned coach, open-air jeeps, buggy or bicycle. The popular cross island hike takes about 3 hours one way and you can go on a birdwatching tour in the Takitumu Conservation Park. Humpback Whales visit from May to Oct and come right up to the fringing reef with the best spotting location on the west coast and particularly from Black Rock.

sunset in rarotonga

Rarotonga Travel Information

The international airport is on the north coast of Rarotonga and transfer coaches meet all international flights. Otherwise, taxis can be hired from the airport with bases around the island. There's a public bus that circumnavigates Rarotonga hourly in each direction with its main base in Avarua Town. There are no defined bus stops around the island, instead you just wait along the roadside and waive it down. There are plenty of companies offering car or moped hire with the international brand companies in Avarua Town and smaller independent outlets scattered around the island including several in Muri and Arorangi, also renting bicycles.

The main town of Avarua has decent size supermarket, banks, ATM’s and lively bars and there are lots of independent restaurants dotted around the island as well as a daily Night Market in Muri. There's even a few locally hosted dinner tours. The larger resorts host island nights open to non-guests (pre booking required) and usually have a Happy Hour and sunset cocktails, again non-guests welcome, so if you're staying in Muri or along the South Coast and want to have a sunset cocktail, then head to one of the open resort on the West Coasts.