Rarotonga is a gorgeous South Pacific island part of the larger collection of Cook Islands (commonly referred to as the Cooks).
Since Rarotonga (commonly referred to as Raro) is so far from the US, we don’t hear a lot from people who have traveled there or anything about its culture or history. Needless to say, there were many things I was not expecting when I traveled to my first tiny remote island. So, here are some things to know about Rarotonga if you are also considering a trip and don’t know a lot about this area.
Note: If you’re interested in what activities enjoy when you get here, check out my other post about my favorite things to do in Rarotonga!
0. There is a lot of strong history on the island
Consider this a pre/bonus thing to know in this list of things to know, because technically, this is true everywhere. But I think it’s especially important to call out here since back in colonialism days, the native people here had their culture taken away. So over the years, a lot of it was lost or forgotten.
Many young people I met talked about trying to fill in the gaps with their own spin. And a lot of important historical sites now have information so you can learn about them. Like that picturesque black rock area above? Historical spiritual place.
1. There’s no free Wi-Fi anywhere
Okay now back to things that millenials care about. How do you get Wi-Fi in Rarotonga? You can buy Blue Sky, which has hotspots throughout the island or in your hotel/resort. However, this can be expensive as it’s based on the data you use- for example, it was $30 for 1500 megabytes when I was there. Even with turning off all background apps to save data, this was only a couple of hours of social media for me.
2. No one is on their phones
Coming from Seattle, this was a huge and noticable difference. While waiting in line, or sitting on the bus, or even laying on the beach, you always see someone on their phone back home, but not in Raro. I learned to start putting my phone away to fit in better and try talking to the people around me instead.
3. Everyone is friendly and will greet you with a kia orana
Greet them back! Note that this is different from kia ora, which is used in New Zealand. This is because the Cook Islands have their own version of Maori. Also one random but less impactful fact is that they call papaya pawpaw!
4. Instagram didn’t lie to you about how gorgeous it is
Unless you look at highly edited desaturated pictures, Rarotonga looks exactly like the perfect island destination you see in pictures. Try to make sure you go when a couple of days are sunny for extra beauty.
5. The island is mostly surrounded by a lagoon
Other island beaches I’ve been to (really just Hawaii) have waves that come up to the shore. Rarotonga is different because many parts are actually surrounded by a lagoon. This means that the water from the beaches is calm, and you can walk out pretty far without knowing how to swim.
6. There are stray animals everywhere
Especially chickens, dogs, and cats. Technically the US customs form does not want you to touch them, which is why I added this here, but they are adorable and friendly! Some of the dogs are territorial with others, but they are nice to humans.
7. Island time is real
Whether you’re going on a tour or trying to rent something, people may work on island time, meaning that things will start or people will appear later than the set time. Just go with the flow and don’t feel like you need to rush places either.
8. Food and alcohol is close in price as big cities
People told me that it was really expensive here.
Taking a taxi out of the airport is definitely expensive, considering that the island is not big (and forgetting that they are a small country importing gas and cars). We paid $40 to go 2 miles! And as stated above, the WiFi is expensive (and also as stated above, people don’t really use it).
But what I found is that the food and alcohol is the same price as being in a major big city. For example, a butter chicken curry could be $12 and a beer could be $3.50.
9. They use the New Zealand Dollar in addition to the Cook Island Dollar
So as tourists, you may get two types of currency souvenirs. And Cook Island money has a gigantic penis on it. Sorry if it’s a cultural thing and I just offended. Please let me know. But it goes down to his knees.
10. They have their own versions of Polynesian food
I used to think that Polynesian food didn’t vary much between the islands- but that is wrong. Learn about the local food and then check them out at the local markets!
And that concludes my list of things to know about Rarotonga? Have you been before? What other things would you add? Let me know in the comments!