After spending a few days in Rarotonga- going through activities at full speed and living life without internet… I was going crazy. I remember thinking, “I did it all! I want to leave! I NEED INTERNET!!” It didn’t click till mid-trip that because this is a tiny island, life has a completely different pace that big city travelers may need to adjust to.
Once that clicked, I realized that I liked Rarotonga a lot. The people were so friendly. The beaches were stunning. The slow pace actually helps to truly unwind and center yourself. And, there are so many fun things to do and enjoy!
Are you planning a trip to the Cook Islands soon? Here are some of the best things to do in Rarotonga from my experience! And if you want to be extra prepared for your trip, check out my post on things to know about Rarotonga before you go!
In This Post
Snorkeling in the Lagoons
This was my absolute favorite thing to do in Rarotonga! The water in the lagoons is so clear that you can see fish swimming even without snorkeling. So naturally once you’re underwater, you see incredible views of the sea life- the most colorful fish ever, adorable turtles, absolutely frightening eels.
To be fair, the only other place I’ve snorkeled is Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, which was an awesome first experience. But snorkeling in Raro was even better because of how much easier it was to see and how many more animals were around. There are a few snorkeling spots in Raro, but I personally spent most of the time at the lagoon by the Rarotonga Beach Resort and Spa. It was a better choice for me because we got free gear since I was staying there, and it was much less busy than going at some of the main beaches.
Are you looking for something more intensive? There are a ton of scuba opportunities further down the ocean. I can’t swim so didn’t do this (another +1 for snorkeling because it’s more accessible!).
Hiking Te Manga
Island hikes are beautiful. You can get thick green rainforest, expansive blue ocean, and views of it all from atop a volcano or mountain! Specific to my experience in Rarotonga, there were also a few stray guide chickens and dogs who help you along the path, which helped make these hikes one of a kind.
Though there are a few hikes to choose from, hiking to the top of Te Manga was my favorite because it was such a challenge. To truly get to the top, you have to climb around a rock via a very sketchy chain rope thing. Even if you don’t do this, the views are still amazing. If you’re feeling adventurous, this hike can be part of an all day trek to the other side of the island.
Also, the trailhead for Te Manga is a bit hard to find. We only found it because someone told us we were pretty far from the entrance, had us hop on his Jeep, and then went off-roading to the trailhead. So my advice is… talk to people who live here!
Driving around the island via scooter
Scooter is a popular form of transportation here. Even for visitors, exploring the island at your own pace, with the wind in your hair, and the country road in front of you, is a ton of fun. A few years ago, I had a major scooter fail in Vietnam that made me never want to ride them again. But the roads in Rarotonga are way more calm than in Southeast Asia, which makes it the perfect place to try. So if you are nervous but still curious like I was- don’t be afraid!
You do need a license to rent these though. You can take the license test in the police department if needed. If you have a motorcycle license from the US, that also counts.
Once you have a license, there are a few companies you can rent scooters from. They mostly have locations throughout the island so you don’t need to necessarily drop it off where you got it. I went with Polynesian Scooter Rentals because it was walking distance from the resort, and I was renting on a last minute decision. But it worked out well because they were really friendly and great!
Eating through the the markets
The Muri Night Market is open a few nights a week and is a fun way to try multiple dishes at once from local vendors. Just remember that you’re in a night market in an island of 1200- not an island of 38 million like Taiwan, so it’s a more laid back night market.
Open more often is the Punanga Nui Market, which is almost like a farmer’s market. They have local food, wares for sale, and activities going on. We went a couple of times for food, and the stands there serve some of the best seafood and curries I had on the island!
If you’re feeling adventurous, try ika mata, which is a local Cook Islander dish made of marinated raw fish (almost like poke). And to be honest – any tuna is amazing in Raro. They (of course) have general Polynesian food like poi and also Indian inspired food like butter chicken. Last, try a stand’s (or any restaurant’s) special dish of the day for a fun way to try something unique and delicious!
Drinking at Matutu Brewing Company
If you’re into craft beers, check out Matutu Brewing Company. They’re a local brewery and offer daily tours for a small fee (about 10 NZD in 2017). I’ve been on a ton of brewery tours around the world, and this one is definitely one of my favorites. Mostly because of how much alcohol they give you- two whole pints of freshly made, delicious beer!! Plus the tour guide is extremely personal, and he gives you a very honest background on making beers.
You’re on a beautiful island – you don’t need to always be checking stuff off of Internet lists! Take time to lounge on the beautiful beaches and collect vitamin D. Bring a book, learn about the island’s native history, make a new friend, or generally focus on being in the moment.
Bonus: Taking a trip to the other Cook Islands
This is a bonus because I didn’t actually get a chance to do it. So I can’t say for certain that it’s a thing that would be enjoyable. But if you have more money than I do, consider visiting the other islands like Aitutaki or Atiu!
Update: Where’s Muri Beach?!
A few people have asked me how could I have forgotten Muri Beach, one of the most iconic beaches in Rarotonga. While I do think you should check it out because there’s a lot going on, it didn’t make my “best things” list since it wasn’t one of my favorite beaches in Rarotonga. It was really crowded and wasn’t as beautiful as other parts of the island, in my opinion.
I mentioned staying at The Rarotonga Beach Resort and Spa earlier, and their beach is so much better! It’s more relaxing since there’s less people, the water is even more incredibly clear, they keep it well maintained since it’s the resort’s private beach, and there are no sea slugs (which are everywhere in Muri Beach)! Plus the staff is really friendly, there’s a ton to do in the resort, and their food is actually good!
I know a lot of you are on a budget though (this resort was a rare, but well worth it, splurge for me). If you want to stay in a hostel with a beach area that I still think is prettier than Muri, consider staying at the Rarotonga Backpackers. My friend was staying in a beach hut here so we spent a lot of time there, and I thought their beach was perfect as well! Clean, quiet, beautiful, and sea slug-less.
Have you been to Rarotonga? What were some of the best things you did? Let me know in the comments!