Why You Should Visit Rarotonga & the Best Things to Do

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Everyone loves a good beach holiday but deciding where to go can be difficult. Classic beach destinations like Spain or Greece are easy to get to but are often busy and overcrowded. Famous beach destinations like the Maldives and the Seychelles often dominate lists of “the best beaches in the world”, but may be out of your budget.

But did you know there’s a little-known country that may actually beat them all? That country is the Cook Islands and if you Iike beaches, you need to add it to your must-visit list.

The Cook Islands are located in the Pacific, between New Zealand and French Polynesia. It’s made up of 15 islands with Rarotonga being the main island and home to the only international airport. However, Rarotonga only receives international flights from New Zealand, Australia and French Polynesia, meaning that it’s certainly not the easiest place to visit. But this means that the Cook Islands really feel like a secret, not touched by the larger tourist numbers of places like its neighbour, Bora Bora in French Polynesia. It’s untouched, unspoilt, and all the better for those who are willing to make the effort to visit.

So why should you fly halfway across the world to the Cook Islands and what is there to do on its main island, Rarotonga?

Stroll along the amazing beaches

Rarotonga beaches are amazing and the best way to see them is simply to keep walking.

The whole south coast of the island can be walked without leaving the sand. And you can continue round the east side of the island as far as the top of Muri Beach before having to come inland. That’s about 10km of uninterrupted beach. With that length of beautiful beach there’ll be no excuse not to get your steps in whilst on this tiny island.

Snorkel with turtles

In the centre of the south coast of Rarotonga is an area of water which is known for being home to a number of sea turtles. It’s called the Avaavaroa Passage and can be found on Google Maps, or if you walk along the beach you’ll notice some small groups of snorkel tours heading out here.

The reason the snorkel tours go here is because as well as turtles, the area is known for its strong current. If you take a tour they’ll help you swim out and back with a paddle board, and generally make sure you don’t stray into a position where you could be pulled away by the current.

However, if you’re a strong and confident swimmer, there’s no reason why you can’t head out alone. Just make sure to go at low tide when the water is shallow enough to always stand up, and be aware of drifting too close to the edge of the reef. If you follow precautions you should be fine, and you’ll be rewarded with swimming with majestic turtles.

Enjoy the underwater life

If there’s one thing you should pack when visiting the Cook Islands it’s your mask and snorkel. The underwater life here is abundant and it’s amazing how much you can see so close to the beach.

In front of Aroa Beach you’ll find Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve. This is the best place on the island to go snorkelling with an amazing amount of colourful corals and plenty of fish just 20 metres or so from the shore.

Hike across the island

Rarotonga really puts the meaning into “cross country” hiking with trails which literally allows you to cross the whole island top to bottom.

You can do the trails in either direction, either starting in Avarua in the north or at Wigmores in the south. The hikes takes you through the forested centre of the island up to the highest point on Rarotonga, Te Rua Manga, aka. The Needle. From here you’ll have 360-degree views of the whole island.

The climb can be steep in places but as long as you’re relatively fit you should be able to get across in about 2-3 hours.

Eat the best burger in the Pacific

Vili’s Burger Joint on the east coast of the island may look unassuming sitting next to a petrol station and grocery store, but their burgers are anything but.

This place always has a steady stream of locals and tourists and for good reason, their burgers are seriously good. Smash patties with cheese and their homemade burger sauce is their signature burger and it’s delicious.

Head there on a Wednesday when you can grab their cheeseburger for just $4NZ!

Go shopping at the Saturday market

Every Saturday in Avarua, the capital of Rarotonga, the Punanga Nui Market is held.

Locals sell crafts, clothes and food amongst other things. It’s a great place to spend a morning strolling around and seeing what’s on offer. Plan to grab brunch here at one of the many stalls or small cafes.

Marvel at the best beaches in the world

Rarotonga has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Empty stretches of white sand backed by palm trees and fronted by calm turquoise waters interspersed by darker patches of corals. When you imagine paradise beaches, this really is it.

Head to any one of the beaches surrounding the island and you’ll find it impossible not to be memorised. They’re just so photogenic and beautiful, and it’s not hard to find a spot which you’ll have all to yourself.

Visit Charlie’s Bar

If you’re looking for a cool beachfront bar to grab a drink whilst in Rarotonga, then Charlie’s Bar is the place to go. With a beachfront location, live music every night, cheap drink deals and good food, this place is always busy with locals and visitors. It’s the perfect spot to have a chill night after a day on the beach. Grab a pitcher of beer alongside their famous big fish sandwich and enjoy the view.

Watch sunrise or sunset over the Pacific

There’s nothing better than watching the sunrise or sunset over the ocean. And the Cook Islands are right at the start of the international date line meaning it is one of the last countries in the world to see the sunrise, and one of the last to see the sunset. To put it in perspective, they’re 21 hours behind Sydney!

Head to Muri Beach for sunrise then pick a spot anywhere along the south or west coast for sunset. If you’d prefer to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand then head to Wilson’s Bar or Shipwreck Hut Bar for drinks with a sunset view.

Take a flight to another island

If you’ve got more than a week in the Cook Islands then you may want to consider checking out one of the other islands beside Rarotonga.

Aitutaki is the other main island and is only a 40-minute flight from Rarotonga. The flight is actually so short that some tour operators on Rarotonga even offer day trips there! But if you can, head there for 2 or 3 days to discover even more remote and beautiful beaches.


The Cook Islands are one of the most idyllic beach destinations in the world. And certainly one of the few that don’t require a stay in a 5* hotel with a hefty price tag. Instead you’ll find here a laid-back, untouched, and largely unknown beach destination. Seriously, Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are a beach lovers paradise.

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Written by

Sophie Small

Sophie has been travelling around the world since September 2019. Originally from London, she lived and worked in Vietnam for 4 years before deciding to pursue her passion for full time travel. She loves exploring new destinations, adventure activities and sampling local cuisine. Sophie has travelled all over Central and South America, Asia, Europe and many other regions. She shares her pictures on her Instagram and her portfolio sophiesmall.contently.com.

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