While living on the island for several years, we came to know many awesome things to do in Rarotonga. And in the same way, we figured out how to do activities differently, to have a much better experience, or just to avoid crowds :-).
There are many fantastic things to do Rarotonga, such as reef hiking, spearfishing, snorkeling the passages, chill on lonely beaches, semi-surround the island by kayak, explore less-known areas, get a traditional Polynesian tattoo, and watch the sunset at unique places or restaurants.
Here are our insider tips for your memorable stay on the island.
Let us also guide you around the island in our video about Rarotonga.
1. Hiking on the Reef
By far, one of the most captivating experiences you can have on Rarotonga.
Wait for low tide, put on a pair of sturdy shoes, take a bottle of water and sun protection with you, and off you go.
The best corner for a reef walk is at the Avaavaroa passage in the south of Rarotonga. Take the path on the western edge of the passage to get to the reef, which is a 20 minutes walk. The reef there feels like a highway, and you can hike for kilometers/ miles through fascinating nature, all the way to the Papua Passage.
You’ll be surprised about the plenty of marine life on and along the reef rocks and coral banks. But even better, you have a unique view of stunning Rarotonga from a different perspective.
PS: It’s a perfect spot for sunset, too. Just make sure you get back to the mainland before the tide is coming in and before it’s getting dark.
PPS: The edge of the reef is also an excellent spot for fishing. You meet many locals there.
PPPS: If you’d like to do a guided tour with great marine life insights, book Kura and her Ariimoana Walkabout experience.
2. Spearfishing With the Locals
Spearfishing is one of the fantastic traditional things to do in Rarotonga. Give it a try – that’s all we can say.
If you haven’t done it before, it’s a bit of a challenge. You have to dive down, balance your body, control the weapon, and aim for the fish. We ourselves have hit the rocks so often. But it is a lot of fun. And so rewarding if you finally catch a prey.
Spearfishing is the number one fishing method for the Cook Islanders to put food on their tables. Very common on the entire Cook Islands, for all ages, and with all types of weapons. They use everything from homemade traditional wood products to modern, lightweight, and high-precision guns. And so can you.
So, wherever you are, there are always locals going out for spearfishing. Ask them if you can join, learn how to harpoon fish, and prepare it to be eaten raw. Yum!
If you are looking for locals that offer spearfishing tours, you will find them at Avatiu Marina in Avarua town.
3. Snorkeling in the Avaavaroa and Arorangi Passage
Marine life is raging here. Snorkeling in these two passages is extraordinary, with schools of small and bigger fish, turtles, eagle rays, and reef sharks that might cross your way.
Avaavaroa passage meanders a few hundred meters from the beach to the reef. Swimming is a bit of an exercise, so you should have solid snorkeling gear and sun protection on you. But it’s so rewarding. You see canyon-like landscapes and a favorite place for turtles to hang out and get cleaned. You cannot miss this one, because it’s such a dazzling area.
At the lowest low tide and perfect weather conditions, you can also leave the lagoon and swim around the reef corner. Do this only in a group or pulling a board or tiny rubber boat with you to be safe in case of currents. Out there, big fish swim by, and you can come across sharks as well.
At the Arorangi passage, the entire area around the jetty is one large mesmerizing aquarium. The closer you get to the reef, the more teeming marine life gets, including schools of the beautiful Napoleon fish and large, colorful parrotfish.
A tip for a safety device, if you want to feel more secure while snorkeling in the passage: Take a long rope with you and attach it to the ladder of the jetty.
4. South-West Rarotonga’s Lonely Dream Beaches
Rarotonga is a South Seas paradise. And this is why most visitors want to hang out on dream beaches overlooking the turquoise-blue lagoon.
Which side of Rarotonga has the best beaches?
The south and west coast of Rarotonga have the most beautiful beaches, with many secluded and less-visited beach areas. Like Sunhaven and Murivai beach in the west. Or in the south, the beaches east of the Rarotongan Resort, next to the Avaavaroa passage, at Aramoana OTB, and at Turoa and Titikaveka.
South Rarotonga has a beautiful long white sand beach with tiny bays, with a stunning part of the lagoon in front of it. It actually stretches from the Avaavaroa passage up to the Vaima Restaurant. And with just small guesthouses and a couple of people around.
Also, leave the crowds of Fruits of Rarotonga beach behind you. It’s a great snorkel spot and attracts lots of visitors. But just a few meters west of it, a stunning beach strip begins. From the little cemetery area on the main road, take the path down to the beach and head west towards Titikaveka beach. Stroll past Charlie’s Café and the Little Polynesian and find your favorite spot.
Two more awesome places are Turoa beach in the south. It’s also a favorite take-off place for kite-surfers. And the beach east of the Rarotongan is lovely. While the west side, Aroa Beach, is a bit overcrowded, there is hardly anyone on the hotel’s east side. It is a long sandy beach with superb swimming areas.
5. Semi-Circumference the Lagoon by Kayak
That is an awesome day trip and another one of the things to do in Rarotonga. Launch your kayak at Black Rock and paddle down the west coast and further the south coast to Muri beach. You can take this route at low tide and high tide.
Row leisurely and enjoy the scenery. You always find a place to rest along the route, be it a lonesome beach or a restaurant or beach bar to stop by, like the Vaima Restaurant or Charlies Cafe.
Just make sure you have sun protection with you and drinking water – and off you go. Just do not leave the lagoon because the currents behind the reef can be dangerous.
PS: There is no lagoon on the east side of Rarotonga and you cannot continue your tour there.
Many accommodations offer their guests kayaks for free. And there are also several places where you can borrow one.
6. Fish & Chips @Sunset on Sunhaven Beach
That is such a great spot for a time-out and one of the relaxing things to do in Rarotonga. Also, you rarely meet people in this beautiful beach area.
And it is even more magical during sunset. Grab a portion of Fish & Chips from the Pacific Fish and Chip Shop across the street and enjoy it while watching the sun disappear.
Two indulgences combined: delicious food from the island’s best Fish & Chips shop and one of the best sunset places on Rarotonga.
Even better with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot (the French champagne ;-), which you can buy in town at the Bond Store.
Tip: Do not leave directly after sunset. Stay another hour, because the colors of the sky might develop breathtakingly.
7. Explore the Less-Known Backroad and Town Areas
Clearly on the list of things to do in Rarotonga, if you want to discover a different side of the island: Explore the backroad, Ara Metua.
You get an excellent insight into where and how most Rarotongans live. But you also come across heaps of plantation areas, tiny hidden guesthouses, and businesses that you would miss on the main road.
Get a little adventurous, too, and take the tiny inland and uphill roads. You will find untouched nature, lush valleys, small rivers, secluded homes. It’s absolutely worth exploring.
Do the same in Avarua town. Have a look at the hidden areas of Tupapa. Like the area around the Cook Islands National Museum, Library, Auditorium, and the hostels/ accommodation for the people from the outer islands.
Take it easy, though, because potholes pave your way. The best vehicles to do so are a scooter or a bicycle because you have the right speed to look around.
8. From Noon to Late Night @Trader Jacks
Iconic Trader Jacks is a must during a Rarotonga visit. The location itself is fantastic, overlooking Avarua harbor, with a lot of leisure activities happening. And it’s a front-row seat for many ocean competitions being carried out, as well as for whale watching during whale season.
In the same way, it’s an excellent spot to stop over, grab a drink and have a delicious Tuna sashimi pizza.
But, to be honest, Trader Jacks Diner is made for an entire day lazing around. From the time of opening until late evening.
Start your hangout at noontime, ideally with a couple of good friends to chill and chat with.
Overlook Avarua harbor and its happenings with a light lunch and a drink. Watch the scenery while all types of people coming and going over time. And end up in the evening, enjoying a solid dinner, good wine, and music entertainment.
9. Discover the Highland Paradise Mountain Area
The Highland Paradise is best known for its spectacular evening events – a show with drums, dances, and local food in a fantastic setting.
But – visit it during the day! It’s a fantastic place in the mountains above Arorangi, on the west side of Rarotonga. A huge area in the rainforest and with a stunning view of the coast. Full of places and stories of the Maori tradition and way of life.
Hike the beautiful Maungaroa Valley Track. A little path that meanders further uphill to magnificent old Maori cult sites!
10. Dinner at the Restaurants OTB & Antipodes & Waterline
Nothing beats these three dinner locations when it comes to atmosphere in combination with superb food.
What makes them unique?
At the “On the Beach” Restaurant, you have your feet in the sand. It’s part of the Manuia Beach Resort and sits directly on the beach. Have a seat on a sunlounger while having an aperitif. Go to the barefoot dining area for a lovingly prepared dinner and exquisite wine. The decoration is all about beach life, and the staff is so caring. Usually, a decent local music band and a stunning sunset complete the picture.
While Waterline lifts you on their first-floor dining deck, with cozy wooden furniture and a rustic bar. The building is open to the beach and ocean, with an unspoiled sunset view. There are also a couple of chairs under palm trees if you’d like to spend some time on the sand. The food is local cuisine with a touch of Asian flavor, and the self-made chili sauces are exquisite.
And finally, Antipodes takes you up the hill and into a terrific Mediterranean-Arabian-style mix environment. After a fairytale Arabic entrance area with a little pond and bridge, the restaurant opens up. The terrace has a spectacular view overlooking the fabulous Black Rock area. It’s a great place during whale season because it’s likely that you see some of these giants passing by. Enjoy the yummy food, a delicious mix of local and Mediterranean-Arabic spices and dishes.
11. Cross-Island Trek – Against the Current
Beat the crowds by hiking the trail from south to north – against the current.
Start your Island-crossing adventure in the morning hours at Papua Waterfall. It’s incredible to see the first sunrays touching the Papua river through the rainforest while you walk along. It is so peaceful and unspoiled.
When you arrive at The Needle – the highest point of the trail with its gorgeous outlook, most hikers already passed it, and you have it mostly to yourself.
And another good news: from there, you walk the steepest part of the trail downhill instead of uphill.
PS: You can read the signposting of the path also if you walk in the opposite direction.
12. If You Are Into It – Get Your Traditional Polynesian Tattoo
One of the unique things to do in Rarotonga, get yourself a beautiful lifetime memory. You have the choice between a couple of extraordinary tattoo artists on Rarotonga – and you should make use of this fact. Remember, you are in the heart of Polynesia, where this traditional body art comes from. So if you are considering getting a tattoo, that’s the place to do it.
The artwork of the tattooers ranges from filigree to bold, across all Polynesian countries’ tattoo styles. But they all have one in common: each artist creates a unique piece of art on your skin, reflecting your personality. Just awesome!
For all the details, have a look at our particular article about the 6 Best Polynesian Tattoo Studios in Rarotonga.
What Can You Do in Rarotonga for Free?
Many times we heard the question about the things to do in Rarotonga for free. Here are some tips:
1. Water Sports
If you bring your own equipment, such as snorkeling or fishing gear, you can enjoy plenty of water sports at no cost. Many accommodations also offer water sports gear free of charge to their guests, like kayaks, SUPs, snorkeling kits. And there are numerous places around the island, where you can hit the water and enjoy all these activities.
Note: Fishing is not permitted in the Ra’ui nature reserves, which are signposted. You also shouldn’t catch reef fish to eat, as it can carry the ciguatoxin that causes Ciguatera Fish poisoning (CFP).
2. Hiking on the Reef and in the Mountains
Also, you can hike on the reef or in the mountains by yourself, and you don’t need a paid guide.
Tips for great hikes: Walk on the reef at the Avaavaroa passage, or hike the Cross Island Track backward, south to north. Climbing the Raemaru Track in Arorangi is also fantastic.
PS: If you want to do the Cross Island hiking track, you have to consider that the road to the Papua waterfall is private and comes with a $5 (maintenance) fee for cars and scooters.
3. Explore Less-Known Areas of Rarotonga
The old road of Rarotonga, Ara Metua, leads you through many residential and plantation areas. Find out more about the living conditions of the locals and explore the unspoiled hidden areas, especially if you take the small roads inland and uphill into the mountain and valley areas.
There are some tasting that you can do for free.
Such as at the Rarotonga Brewery in Nikao or Perfumes of Rarotonga next to the airport. But watch out for A-frame advertising on the roads, where locals offer different tastings on a daily basis.
5. Church Services
There are a variety of congregations and churches in the Cook Islands, where visitors are warmly welcomed, like
- The Protestants, with the Cook Islands Christian Church (CCIC).
- The Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Rarotonga is a diocese with a bishop’s see, the St. Joseph Cathedral in the center of the capital Avarua.
- Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA).
- Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Apostolic Church, and the Assemblies of God.
Please respect the dress code:
- The women’s clothing should cover shoulders and knees.
- Men should wear long trousers and a shoulder-covering top.
Where to Get All Detailed Information About Rarotonga?
First of all, you’ll find more about Rarotonga including a great photo gallery on our website.
But then we have tons of additional information for you on the insider tips in this post and each of the following topics in our Travel Guide of the Entire Cook Islands, including all contact details and geocodes of the described locations:
- How to get to Rarotonga
- Facts and Stats
- Best time to travel
- What to do in case of an emergency
- Tips where to stay, eat and drink
- Tips where to shop
- Everything about the infrastructure
- List of tour-, fishing-, surf- and dive operators, etc.
- Points of interest around Rarotonga
- Top Tips
Curious to find out more?
The travel guide covers the entire Cook Island, meaning you will get all of the above-detailed information for each of the 12 inhabited islands. So that you can discover and experience even more of this fantastic island nation.
You Might Also Be Interested In …
More related questions around the Cook Islands. Like
Are There Any Sharks in Rarotonga?
Get some more information about Sharks in Rarotonga and 9 Popular Spots to See Them.
Are There Any Dangerous Animals in the Cook Islands?
If you are interested in these facts, look at our post about 10 Dangerous Animals in the Cook Islands.
What Do I Need to Know About Animals in the Cook Islands in General?
Have a look at the 9 Important Facts About Animals in the Cook Islands.
Which Marine Animals Can I Find in the Cook Islands?
Here are all the details about the Vibrant Marine Life in the Cook Islands.
As well as our special article about: Dengue Fever in the Cook Islands, Facts and 5 Helpful Steps if You Get Sick