Rarotonga is the kind of place that makes you feel more alive.
When you’re in the Pacific among breaching whales, beholding the bold green of Rarotonga’s mountain-scape, you can’t help but feel revitalised. When you’re in the thick of her jungle, smelling the earth and listening to the birds, you can’t help but feel present, grounded, alive.
The island’s beauty is stunning, dramatic, unforgettable.
Rarotonga is the most developed of the Cook Islands, but it’s still an unspoilt paradise. The island’s tourism industry caters to any kind of traveller – if you’re on a budget you can stay in a beachside backpackers’ dormitory and if you’re on a honeymoon, there are high-end luxury hotels with breakfast buffets and swimming pools. There are motels, guesthouses, villas, and resorts. There are fine-dining restaurants with linen serviettes and deluxe spas and air-conditioned art galleries, but despite the development the island has lost none of its charm.
The tourism bureau markets Rarotonga as Hawai’i 50 years ago. There are no signal lights. A single road rings the island, peppered with signs declaring the local speed limit to be 40 km/hr. “Downtown” Avarua is a quick stretch of rental car agencies, banks, bars and shops. Homes line the main road and the back roads, their gardens crowded with fruit trees and flowery shrubs. Hens wander into every yard, their aggressive male counterparts close behind. Pigs, cows, and goats graze beside the road. The sun shines even in winter, the lagoon is clear-blue, the skies are clear, and at night millions of stars prick the sky.
On Rarotonga, you can unplug. So you can expect to connect more deeply with yourself, with the island and with the people you meet. You can read books and be outdoors and notice things you don’t when your phone is glued to your palm. You can appreciate the mountains and the sea and the flowers and the stars.
The pace of life is slower and it’s easier to relax, but if you’re up for adventures, there’s plenty to do. You can explore ancient marae – traditional meeting places – and snap photos of old limestone churches, built in the 1800s when the missionaries and their Tahitian converts arrived. You can visit the site from which seven canoes departed, before their passengers settled New Zealand. You can learn about old Polynesia, a world in which people survived severe weather and complete isolation by living in harmony with nature and each other.
If you’re adventurous, just pick an activity – hiking to one of Rarotonga’s many peaks, kitesurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, scuba diving, spearfishing, cycling, snorkeling, fishing, exploring the jungle on quad bikes.
There are tons of restaurants to suit every palate, serving fresh and delicious local and international fare. You can also attend an “island night” or cultural village to eat real local food, cooked in an underground oven, much of it marinated in fresh coconut cream. There are bars and nightclubs in which you can dance under the stars, and there’s live island music somewhere every night of the week.
Rarotonga is popular with families, honeymooners and for weddings, but even if you’re travelling alone, you will feel safe here. The people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet in your life, probably because they live in a place that’s fertile and safe and peaceful, where food is abundant and sunshine constant. You can expect hugs, kisses on the cheek, smiles, and shouts of “kia orana,” the warmest kind of greeting. You won’t feel like you’re intruding. People are gracious, relaxed, and gentle, enthusiastic about introducing you to the beautiful island they were blessed to inherit.
No visitor to Rarotonga leaves without wanting to return. It’s the kind of place that finds its way into your soul, the kind of place that keeps you coming back.