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Rarotonga, Cook Islands Travel Guide Hot
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Aitutaki, Cook Islands Travel Guide
Location: Australia & Pacific
Geography: Island, Beach, Jungle/Rainforest
Vacation Type: Romantic, Relaxation
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Nightlife, Surfing, Spa & Wellness, Scuba & Snorkeling, Hiking, Fishing, Cultural Attractions, Boating, Scenery, Historical Sites, Windsurfing

Facts and Stats:
Population: 13,095
Area: 25.9 square miles
Government: Self Governing Parliamentary Democracy
Country Dialing Code: +682
Languages: Maori, English
Electricity: 240v
Currency: New Zealand Dollar
Time Zone: GMT 10 (No daylight savings)
Current Time:

If you dream about a remote tropical vacation, look no further than the Cook Islands - a true tropical paradise. Rarotonga, the main island, offers inland peaks surrounded by thousands of coconut palms waving languidly over a shallow lagoon of azure water, enclosed and protected by a reef encircling the entire island. This reef allows for safe swimming and snorkeling if you are wary of open ocean. Although Rarotonga is the biggest of the island chain, it is still quite easy to get around to different beaches and other points of interest. Time is slow here, and the locals are friendly, warm and laid back. Definitely make it to an Island Night, or another place where you can see Polynesian Dancing; The Cook Island Dancers are the best dancers in all of the Pacific.

The Cook Islands are comprised of 15 Islands in the heart of the South Pacific, nestled between the islands of Tahiti and Fiji. The easiest way to locate it on a map is to find Hawaii, and do a mirror reflection of Hawaii over the equator. Rarotonga is the youngest, biggest, and most populated of all the islands and where the government resides. The island is an extinct volcano and stands 14,750 feet above the ocean floor. The highest peak is 2,140 feet above sea level and a lagoon, which extends several hundred yards to the reef, surrounds the entire island. Nearly all of the shops, houses, resorts or restaurants are located on the main road that rings the outer edge of the island. If you travel by scooter, you can make it around the circumference of the island in under an hour.

Avarua is the main town and capitol on the island and the commercial center of the Cook Islands. During business hours, it has a friendly, bustling atmosphere together with a good selection of shops, banks, cafes and visitor facilities. Arorangi and Muri Beach are home to many of the accomodations the island has to offer.

Brief History:
Polynesians settled the Cook Islands long before any European explorers found the Islands. It is difficult to find accurate records of when they were settled, although they were probably settled by sea going Polynesians on canoes seeking more space and resources from their crowded island homes in Tupai'i, Samoa, and Tonga. Tradition has it that this was the reason for the expedition of Ru, from Tupua'i in French Polynesia, who landed on Aitutaki and Tangiia, also from French Polynesia, who are believed to have arrived on Rarotonga around 800 AD. Some evidence for this is that the old road of Toi, the Ara metua which runs round most of Rarotonga, is believed to be at least 1200 years old. Similarly, the northern islands were probably settled by expeditions from Samoa and Tonga.

Spanish expeditions found the Cook Islands at the end of the 15th century, sighting Pukapuka, and the British found it in the 17th century although they called it " Danger Island" because they could not land. Towards the end of the 17th century, Captain James Cook found many of the southern group Islands, and dubbed them Hervey Islands. Russians gave the name "Cook Islands" when they appeared for the first time on a naval chart in the 1880's and named them after the famous navigator. After the explorers, missionaries began to arrive. John Williams of the London Missionary Society landed on Aitutaki in 1821. He used converted Tahitians to spread the word, and they were largely successful (although, Williams was eventually killed and eaten in Vanuatu).

The islands became a British protectorate in 1888, and transferred to New Zealand control in 1900. On July 26 1965, Cook gained independence. New Zealand passed the Cook Islands Constitution Amendment Act and the Cook Islands became a State in free association with New Zealand. In essence, this arrangement provided that the Cook Islands can govern themselves with their own laws and leaders, retain New Zealand citizenship, and can have defense provided by New Zealand at their request.

The indigenous population of the Cook Islands is the Cook Islands Maori. They are Polynesians closely related ethnically to the indigenous populations of Tahiti and nearby islands and to the New Zealand Maori.

Maori Polynesians are unhurried, friendly, conservative and very famous for their Polynesian dancing. The dances are performed for Tangaroa, the Fertility God. His sculptures and likeness can be seen on many places on Rarotonga. (Once you see him, you won't forget why he is the Fertility God). English and Maori are both spoken here, and throughout the Cook Islands there are 6 dialects: Rakahanga/Manihiki, Penrhyn, Mangaia, Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu/Mauke/Mitiaro. Pukapukan is spoken in Pukapuka and Nassau.

It is very safe on Rarotonga, the saying being it's a small island, where would you hide??So, violent crimes are almost non-existent. I never felt any danger at night - on the beach or in town. We personally had a theft situation, but it is rare to encounter any problems during your stay.

About 100,000 people visit Rarotonga every year making tourism an important part of the economy. Other industries include black pearls, offshore banking, and agriculture.

The food scene has definitely matured here over the last 15 years and there are a number of restaurants offering upscale cuisine. Specifically a fusion of Polynesian and Continental European fare. Lamb is popular in the Cooks and often that will be the option for meat. Fish offerings may include trevally, parrotfish, wahoo, or whatever else was caught that day. Breadfruit, star fruit, mango, coconut, and poi, are all popular accompaniments, and there is a fusion of Indian type curries with a many dishes that is very pleasing.

The Cook Islands have a "free association" arrangement with New Zealand. Under this arrangement, Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens and use NZ dollars. There is Cook Island currency, but you see it less and less often. Which is really unfortunate, they have a beautiful 3-dollar bill. In the past, Americans and Europeans were largely unaware of the existence of the Cook Islands. For those "in the know" the exchange rate between the US dollar and the NZ dollar made travel in the Cook Islands very affordable. Unfortunately, due to the growing publicity the islands are receiving, prices are going up for things like lodging, food, and drink. Getting here has always been expensive for those outside of Australia and New Zealand because there are very few carriers and flights that go here, and this number has actually declined over the last decade. Prices are still pretty reasonable although it can vary widely due to exchange rates. Despite the attention the Cook Islands received from England's "Shipwrecked" and the United States' "Survivor" being filmed in nearby Aitutaki the Cook Islands are still considerably less expensive than Tahiti and Bora Bora.

Tipping is not a customary practice in the Cook Islands and taxes are included in all bills. Haggling is frowned upon. Most places now take credit cards.

Getting There and Around:
Getting to the Cook Islands from most places is very expensive. Air New Zealand offers flights from Los Angeles, Auckland, and as of July 2010, direct service from Sydney. Air Tahiti and Air Rarotonga fly to Rarotonaga from Papeete and Pacific Blue has flights from Auckland.

Getting around the island is pretty easy. There is one major outer road and it is a ring around the island. A bus runs the ring around the island, one traveling clockwise and one traveling counter-clockwise. So as long as you are heading in the same direction as the bus, they will pick you up and drop you anywhere. There are also taxis to call, and cars to rent but, by all means, rent a scooter! It is such a small place you will find scooters are easier and a lot more fun. Plus, you can go places cars cannot. The driving is on the left and drivers are fairly reserved and observe speed limits. Many locals use scooters too, so typically the speeds aren't very fast. You do need to get a local driver's license to legally drive in the Cook Islands, and this essentially means showing up with valid home license at the police station in the capital Avarua with $10 NZ. You must be 21 years old to drive.

The police are really cracking down on drinking and driving due to many accidents and injuries. If you are going to be out drinking, take a cab (or bus) instead of driving. Below is a list of the taxi companies available.

Areiti Taxis & Tours - 23012 - Muri Beach (24 hours)
Aroa Taxi Shuttle - 28144 - Arorangi
Doro's Taxi - 21400 - Avana (24 hours)
JP Taxis - 26572 - Arorangi (24 hours)
Kia Orana Taxis - 20203 - Aroa (24 hours)
Lazaro Taxi - 20529- Arorangi (24 hours)
Muri Beach Taxis - 21625 - Muri Beach
Parekura Taxis - 26490 - Avarua

Entry Requirements:
You must have a Passport and it must be valid 3 months beyond intended stay. No visa is required for stays up to 31 days. Extension permits are usually granted for visitors wanting to stay over 31 days. You must have tickets or documents for return or onward travel. You must have suitable accommodations and financial ability to support your stay.

The weather on Rarotonga is typically tropical and fairly consistent. Summer, between December and April, is hotter and more humid with a higher rainfall and the risk of tropical storms. Winter is between May and November and is cooler and drier. Aitutaki and the other northern islands are noticeably warmer than the main island of Rarotonga. High temperatures are usually around 85 degrees and the lows can get down to the mid 60's during the winter.

Below are the current weather conditions for Rarotonga.

Below is a chart showing the average high and low temperatures and average rainfall by month.

  Avg high Avg low Rainfall
Jan 83.8 73.2 10
Feb 84.4 73.6 8.8
Mar 84 72.7 10.8
Apr 82.8 71.6 7
May 79.9 68.7 6.8
Jun 78.1 66.7 4.2
Jul 77.4 65.5 3.7
Aug 76.8 65.1 4.9
Sep 77.5 66.4 3.9
Oct 78.8 68 5.1
Nov 80.8 69.8 5.6
Dec 82 71.4 9.1

Additional Tips and Information
  • When walking around in the lagoon waters, wear a pair of thick-soled water socks. There may be stonefish which bury themselves in the sand with poisonous barbs sticking up. If you don't have proper protection and step on one, your vacation will be ruined and you will experience many days of excruciating pain.
  • When snorkeling, do not ever put any of your limbs inside the mouth of a giant clam. If they close on you, you may drown.
  • The Cook Islands periodically have outbreaks of Dengue Fever. In fact, when this travel guides was first written, 460 people had been recently infected with it. Dengue Fever will not likely kill you, but you will want to die. Dengue Fever is carried by mosquitoes, so make sure you have plenty of mosquito repellent with Deets and use it when outdoors, particularly during the daytime.
  • Outside the 3 points above, there is no other dangerous wildlife on the island. You can even swim and snorkel inside the reef without worrying about sharks.
  • Be wary of the exhaust pipes on your scooter. It is very easy to touch your leg to them, which can result in a wicked burn. Ask the scooter rental place to show you where not to touch.
  • Most of the locals are Christian and Sundays are considered a day of rest. Most stores, restaurants, and other establishments are closed.
  • You won't be able to help but notice the wild dogs that roam the island because most of them, regardless of breed, have stumpy Dachshund-like legs. The dogs are very friendly but can be a hazard when riding scooters.
  • Recognize, respect and appreciate the slower pace of life on the island.
Police: 999
Hospital/Ambulance: 998
Fire: 996
Rarotonga Hospital: 22-664
Community Health Clinic: 20-065
Police Land and Sea Search and Rescue National Police Headquarters Rarotonga: 22-499

Photo Gallery

User Reviews (1)

Reviewed by: sloshed
Review date: Jul-23-2009

I had to give Rarotonga a 5 star rating even though Aitutaki is better. Having said that, Rarotonga is awesome and offers beautiful beaches, good restaurants, and some semblance of a nightlife without being too touristy. Can't wait to go back. 

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