From idyllic beaches to mysterious abandoned hotels; scooter adventures and delicious eats, we’ve rounded up six fun things to do to make the most of the Cook Islands’ laidback vibes.
1. Hire a scooter
Zipping around the island on a scooter is one of the best ways to soak up tropical island bliss, and easy too, seeing as Rarotonga is just 32km in circumference. Flit from one golden beach to the next, finding shady palm trees, verdant rainforest and beachside shacks. In Rarotonga you can get your Cook Island moped license in less than an hour. Simply head down to the Police Station in Avarua and sit a short theory test. Then complete a 10-minute practical test in the car park. Once you’ve mastered the road cones you’re good to go and, conveniently, scooter rental is right next door.
It pays to note that the licensing side of the police station has varied hours. Between Monday and Thursday it’s open between 8.30pm and 4pm, but closes at 1pm on Fridays and 10.30am on Saturdays. On Sunday it doesn’t open at all. All subject to change, of course, because you’re on island time now.
2. Visit the abandoned hotel
In the late 1980s a brand new 250-room resort was almost complete. The swimming pool was filled and the grounds were pruned; even the shower curtains had been hung, awaiting guests. But it all went awry in the eleventh hour. Amidst rumours of Italian Mafia, land ownership laws and a tribal curse, the resort was suddenly abandoned and left to fall into disrepair. And that’s how it remains today. Eerily deserted and overgrown, a skeleton building remains in tact but unused, save for the odd goat roaming in and out.
Although off limits for self-exploration, visitors drawn to this intriguing relic can book an around-the-grounds quad bike tour with Raro Buggy Tours.
3. Catch a jaw-dropping sunset
It sounds obvious but your daily dose of sunset gawping is an essential in Rarotonga. Not surprisingly, resorts flanking the west coast boast the best views, with places such as Sunset Resort and Maunia Beach Resort open to non-guests for a happy hour sundowner. The sky will erupt in a masterpiece of gold, orange, purple and pink, with all the perfection of a Photoshopped image, except it’s 100% natural.
Make sure you enjoy at least one sunset from Trader Jacks; a sea-fronting and open-air diner perched on Avarua Harbour. Head upstairs for seafood dinners, or grab a pizza and beer from the bar.
4. Relax on Muri Beach
Regarded as one of the most idyllic beaches in Rarotonga, the platinum sand and teal waters at Muri Beach are straight out of a holiday brochure. Freckled by a handful of sleepy resorts, you can wade across the shallow lagoon water to a nearby islet, hire SUP boards and kayaks, or simply watch the locals paddle out on their own kayaks, complete with pet dogs at the bow.
Other options include booking a snorkelling and island tour with one of the local glass-bottomed boat companies, lying back with your book, or ducking into Sails Restaurant on the shorefront for frosted drinks on a sun-drenched deck.
5. Eat really well
Even if you’re not a fan of seafood, Rarotonga might convert you. For excellent eats, make a beeline for The Mooring Fish Café. Straddling Avana Harbour with views across azure water, The Mooring occupies a former shipping container and serves just-caught fish in gigantic sandwiches. Enjoy five star food served in relaxed, toes-in-the-sand surroundings.
For sweet pick-me-ups, Cook Island donuts boast an almost cult following. You can lock lips with the best at Le Bon Vivant, or LBV as it’s widely known. Hot, fresh and golden, there’s every chance you’ll be back for more.
For food trucks selling cheap tucker, Muri Night Market is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5pm.
6. Trek to The Needle
If you fancy getting out of the sun, swap the beach for the rainforest and embark on a trek to the top of Te Rua Manga (The Needle). So called due to its sky-poking rock. It’s possible to complete the walk in 45 minutes and hardy types might like to tackle the final ascent, which requires straddling the cliff bluff and using attached chains to get to the very top. If that’s not up your alley, absorb the beautiful sea views and then return along the same trail, or carry on to complete the full, three-hour Cross Island Track.
For a more relaxed option, go and see Pa. Pa is both a local legend and a colourful character, now in his late seventies. Having led groups over the Cross Island Track for 33 years, today he guides the slightly less strenuous Discovery Nature Walk, as well as an insightful medicinal herbal walk. Both are highly recommended.