Rarotonga activities and outdoor adventures
Beaches and lagoons might be the biggest reasons to visit Rarotonga, but if you turn 180 degrees away from the shore you'll see a verdant hinterland that's just begging to be explored. Reaching to 4,500 meters above sea level, this island has a lot of special places for you to discover on foot, by hiring some kind of vehicle or by joining a small group tour.
The road that circles the island of Rarotonga makes a glorious day trip and renting a car is straightforward, because your New Zealand driver's licence works here.
Scooter hire, buggy tours and quad bike tours
The green hinterland of Rarotonga is laced with dirt roads that are just perfect for exploring in a 4WD buggy. Dressed in clothes that don't mind a bit of mud and armed with mozzie repellent, you'll roar around the backroads having the time of your life. Raro Buggy Tours offer a self-drive buggy adventure that begins at Wigmore's Store in Vaimaanga. At less than NZD $200 for two people, it's great value for money.
Another option for exploring inner Raro is a quad bike tour. You'll be in charge of your own vehicle, but there's a guide to follow as you roam jungle roads to find huge views, waterfalls and swimming holes. There's a choice of quad tour operators on the island, so check the reviews before you book.
Getting around Rarotonga on a scooter is an adventure in itself. The road that traces the perimeter of the island is easy to navigate - you literally can't get lost. And if you stray off the main route and get a little confused in the back roads, helpful locals will soon point you in the right direction. Scooter hire places can be found in Avarua (the main town), Muri and Arorangi. You need to get a Cook Islands visitor motorcycle license to ride a scooter.
Walks and hiking in Rarotonga
Tropical hiking gives you a different view of paradise, so pack some sturdy boots or shoes. Once you've discovered the joys of trekking through Rarotonga's hinterland, there'll be no stopping you. Here are some trails to enjoy:
- The Cross-Island Track is the most popular walk on Rarotonga, but it's far from crowded. The four-hour hike includes the 413m Te Rua Manga (Needle). North to south is the recommended direction, because there's less chance of a wrong turn
- The Takitumu Conservation Area trail starts on the eastern side of the Queen's Representative's official residence in Titikaveka. One of Raro's best natural attractions, the trail takes you into the cloud forest for glimpses of the Kakerori (Rarotongan Flycatcher bird). The small entry fee assists species protection
- Takuvaine Valley Trail, which starts as a drivable road, lets you see where the people of Rarotonga used to live before European settlers arrived
- Avana Valley Track heads inland from Avana Harbour. It starts at Avana Road next to Manavaroa homestead. The path crosses several tributaries of the Avana Stream, so you can have a freshwater dip if it gets too hot
- Maungatea Bluff Track delivers some of the best high-altitude views on the island. To find the track, follow the road on the right of Tauae Store until it runs out and the walking trail begins
Bike tours and self-guided biking
Cycling on Rarotonga is both a form of transport and something fun to do. You can hire bikes from various places around the island, then pedal forth to find beaches, snorkelling spots, cafés and shops. Biking to Punanga Nui Market on a Saturday saves the hunt for a carpark at the island's most popular weekly event. Visiting the market is one of the best activities to do in Rarotonga, so make it a priority.
Another way to enjoy yourself on self-propelled wheels is a guided ride with Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours. They offer a range of experiences, from basic lunch-and-swim options to exciting five-hour rides that involve mountain bikes and stream crossings. The theme with all their tours is storytelling - you'll hear local legends, pick up interesting facts and figures, and generally learn about life on an idyllic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This operator also gives 10% of their profits back to the community, so your fun experience is making a difference to the locals.
A driving tour of the island
The road that circles the island of Rarotonga makes a glorious day trip and renting a car is straightforward, because your New Zealand driver's license works here. Points of interest around the island (clockwise) include:
- About 1km past the Kii Kii Motel is a dirt road leading to Marae Arai-Te-Tonga, one of the most sacred places on the island. Before Europeans arrived, the investiture of high chiefs happened here
- Matavera village has a beautiful church and graveyard
- Oral history says that a fleet of migration canoes left Ngatangiia village around 1350AD bound for New Zealand. Their departure point was across the road from the church that stands in the centre of the village
- Offshore from Ngatangiia you'll see three small islands. An old stone fish trapis visible underwater between the beach and the islands. Traps like these were designed to catch fish on an outgoing tide
- Stop at gorgeous Muri Beach for lunch at a café, food truck or restaurant
- Fruits of Raro is famous for off-the-beach snorkelling and delicious fresh juices, smoothies and fruit preserves at the country store of the same name
- Titikaveka has a wonderful church that was built in 1841 of coral blocks hand-cut from the reef
- Above Titikaveka village is the Takitumu Conservation area, home of the endangered kakerori, a sparrow-size yellowish bird that's unique to Rarotonga
- Arorangi is a community founded by the missionary Aaron Buzacott in 1828. Tahitian missionary Papeiha, who worked in Arorangi, is buried in the yard of the 1849 village church
- Offshore from Arorangi is Black Rock, a volcanic outcrop. According to legend, the souls of the dead say farewell to Rarotonga from here before journeying back to Avaiki (Hawaiki)
- On the way back to Avarua, look for the Cook Islands Parliament building. Parliament meets from February to March and from July to September. Visitors are welcome to observe from the gallery