Top 10 things to do in Rarotonga

Ready to dive into paradise? Here are some local tips on the best things to do in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Rarotonga has plenty of white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, pool-side deck chairs and decadent day spas to help you do absolutely nothing. But there's also a huge range of more active Rarotonga attractions just waiting to be explored, with something for everyone to enjoy.

When it comes to choosing your Rarotonga accommodation, there are hotels and resorts to suit most budgets dotted around the coast. You'll also find plenty of self-catering options, ranging from a small cottage or a house for the whole family to luxury beachside villas. Getting around the island is easy with bikes, scooters and cars for hire. There are also hourly bus services circling the island in both directions.

1. Shop at Punanga Nui Market or Muri night markets

Every Saturday from 8am you can mingle with the locals and shop for food, drinks, clothing and souvenirs at Punanga Nui Market in the main town, Avarua. Don't be late if you want fresh locally-grown fruit and vegetables, and be sure to catch the cultural performances on the main stage from 10am. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5pm, the night markets at Muri Beach Village serve up a wide range of delicious meals, so everyone can choose a favourite dish. Arrive early for the widest choice and remember to bring cash. These markets are high on the list of what to do in Rarotonga with kids.

2. Experience one of the many Rarotonga tours

One of the fastest ways to discover the island's best spots is on a tour, and there all kinds to choose from. They're definitely among the most fun things to do in Rarotonga. Lagoon tours are popular, with glass bottom boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to choose from. Land-based tours range from buses and electric tuk-tuks to mountain bikes, scooters and off-road quads or buggies. There's even a highly-rated party bus nightlife tour for visitors who want to laugh and dance the night away in the safe hands of a trusted local guide.

3. Discover local craft beer at Matutu Brewery

Call into Rarotonga's craft brewery to see how their fine ales are created. On a brewery tour you'll learn about historic Cook Islands brewing techniques and the natural beer brewing process used today. All the Matutu beers are handcrafted using sustainable practices. Your tour ends with a tasting of each beer and a long, cool glass of your favourite.

4. Visit a Rarotonga museum

To get more from your holiday, take an hour or two away from the beach to learn more about the country's history and culture at one of Rarotonga's fascinating museums. Run by volunteers, the Cook Islands Library and Museum in Avarua is packed with exhibits. At Muri, Te Ara/Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise uses large displays and informative panels to tell stories of Polynesian migration and life in pre-European times.

5. Explore Maire Nui Botanical Gardens

Tranquil and refreshingly cooler, this magnificent tropical garden covers seven acres. From towering palms to fragile native flowers, there's a world of beauty and colour to explore. Small bridges, a pond and a gazebo add to the peaceful atmosphere. If you like tropical flowers, including every shade of hibiscus, wandering through the well-maintained gardens at Marie Nui is a must-do. And with a small fee for entry, it has to be one of the most relaxing cheap things to do in Rarotonga.

6. Fly to Aitutaki for a day on the lagoon

Air Rarotonga and Vaka Tours provide an amazing day trip to the turquoise waters and fine white sands of Aitutaki Island. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, incredibly scenic flights and a guided open-air bus tour of Aitutaki. You'll also spend six hours on a 21m traditional catamaran exploring the top snorkel spots and beautiful islands in Aitutaki's famous lagoon, with lunch included. This remarkable package makes it easy to experience the best things to do in Aitutaki in a day.

7. Climb to the Needle and across the island

If you fancy a challenging climb through lush rainforest, the four-hour cross-island walk is a must-do hike. Highlights include climbing part-way up Te Rua Manga (the Needle), a 413m volcanic plug in the island's centre, and long-range views across the island. Most people start from the Avarua end and finish at Wigmore's Waterfall. To get the most from your experience, consider booking a guided walk with Pa's Treks.

8. Snorkel a marine reserve

Rarotonga's lagoon marine reserves are home to fascinating coral formations and good numbers of colourful tropical fish. Exploring these reserves with a mask and snorkel is definitely one of the best things to do in Rarotonga for free. Fruits of Rarotonga in Titikaveka is a popular favourite, with big coral bommies, deeper water and plenty of large tropical fish. Aro'a Beach near the Rarotongan Resort is another top spot with shallower water, scattered coral and a sandy bottom.

9. Check out the rock formations at Black Rock Beach

On the northwest coast, Black Rock Beach has white sand and fascinating black volcanic rock formations. Located on the sheltered side of the island, away from the southeast trade winds, it's usually one of the calmest swimming spots on a windy day. Black Rock is not only one of the popular things to see in Rarotonga, it's also rated among the top lagoon snorkelling spots, so bring your mask and snorkel.

10. Treat yourself to an island night

Exciting, colourful and wonderfully entertaining, a Rarotongan island night is a fun opportunity to experience authentic cultural performances and a delicious buffet feast. The Highland Paradise Culture Centre, Te Vara Nui cultural village, and several hotels and resorts are renowned for their island night cultural shows. The pride, passion and skills shown in these performances are truly impressive. As you're treated to some of the island's best examples of traditional music, song, dance and food, you'll soon see why an island night is one of the top Rarotonga tourist attractions.

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