Travel Blog Cook Islands- Rarotonga (Meaning: South of Tonga) According to conventional modern wisdom, having an authentic local experience is the very definition of good travel. You’ve heard it from travel agents and tour operators. But is it really possible for travelers to live like the locals without a huge price to pay?
In Rarotonga the answer is yes. Hiking through the jungle while smothering your body in Noni Juice to keep the mozzies away the natural way is just the start of what this wonderful island has to offer… And if you’re game enough, you can snack on some more Noni to keep you energised throughout the day.
So before we get into the nitty gritty details of the Island let me expand on what Noni is and why it has been used for centuries throughout the Polynesian counties. The main benefit is that it is an anti-tumour/anti-cancer – Noni stimulates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is an extremely useful substance, one that is at the base of many of noni’s benefits. In this case, it reduces tumour growth and helps your body fight against the cancerous replication of cells. It also contains an immune-modulatory polysaccharide rich substance known as noni-ppt that further fights cancer. The immune boosting properties are also a great help. One more thing that’s important is the amount of phytochemicals in noni that fight cancer. Phytochemicals are found in vegetables and herbs, if eaten regularly will build up preventive amounts. In the case of cancer already being present, noni and other plants with high amounts will slow, stop, or totally reverse the cancer process. The locals are very passionate about this, which is a refreshing change from conventional medicine, especially for those who seek alternative therapies. They are also enthusiastic about other health benefits of noni including protection and healthy functioning of the liver, maintenance of cardiovascular health, relaxed muscles, relief from memory problems and conditions like gout and diabetes. The immense antioxidant potential of noni juice exerts antipsychotic, antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, which are valuable in treating conditions like arthritis and disorders related to central nervous system. And I must say… The elders in Rarotonga really do seem to be fighting fit and extremely active even in the 70-90 age bracket. BEWARE: Noni isn’t a beautiful exotic tasting fruit. It is slimy and tastes like a strong dose of Stilton. Sorry to spoil the lovely image you had in your head.
The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands scattered over an area of roughly 2 million square kilometres in the Pacific Ocean. Each and every part being the idea of paradise for most. The native Cook Islanders invite you to come and get away from the typical lifestyle that society pushes you into, soak in the sun and thousands of years of Polynesian history and culture. The people of The Cook Islands are beautiful people with wonderful family values and an extraordinary way of life, which fills the islands with positive energy and open arms all to new and returning visitors to the Islands. When Manas and I landed at Rarotonga Airport I was guided through the baggage lounge that had a local band playing traditional island music, instantly giving us that happy island feeling. We were greeted with a necklace of fresh flowers then taken across the island to our modest but beautiful beach hut called The Muri Beach Hideaway.
Rarotonga is the largest and most visited island by tourists, completely surrounded by a tropical reef which means white sandy beaches and tropical turquoise waters, while imposing mountain peaks and luscious rain forest make for some fantastic scenery and places to explore. However, I would definitely advise you to visit a few islands while you are there as once you leave the main island you have stretches of beaches virtually to yourself.
Return flights to Aitatuki cost approximately $480NZD so I would recommend staying over there for at least 3-4 days without rushing- you don’t want to loose the relaxing vibes that you will pick up along the way. Even though flights over there are fairly costly, when will you be returning to The Cook Islands? You won’t regret it!
Accommodation – You can expect to pay around $20NZD per night for a dorm room and from $30NZD for a private room. Hotels start at $65NZD for singles and doubles, with prices for a private bungalow beginning around $150NZD.
Food – Lunch and casual meals cost between $4-25NZD at most of the local haunts. Restaurant meals will begin around $30NZD for fine dining. Western style cuisine can cost up to $40AUD for the main. I would recommend going to the local markets and sampling some of the seafood dishes and local fresh fruits. Lots of the food on the island is organically grown.
Transportation – For taxis, expect to pay $3NZD per kilometre, as rates are government controlled. Bus tickets are around $4NZD regardless of distance traveled. We hired scooters, which were great, and most popular for tourists as the island is small. The longer you hire the scooter the cheaper the price. The scooters are 150cc so unless you have a motorbike license you have to purchase a temporary license, which is approximately $10NZD. The license is valid for the time that you rent the scooter, so if you rent one for two days and return and then rent again in a couple of weeks then you have to purchase a new temporary license. So to cut a long story short, rent your scooter for the number of consecutive days that you need to explore.
Organized activities are a bit pricey on the islands but what you take away from them completely out ways the cost. Hikes or walks around the mountainous interior are free options. In most cases, a guide will really bring the islands to life so if you have some financial freedom then that would be my recommendation.
My personal favourite was the bicycle tour with Storytellers. Our tour guide Jim- a true local was the highlight of my whole trip! I have a keen interest in nutritional medicine so he tailored our tour to take us to his secret spots where the tropical fruits and vegetables grow, explaining all of the lotions and potions that he grew up with over the years, which worked as preventives and cures for many illnesses throughout the generations in his family. We learned how to husk a coconut, swam in fresh waterfalls and picked fresh fruit throughout along the way.
Canoe Rentals- This is also a great way to experience the scenery of the island for roughly $20NZD per day however the high-end beach bungalows usually have these included with your stay.
Muri Beach – This popular beach is situated on the southeast corner of Rarotonga and is protected by a lagoon. We stayed at the Muri Beach Hideaway where the canoes and snorkels are complimentary. We stayed at the front bungalow, which had the most spectacular views across the ocean. Vina, the owner of the hideaway is a beautiful local who made us feel extremely welcome throughout our stay. The snorkeling is great and wonderful restaurants all within steps of the hideaway.
Aitutaki Day Cruise – The Northern island of Aitutaki boasts the world’s largest coral lagoons, inhabited by huge clams and multi-coloured tropical fish. These don’t run daily so you will need to plan in advance.
Scuba Diving – The dive sites on the Cook Islands are considered ideal for beginner divers as the currents aren’t too strong and very close to the shore. The marine life is not compromised by the shallow waters so don’t forget your GoPro!
Highland Paradise– Another personal favourite of mine! There are many places here where you can combine a dinner and dance show. It’s a little touristy, but still festive, informative and entertaining. The style of dancing for the guys really is something that you won’t forget! This really is a great place to dine and watch the dance/culture show. The food was some of the best on the island. The meat was cooked in an umu, which my husband was most excited about, and the buffet itself had a fantastic range of delicacies. They offer free transport from your hotel to their grounds. This will cost you $99 NZD per person.
Te Vara Nui Village – Te Vara Nui Village is the cultural centre where you can learn about the history of the native population. Ura Po is a popular thing to do. It is a dining and island night show on floating and fixed stages set in botanical gardens surrounded by waterfalls. The food is wonderful, boasting a range of native and western food. This will cost you $199 NZD per person.
Hiking – There are several excellent hikes around the main island of Rarotonga. The most popular trails include Papua Waterfall, Avana Valley and Raemaru lookout. Each takes around 2 hours to complete. Pa’s mountain treks offer quite strenuous three-hour hikes across Rarotonga, passing Te Rua Manga at 413 meters with great views towards the coast. Make sure that if you choose to hike without a tour that you leave early morning without the chance of it getting dark, because nobody is coming to look for you! And either way- don’t forget your natural form of mozzie repellent which I spoke about earlier!
Tinomana Palace – The palace is a two story formation of coral and lime. It is situated in Arorangi village and was made by the British. The name means ‘The Peace Brought by Christianity’. Traditional
Dance Shows – These dances are based on traditional island stories passed down through the generations. Don’t be surprised if you hear two different stories though as the tribes from up in the highlands and the tribes from the east side have two different opinions!
Fishing – The Cook Islands offer exceptional opportunities for deep-sea game fishing. The currents, reefs and submarine topography foster ideal conditions for mahi mahi, wahoo, barracuda, dolphin fish, marlin, yellowfin and skipjack tuna and sailfish. Spear fishing is also popular so make friends with some locals and go out for some fun!
Punanga Nui Market – This market in town is filled with many locally made crafts, produce, foods and musicians. If you fancy a nice lazy evening then watching the sunset and pondering around the market then this is definitely a winner.
Papua Waterfall – This waterfall is at the end of a beautiful hike and has a natural pool to swim in. It isn’t huge but Mother Nature worked her magic here for sure.
Touch up on your Marine Biology – The Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife museum is a small place, but boasts lots of interesting displays of skeletons and fossils. It’s a good option for a stormy day, a break from the sun or some interesting facts for your children to take back to school for ‘show and tell’
Snorkel the Maitai Wreck – In 1916, a boat load of Model T Fords sunk off the coast of Rarotonga. The wreck is only four or five meters underwater, and clear visibility makes it great for snorkelling.
Aitutaki Marine Research Centre – This small research centre usually has a marine restoration project and has beautiful green sea turtles which visitors are allowed to hold.
Money Saving Tips
Eat the local food – A decent size plate of local food will only cost around $4-6 NZD if you stick to the small, traditional eateries instead of eating at the resorts and main tourist areas. Plus- if you choose to eat with the locals then you are helping to support their farming and families.
Go self-sufficient! Manas and I went exploring the island one day and picked enough fruit and veggies to feed us both for two solid days!
You may find while in The Cook Islands that you really don’t want to do much at all. Having a few rest days and working on your tan is wonderful, but don’t miss out on some of the beauties that I mentioned above. Take a couple of good books because there certainly won’t be anywhere to buy when you arrive, and don’t expect a wifi connection unless you are prepared to pay extortionate prices for it. So my advice would be to let your family know that you will be out of reach for a while and spend your holiday re-connecting with yourself and taking in the beauty that the island has to offer.