Rarotonga, the Unspoilt Paradise
By Clare Erasmus
There are so many words to describe Rarotonga but the first three that come to mind are tranquillity, serenity and paradise. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Rarotonga a few times and I am constantly drawn back to the ambience and tranquillity it offers. It is a favourite getaway for many seeking warmer temperatures, and a great choice if you require unwinding from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.
Rarotonga is located to the North East of New Zealand and it is one of the fifteen Cook Islands in Central South Pacific. It is also the capital of the Cook Islands. If you keep a careful eye on airfares, and if you can travel out of school season, you can easily find a good deal for both airfares and accommodation.
The serenity of the island strikes you as soon as you land and enter through immigration where you are met with the friendliest of smiles and a ‘Kia Orana’, meaning hello. In addition to these greetings, you will find yourself warmly welcomed by a local musician strumming and singing native songs on his ukelele. You will find the same gentleman providing entertainment when you depart and if you listen carefully you will hear some great lyrics, where he slips into the song that you must be feeling sad to be leaving this paradise.
My family and I have tried out a few different accommodation options, each with their own unique offerings. We have hired a house, booked into a resort and then stayed in a boutique set of villas. The beach is never far away no matter where you end up choosing to stay. Each time we have stayed in Rarotonga, we always make sure we stay at The Cooks Oasis in the Arorangi district for a period of time. These exquisite villas are beautifully decorated in stylish pacific themes, and the hosts, Matt and Adele, are extremely welcoming and knowledgeable. The private pool and the lagoon offer privacy and tranquillity. This set of villas is only a few minutes from the airport, making the arrivals and departures to the island easy to manage.
Rarotonga has a circumference of about 32km and it is extremely easy to navigate. Most traffic happens on the beach road, but what you will mostly notice is the calm and peaceful mannerisms of the locals. It is so contagious and a great state of being. The locals observe the speed limitations and the tourists seem to generally adhere to them too. Along the roadside, you can enjoy the fresh seasonal fruit such as papaya, coconut and bananas. The vendors are extremely welcoming and obliging. Strikingly, Rarotonga boasts being a traffic-light free island. Scooters are quite a popular mode of transport for both locals and visitors to the island. While cars can still be hired, I would encourage you to book a car well ahead. There is also a reliable bus service, with buses running clockwise and anticlockwise around the island.
Anyone who has ever visited Rarotonga will mention the friendly dogs that roam the island. There are many beautiful dogs that will grace you with their presence no matter where you are staying. They come up to greet you at the holiday houses, on the beach and there are a few that are known to follow the Muri Lagoon cruises. The dogs are all well-kept and not known to cause any harm.
There are a plethora of activities to enjoy in Rarotonga, ranging from exploring gardens, snorkelling, to visiting museums and going fishing. The Maire Nui Gardens is a spectacular explosion of tropical plants and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to take photos of these exquisite botanicals.
There are churches all over the island and they are all very welcoming to visitors. We visited one and were blown away by the soaring harmonies that the parishioners offered. Following the services, there are usually refreshments served, which comprise of the most delicious baking and fresh fruit.
The Punanga Market opens every Saturday morning from 7 am to 3 pm. Besides the scrumptious food that you can buy, it is a great opportunity to observe some cultural shows and enjoy traditional drumming and strumming. If you are lucky, you will get to see some of the coconut dancing. The market sells lots of pareu (sarongs) which have the most gorgeous vibrant designs, jewellery and artworks. You can purchase authentic cuisine and a must-have is the tropical smoothie! This market is frequented by many locals and visitors and it is a great opportunity to grab a good souvenir as well as a good lunch!
You cannot visit Rarotonga and not go snorkelling. The sea life is abundant and the crystal clear waters ensure that visibility is good. One piece of advice is to take coral shoes when walking in the water and swimming (unless you are wearing flippers). Most accommodation has snorkelling gear available, but you may wish to take your own for hygiene. The coral reefs are the home to amazingly diverse marine life. It is easy to just snorkel from the beach or you can book a cruise with one of the glass bottom lagoon cruises where they stop a little further out in the lagoon and guide you into deeper water and more interesting sea life.
Don’t worry about visiting a currency exchanger before you head over to Rarotonga as they happily accept the NZ dollar. Using a mobile phone can be costly, so my advice would be to just switch off for the time that you are there.
Fishing charters are also a fun activity. The target species are mainly Mahi Mahi, Spanish Mackerel, Tuna and Marlin. It’s really only minutes outside the harbour before the lures or baits go into the very deep water. If you’re a keen fisherman make sure to book more than one outing (generally ½ days) to increase your chances.
If you are looking for a big shopping adventure then Rarotonga is not for you. The small line of shops in the village are very basic but provide the essentials. The food is outstanding and there are many little spots where you can enjoy fresh seafood right along the beach. Most places offer cocktails and mocktails and the most sublime sunsets!
If you are looking for peacefulness and a tropical paradise, with palm trees and serenity; if you are in need of a slower pace, some good weather and sunsets that you can only dream of; if you seek rejuvenation, then I highly recommend the wonderful island of Rarotonga.
About the Author: Clare is an author and educator, living locally in Christchurch. She has written books for both educators and children. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology and Legal Studies), Bachelor of Arts Honours (Sociology), Masters of Social Science, Bachelor of Education, Certificates in both TEFL and TESOL and is currently undertaking her PhD in Education.