Rarotonga has so much to offer as a holiday destination, but we reckon the best way to enjoy our island is to take a break from the usual tourist attractions and discover the hidden gems and local experiences that will inject some authentic Cook Islands flavour into your holiday. Here are our top picks of things to do in Rarotonga that won’t cost you a thing.
A must-do in Rarotonga! Church is an integral part of Cook Islands culture and a great way to immerse yourself in the daily life of the locals. Cook Islanders are famous for their powerful singing in church and you’ll be likely to hear the early morning church bells on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings.
Visitors are always welcome so head across the road from MOTU and join the 10am service at the Cook Islands Christian Church. A couple of things to note: ladies’ shoulders should be covered and men usually wear long trousers, or at least a long pair of shorts. If you’re here on the first Sunday of the month, the dress code is white and feel free to wear a hat if you have one. A small donation for the collection plate is always welcome.
Drive the back road
For a more intimate view of the island, take a leisurely drive or borrow one of our e-bikes to explore the back roads of Rarotonga. Here you will see brightly coloured houses, beautifully manicured gardens and animals aplenty. Simply take one of the side roads in towards the mountain and start exploring.
Watch the sunrise and sunset
Dusk and dawn are a visual treat on Rarotonga with dramatic hues of pink, purple and orange lighting up the sky and the ocean. If you’re visiting between December and February, you can see both sunset and sunrise from our beach. Our other favourite viewing spots change with the seasons so ask us for our recommendations when you arrive.
Rarotonga Brewery tour
Nothing beats a cold beer on a hot day and what better way to enjoy it than straight from the source at the Rarotonga Brewery. The famous Cook Islands Lager is a local icon made with just three ingredients, water, hops and grain – no additives and no preservatives. A great thing to do in Rarotonga is to drop by the brewery Monday to Friday at 11am or 12pm and the master brewer will take you for a short tour of their brewing process, finished off with a taste test at the bar. If you miss the tour times you can pop in and ask for a tour during open hours and if they have the time they’ll be happy to show you around.
Try the noni juice
Available in most local stores, noni juice is our home-grown magic potion made from our native noni fruit. Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, Polynesian healers have been using it to relieve a huge range of ailments, from stress and ageing to arthritis and cancer. A word of warning though – the taste is more like blue cheese than tropical fruit so it’s one local attraction for the brave!
Climb ‘The Needle’
For the best views on the Island, an essential free thing to do in Rarotonga is to hike Te Rua Manga or ‘The Needle’ but beware it’s as much of a climb as it is a hike. The Needle is the most accessible peak on our mountain and can be reached on foot with the help of good quality sneakers or hiking boots. The trails are not well marked so we recommend going in pairs or groups. It takes about three hours to complete and the view from the top makes it well worth the effort. We recommend starting early to avoid walking in the heat, and make sure you take a drink bottle!
Maire Nui Botanical Gardens
Take some time to stop and smell the flowers at the beautiful Maire Nui Botanical Gardens. Located just up the road from MOTU, this garden oasis is full of stunning tropical blooms. It’s the perfect spot for a peaceful stroll and worth a stop at the café for a piece of cake and a coffee. A donation at the door is appreciated.
Touch the belly of a plane
If you’re out and about and can see a plane coming in to land, a fun free thing to do in Rarotonga is to take a quick drive down to the coast at the edge of the runway. Here you can park up, get out of your car, and watch a towering 747 come in to land right over your head. Unless you’re an airline mechanic, you won’t get this close to the belly of a plane again. You can ask at reception for a schedule of flights.
Look out for whales
If you’re staying between July and October you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Humpback Whales migrating through our waters – one of Rarotonga’s most incredible natural attractions. These amazing creatures come in close to the reef to jump and play and are utterly majestic to behold.