Rarotonga is one of 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands nation. Being 20 miles in circumference, it is easily the biggest and as such it is known as the capital or main island. The Cook Islands in general can be found in the south Pacific and Rarotonga is one of the nine that make up the Southern Islands group.
The islands of the southern group are mainly volcanic in nature and Rarotonga is no exception. Although the volcano that created the island is no longer active, its outline shape is still recognisable when looking at the land mass from a distance. Most of the island is covered by a thick rain forest and the inhabitants tend to live in small townships close to the coastline.
One of the highlights of Raratonga is the exceptional lagoon that surrounds the island. This area of clear blue water stretches as far as the coral reef and is home to some of the rarest species of sea life in the Pacific.
How To Get There
You can fly to Rarotonga airport from any of the surrounding countries, e.g. New Zealand, Hawaii, Fiji, America and Australia. Some airlines run frequent flights to the island and from there smaller planes can carry you to any of the other 14 Cook Islands. Alternatively, a number of ocean liners stop at Rarotonga on their voyages and this is another route to the island. A third option - if you have the spare time and enthusiasm - is to hire a yacht and crew and sail across from New Zealand.
The temperature in the southern Cook Islands stays quite stable throughout the year and so summer is very much like winter. In the summer months - November to April - the temperature ranges from 21-29ºC, while in the winter months of May to October it drops slightly down to 18-28ºC. The main difference between the seasons is the rainfall and Rarotongas wet season normally lasts from January to May.
If you do not mind a bit of rain then you might want to look at when the islands main festivals and holidays are as these are definitely worth seeing.
Rarotongas Main Towns
There are nine towns on the island, most of which are accessible by foot. The main town is Avarua and this is where tourists can find the attractions they are looking for. Here you will find cafes, bars and lots of music, dancing and native Polynesian cooking. The island in general has stayed free from large commercial developments and Avarua shows the true nature of the country.
The second largest town on the island is Titikaveka and this is highly popular with visitors who enjoy diving and snorkelling. The lagoon in the area is easily accessible and the reef holds a wide range of sea life that is not seen in other areas of the island.
It is worth noting that the native inhabitants of Rarotonga are in the most part Christians and they strictly obey the laws of the Sabbath. This means that virtually every commercial venture on the island stops shortly before midnight on Saturday and does not reopen until Monday morning.
Things to do
As mentioned above, most of the island is covered by rain forest, however it is accessible to visitors. There are a number of tour operators that organise hikes through the centre of the island so that the true flora and fauna of the area can be seen up close. Because of the density of the forest in some places, it is advisable to book a professional guide.
Alternatively, there is also the option of a safari drive through the volcanic mountains and into the rain forest. These drives only take about half a day but they do reach areas of the island that are hard to reach on foot.
Raratonga is described as one of the top Cook Islands destinations for water sports and there are a variety of activities to take part in. These include snorkelling and diving, sailing, lagoon cruises and of course sea fishing. A number reef sections are no longer allowed to be fished and instead have protection orders in place. Surprisingly, the island also has a full size golf course and an outdoor market in the town of Avarua which is open everyday except Sunday.
Rarotonga is a true Polynesian island that has changed very little in the 5,000 years that it has been inhabited. Today it has a number of tourist attractions and is the most visited of the Cook Islands. Saying this, it has remained free from corporate development and so still offers an insight into the everyday lives of its local inhabitants.