Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands, lies 700 miles southeast of Tahiti, its closest neighbour. The island is 20 miles in circumference with a population of 12,000. It's a magical place. The island is lush green, with a dense tropical rain forest in the center on rising mountain peaks. Flat coastal land is covered with tropical trees and flowers. It is perfect for cycling and you can travel around the island in approximatley an hour and a half at a leisurely pace. The island's interior provides interesting hiking trails through the lush jungle.
Avarua is an attractive town strung along the north coast beneath the green, misty slopes of Maungatea and retains the air of a 19th century South Seas trading post. Off shore, the rusting hull of the Yankee lies on the reef where it was beached in 1964 when the wind shifted while the charter crew and a group of tourists partied with bar girls below. Further out is the engine of the SS Maitai, wrecked in 1916. It was carrying a shipment of Model T's bound for New Zealand.
Two roads circle Rarotonga: the new coastal road and the old inland road, the Ara Metua. Try going around the Ara Metua by rental car, bicycle or by foot. Along the way you'll pass lush gardens, paw paw plantations, orchards, good viewpoints and smiling people. This inner road is said to be the oldest in Polynesia.
The island's interior provides interesting hiking trails through the lush jungle. As their are no snakes, wild animals or poisonous insects, island exploring is very enjoyable. Hiking trails range from easy walks to more adventurous mountain trekking. A guided tour
is highly recommended giving you an insight into the local flora, the island's history and culture. Refer to Pa's Trek under "Sightseeing"
Don't miss the traditional island dancing. You can see excellent shows at all of the major hotels on the island. Cook Islanders excel at dancing, singing and drumming. Shows feature traditional costumes, songs and plays. Most performances are preceded by a typical island feast called "umukai". It involves the baking of food in an underground oven called the "umu". It is a deep pit filled with scorching hot stones and covered with shredded banana trunks. The food is allowed to steam for several hours.The traditional food consists of chicken, pork, fish and vegetable dishes. Be sure to try the very popular local dish called "ika mata" which is raw tuna marinated in lime juice served with coconut cream.
Fire Knife Dancing can be viewed at various island shows and special performances held during the year.There is an annual Fire Knife Competition held during Constitution Week Holiday's each year (see general information
) There are a small group of persons in the Cook Islands who are interested in developing and promoting this Polynesian tradition. They would appreciate any assistance from person(s) from other areas of world in developing this art form. Sponsorships are sought each year for attendance at the World Fire Knife Championships held at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii.
There are a variety of restaurants on the island featuring Continental, Italian, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. All restaurants are licensed with a good selection of wines, beers, and spirits. There are several bars and dancing spots with Friday night being one of the best nights out when locals and visitors can really pack places out. Nightspots are open until 12 midnight with the exception of 2am on Friday nights. Sunday nights are usually very quiet and alchohol is only served to bonifide diners.
There are a variety of sports
offered such as golf, tennis, squash, horseback riding, and lawn bowling. Team sports are a big favorite, rugby, soccer, netball, and basketball and it is definitely entertaining to watch the Cook Islanders play. The sports clubs welcome visitors and will happily help you gear up for a game of any kind.
Rarotonga is known for its black pearls and black pearl jewelry. The islanders of Manihiki have a legendary reputation as pearl divers. It is claimed that they have dived to depths of up to 75 ft in the clear lagoon to gather the pearlshells. Today the industry has developed into the establishment of dozens of pearl farms and pearl shops and outlets. Black pearls are less expensive in the Cook Islands and make for wonderful gifts for family and friends. Rarotonga is also known for its woodcarving and locally made Tivaevae's
(hand sewn quilts).
Rarotonga offers excellent diving
. Clear water lagoons lay between beautiful beaches and a widefringing reef. Beyond the reef, crystal clear waters of the Pacific teaming withcolourful fish. Muri Beach has an especially beautiful lagoon, excellent for swimming, snorkelling, windsurfing, canoeing, and sailing. The island magic is matched by the warm hospitality of the people themselves who are known for their friendliness, spontaneous dancing and easy way of life.
Direct Air services are provided by Air New Zealand from Auckland, Los Angeles, Tahiti and Sydney with connection services from London, Melbourne, Brisbane, Honolulu and Vancouver. Air Rarotonga operates daily flights except Sunday from Rarotonga to the rest of the Cook Islands. See "Outer Islands