Adventure Cook Islands Dive Centre and Rental Specialist
The best time to visit Rarotonga really depends on your preferences and liking. If you like hot weather, the summer months are definitely the time to visit. You won’t need a jumper at all, even at night on a scooter it’s warm enough in a t-shirt. The water is really warm, with water temperatures inside the lagoon reaching well over 30 degrees Celsius.
If you prefer it a bit cooler, the winter months are the time to travel. The winter months are the high season, which peaks in June, July and August. Winter time is a also humpback whale season.
To get to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, there are (in normal times) direct flights from Auckland, Christchurch, Sydney, Los Angeles and Tahiti. At the moment, only one international airline flies to the Cook Islands. Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Rarotonga. Pre Covid-19, Air New Zealand would also fly direct from Christchurch, Sydney and Los Angeles).
The 15 Cook Islands are spread over an area the size of western Europe. There are no inter-island ferries from Rarotonga to any other Cook Islands. Air Rarotonga is the Cook Islands’ only airline and the only airline that connects the outer islands with Rarotonga.
Many visitors choose to hire a scooter, bicycle or car for their stay on the island. If you do not want to rent your own transport, you can always use Rarotonga’s public transport. The Cooks Passenger Bus is Rarotonga’s one and only public bus. Public buses operate on the main road only, clockwise and anti-clockwsie. Here is their bus schedule.
The Cook Islands, including Rarotonga, have no traffic lights! This alone says much about the island traffic. The Ara Metua, the main road of Rarotonga, has two lanes – one for each direction. The only exemption is in downtown Avarua, where the main road in the CBD has two lanes for each direction.
You drive on the left side of the road and you give way to the right. The general speed limit is 50 km/h, with 30 km/h zones around schools and in downtown Avarua. Crash helmets are mandatory for everyone riding on a scooter or motorcycle in Rarootnga.
In order to rent and drive a vehicle in Rarotonga, you will need a vehicle drivers license for the type and class of vehicle that you are intending to drive. For example, to drive a car, you need a car license, to ride a motorbike, you need a motorbike license. To ride a scooter, you still need a motorcycle license as all rental scooter in Rarotonga are over 100cc engine size. You cannot rent a scooter with a car license in Rarotonga.
Foreign drivers licenses are accepted from the following countries: New Zealand, Australia, European Union, Great Britain, United States, Canada and Japan. If you hold a drivers license from a different county, you may have to get your license converted into a Cook Islands license. This can be done at the police station in Avarua for a small fee of $20. You will need your passport and drivers license.
The Cook Islands is a deeply religious nation and the majority of the population belongs to one of the Christian churches. In Rarotonga you will find one church of each denomination in every village. The biggest church is the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), which was originally established by the London Missionary Society. Apart for the CICC, the Catholic Church, Seven Day Adventist Church, Jehovas Witnesses, Church of Letter Day Saints and the New Apostolic Churches are also present in Rarotonga, as well as the Bahai Faith.
Cook Islands church services have beautiful singing and are worth a visit even if you are not religious. Please just remember to wear proper attire – long pants and shirts for men and covered shoulders and longer length skirts or full dresses for women.
The Cook Islands have a rich culture that has been past on since many generations. Every island has their own individual Cook Islands Maori language (Te Reo Maori o te Kuki Airani), traditions and arts and crafts.
The Cook Islands are world famous for their traditional Cook Islands dances. In addition, each of the island has their own island dances. All children learn the Cook Islands dances and drumming beats from an early age on at school. There are numerous dance competitions and festivals throughout the year, with the main annual national dance and drumming festival being Te Maeva Nui. Te Maeva Nui commemorates the rich Cook Islands cultural heritage and is celebrated every year around Cook Islands Constitution Day.
If you are interested in a Cook Islands dance or drumming lesson, please click HERE. Alternatively, if you would like to watch traditional Cook Islands dancing and drumming, please see our Things To Do page for more information about Island Nights in Rarotonga.
For rainy days (yes, it rains frequently in the tropics), Rarotonga has a fairly modern cinema showing the latest international movie releases. Furthermore, if you are interested in Cook Islands history and wildlife, Rarotonga has different museums and wildlife centres suitable for young and old. Local wood carver Mike Tavioni is also worth a visit and a good source of local knowledge. There are also local art exhibitions in the main town of Avarua, like the Beachcomber Art Gallery.
Make sure you stop at The Cafe while you are at the Beachcomber Gallery. The Cafe is the home of Rarotonga’s Vinyl Revival Club. While enjoying their delicious food, you can listen to some classic records. You can even browse through their vinyl collection and put on your favourite records yourself.
In recent years, traditional Cook Islands tatoos have celebrated a come back and there are numerous tattoo studios on Rarotonga.
The Punanga Nui Market in Avarua on Saturday morning is a busy, bustling place for locals and visitors alike. The market offers everything from live Cook Islands dancing, to pearl jewellery vendors, arts and crafts and other souvenirs. Not to mention the many food stalls selling fresh fish, vegetable, fruit and ready to eat takeaway food.
If you are interested in local food, the night market in Muri is also worth a visit. The market is a ready-to-eat food market only and boasts great local food at affordable prices. At the time of writing, Muri Night Market days are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Rarotonga has a huge selection of restaurants and bars with good food, cold drinks and often great live music. Here are some of our favourites.
Vaiana’s 21.3 is located by the airport. Vaiana’s is a casual bar and one of the only proper beach bars on Rarotonga. Affordable drinks and a good bar menu right on the beach make this a popular place for locals and visitors alike. Located by the airport.
Charlie’s Bar in Tikioki on the south-east coast is another casual bar that offers very good food. Many locals hang out here due to fair beer prices, good local music and their very popular darts club.
Wilsons Beach Bar located within Castaway Resort on the west coast is a relaxed hang out for locals and visitors.
Trader Jack’s is an institution on Rarotonga and is a must visit during your stay. Located right by the water in Avarua, Trader Jack’s #1 and #2 both got destroyed by cyclones in the past. You will find many regular locals at the bar here and the restaurant is popular with locals as well as visitors.
Waterline Restaurant and Bar is located on the west coast. As the name suggests, it is right by the beach and offers fantastic sunsets and good food.
Antipodes offers fine dining and is the right choice if you want to treat yourself to a special night out. The restaurant is overlooking Black Rock on the north west corner of the island. It offers fantastic sunsets with stunning views of the ocean and exquisite food.
Vaima Restaurant is situated on the south coast. It has a good menu and their Beef Wellington is a treat.