People say you’re either a Fiji or a Raro girl, and I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out as my loyalty is with Fiji. However I absolutely adored Raro, for many different reasons.
Flight time with Air NZ was about four hours and Rarotonga airport is like a regional airport in NZ. You can also fly with Virgin or Air Tahiti. Like Fiji, you can take your own food with you, but make sure you declare it at Customs. The food in Rarotonga has to be imported so it’s not cheap to eat out, but on par price-wise with NZ and the meals are sensational. I had fresh tuna almost every night and you know it’s fresh if it’s not on the menu. Currency is the NZ dollar so that makes it easy.
We stayed at the Sunset Resort, http://www.thesunsetresort.com/ which was really close to town and the airport. We absolutely loved it and would definitely return or would try the recommended Coral Sands self catering apartments http://www.coralsands.co.ck/ or hire a house http://www.homeforhire.com/home/ocean-spray-villa.aspx or maybe try Black Rock Villas http://www.blackrockvillas.com/
Breakfast at the resort is included in your hotel rate however it’s only continental (fruit, toast (all carbs!) and coffee, so it was nothing on par with the buffet breakfast they provide you in Fiji. We bought some free range eggs at the local dairy and boiled them for our protein snacks.
Muri Beach on the other side of the island, is stunning and you can wade out to the wee island in the middle as it only comes up to your hips. That side of the island is a little ritzier however we preferred the sunset side of the island, only because it was sunnier for at least 2 hours longer and you get the bonus of the sunsets.
We hired a scooter for 3 days or you can for your entire stay (cheaper), or a wee convertible. It’s such a great way to see the island as you have the freedom to explore and stop for a coffee at anytime. It beats relying on the bus and is cheaper than taxis. There is a main road around the island (which takes 45 minutes) and you can also explore the inner coastal roads that are beautiful. Only hire if you know how to drive a scooter or go in tandem as we did, as they are dangerous. Make sure you check to see if your insurance covers you http://www.safetravel.govt.nz and if not definitely take out insurance. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist or a nerd wearing a helmet (even though we seemed to be the only helmet wearers on the island); your life is more than important than the additional cost of $2 per day.
We stopped at the run-down Sheraton with its distinctive art graffiti, now a tourist stop and we ventured to the famous waterfall with the tiniest trickle of water?! We came across roosters, pigs and piglets when wandering off the beaten track. We did lots of walking and went up to the hospital which had lovely views of the golf course and the ocean. You can take a safari tour or a progressive dinner tour which I might try next time, so you’re never short of anything to do. You know what was also very noticeable? The actual lack of graffiti anywhere on the islands and the fact that every public and restaurant toilet was immaculate. That beats NZ hands down as they take pride in their country and value their tourism.
We chose to attend mass at St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Sunday and the singing was out of this world. It was very moving. We also went to the local Saturday market which was fun with its wide range of stalls. We ate at some amazing restaurants and I would recommend you book in advance. Some of these were: Mooring Fish Cafe as it had AMAZING fresh fish burgers, and you eat outside and it’s very reasonably priced. Tamarind House (my favourite), Vaima, and The Cafe who serve the best coffee from the Cook Islands Company. I bought some beans from the roaster at Muri Beach. Blackrock Villas (BYO) was fab as was Trader Jacks. I have to return as there are about 7-10 other restaurants to try, including some new ones.
You don’t go to Rarotonga to shop right? Wrong. We found this amazing great boutique called Identity CK in town. I got some gorgeous clothes on sale and we also found some lovely local gifts from Perfumes of Rarotonga.
Aitutaki, is my personal benchmark for paradise to date. That is saying something since I have just recently cruised the Caribbean. We flew over for a day and the cost included the flight, island tour, cruise with lunch and snorkelling for $459. You get your passport stamped at one foot island which is exciting and you get to stop at three different islands. It was such value for money. I cannot stress enough as to how fantastic this day was. There is nothing much to see on the island itself but the local buffet lunch cruise/snorkelling/scenery etc. was sensational. You need to book in advance and get information from the Air Rarotonga office at the airport which opens 730am Mon to Friday.
And the weather? I didn’t find it as hot as Fiji but it was lovely and tropical. We did get rain often, but it cleared quickly.
Ok so if the above doesn’t convince you to go to the Cook Islands and make sure you budget for one day in Aitutaki, I don’t know what will? There are some great specials on at the moment. I would return in a heartbeat.