Whether you’re looking for a holiday filled with rest and relaxation, or an action-packed adventure, Rarotonga has everything to offer.
We’ve compiled a list of the 15 best things to do in Rarotonga, including the best snorkelling spots, the best place to catch the sunset and best burger shop on the whole island.
1. Snorkelling at Tikioki Marine Reserve
The chances are, you’ve got snorkelling on your agenda. Tikioki Marine Reserve is our top pick – we have a full blog post on the best places to snorkel in Rarotonga that you should check out!
Located on the southernmost part of the island in the Titikaveka area, this beach boasts crystal clear waters and numerous varieties of marine life. Here you can see butterflyfish, angelfish, blue trevally, and more! If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot turtles, eels, and blue starfish.
Be careful of triggerfish! Sometimes they may bite you if you get too close – speaking from experience! These fish are everywhere and are, for the most part, harmless.
If you have enough room in your luggage and are planning on going to a few places to snorkel, I’d recommend bringing your own snorkel gear.
You can rent snorkel gear at all the major snorkelling locations but this can add up. If you’re renting at Tikioki Marine Reserve, gear costs $10 NZD to $15 NZD from the Dive Centre or Fruits of Rarotonga Cafe.
When you’re out snorkelling, leave all valuables in your car, scooter storage compartment, or consider buying this waterproof armband. It’s big enough to fit your phone, keys, cash, and cards. It’s the one we use for water activities.
If you’re heading there by bus, tell your bus driver you’re going to Fruits of Rarotonga. This is a small beachside shop that sells smoothies and cafe-style food. Head there, or to Charlie’s for a feed.
Aro’a and Black Rock Beaches are other great snorkelling locations.
Like all coral reefs worldwide, refrain from standing on the coral. This can kill them, and they’re often sharp enough to cut your feet. Stonefish may also be lurking about on the seafloor. We always snorkel either with fins or aqua shoes to protect our feet.
I love using these Promate fins – they help me keep up with my fiance who’s a fast swimmer!
He uses this Cressi snorkelling set. If you’re looking for portability, this set with shorter fins is perfect. They easily fit in a backpack.
For the aqua shoes, make sure you buy some with rubber soles that help with gripping onto wet, slippery surfaces and offer more protection and sturdiness over neoprene soles.
These Simari Aquasocks are affordable, fit like a glove and do the job. There are some sweet designs to choose from – I regret buying navy over the rainbow ones!
And for another tip – use antifog or toothpaste on your goggles to stop them from fogging up. Check out our Rarotonga Packing List for a detailed guide on what to pack.
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2. Cruise with Captain Tama
Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise was our favourite thing to do in Rarotonga.
Our cruise had about 80 people of all ages spread across three glass bottom boats. We were brought out to a marine reserve for snorkelling and swimming.
Since you’re brought quite far out from the shore, the lagoon is swarming with wildlife you may not get to see snorkelling from the beach. We got to see giant clams and larger fish.
After this, we headed to Koromiri Motu, a small islet off the coast of Muri beach. We were treated to a Rarotongan-style BBQ buffet which was to die for. Needless to say, we went back for seconds.
As you’re enjoying your feast and relaxing on the motu, you can hear the boys from Captain Tama’s playing the ukelele and singing along to complete the relaxed paradisiacal atmosphere.
The crew also put on a few performances, including coconut tree climbing, coconut husking and paretu tying performances. There was such an incredible atmosphere and you can tell how much the crew enjoy their jobs.
It’s a four-hour cruise from 11 am to 3 pm and costs $79 NZD per adult. Children under six are free of charge and children six to 11 years are $40 per person.
They even provide return hotel transfers for a small fee. Snorkelling equipment, food, and drinks are included on the tour but make sure you bring sunscreen, a sunhat, and a towel.
3. Eat and Go Shopping at Punanga Nui Market
Check out the markets in the heart of Avarua from 8 am to 2 pm on Saturdays. You’ll find the locals here buying their fresh fruit and veggies for the week. We visited in the pouring rain and it was still bustling.
Come on an empty stomach as there’s tonnes of food to choose from; fresh fruit smoothies made right in front of you, waffles, skewers, and baked goods. Be sure to try the chicken rice with mushroom sauce.
As well as food, this is the best place to do your souvenir shopping, plus there are often local dance performances. Grab a selection of dishes, have a picnic in front of the stage, and watch the performances.
Muri also puts on a night market on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 5 pm to 8 pm.
The best part? Eating at either of the markets in Rarotonga is cheap, making it especially convenient if you’re backpacking Rarotonga.
4. Watch the Sunset on the West Side of the Island
One of the more romantic activities on the list and definitely one of the best places to visit in the Cook Islands, whether you’re travelling as a couple or not! We stayed in the Arorangi District on the west side of the island and the sunsets here were incredible.
Combine this activity with the next one on the list (happy hour hop) then after the sun has set, enjoy a candlelit dinner at one of the many beachside restaurants. We loved watching the sunset at Castaways Resort. They’ve got Yakitori skewers if you’re just wanting a snack. If you’re looking for a decent meal, their seafood night on Friday is always a winner.
5. Happy Hour Hop
Happy hours are common in Rarotongan bars and usually run sometime between 3 pm and 6 pm, so grab a couple of drinks as you watch the sunset. Bars are abundant on the island so pick a place to start and see where it takes you!
We recommend starting at Edgewater Resort and Spa at the North-Western part of the island and make your way down to Castaways Resort. The whole trip is less than a 30-minute stroll along the beach.
Here are the places you’ll come across on the way and their happy hours:
- Edgewater Resort and Spa 5pm to 6pm daily – $10 NZD cocktails
- Crown Beach and Spa Resort 4 pm to 6 pm daily – $2 NZD off all drinks
- Manuia Beach Resort 4 pm to 6 pm daily – cocktails ranging from $9 NZD -$14 NZD
- Castaways Resort 3 pm to 6 pm daily – selected cocktails $10.90 NZD
6. Nighttime Paddleboarding
Think paddleboarding looks fun? Take it up to another level and paddleboard at night with a light-up paddleboard. Keep your eyes out for eagle rays which are often out at night.
Ariki Adventures does a great night SUP tour at Muri beach. It’s $65 NZD for adults and $35 NZD for children which includes a 90-minute tour. The tour kicks off with a 30-minute paddleboarding lesson, so if you’ve never given paddleboarding a go, you’re not to worry.
7. Cultural Village Tour and Night Show
Immerse yourself in Cook Islands culture and leave on a full stomach too! Get picked up from your hotel (with complimentary return transfers) and grab a glass of bubbles on arrival.
The two-hour cultural village tour starts at 5 pm. The tour is incredibly informative and interactive which keeps the children entertained. You’ll learn about ancient warrior life, watch demonstrations of carving and weaving for traditional costumes and visit a Marae (meeting house).
The buffet dinner incorporates a fusion of island and Western cuisine. There is a huge variety to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters – us included!
Over-water night show begins at 8:30 pm and lasts for around one hour. The performance is based around the legend, “The legend of Tongaiti”. You won’t leave disappointed – you are entertained by Rarotonga’s best dancers and musicians.
The performance is complete with fire dancers on floating stages. To top it all off, you’re surrounded by beautiful topical greenery and a waterfall garden.
The cultural village tour, dinner, and night show package is $129 NZD for adults and $59 NZD for children aged six to 11 years. There is no charge for under fives and they also offer a family pass at a reduced cost.
8. Kayak to the Islets off Muri Beach
If you’re staying in Muri, your resort may offer free kayak hire. Otherwise, there are many places to hire kayaks for about $15 NZD per hour.
Muri beach looks over at four islets, known as motu. Of these motu (Taakoka, Koromiri, Oneroa and Motutapu), Koromiri is the iconic motu featuring many Rarotongan weddings. Koromiri Motu is less than 200 metres from Muri beach so it’s a leisurely kayak trip away.
The weather can get quite hot during the day, averaging 29 degrees Celsius during its warmer months from late November to April. A great tip is to go kayaking in the early to mid-morning or in the evening so you aren’t stuck in the sweltering heat.
The lagoon is generally less busy at those times too, so you’ll have more of the lagoon to yourself.
Bring your snorkelling gear (or rent some at the same time as you rented the kayak) as the clear, blue waters around the motu are packed with a variety of marine life.
9. Indulge in Villi’s Burgers
After kayaking, you’ve probably built up an appetite. Head here for our favourite place to eat in Rarotonga with the best burgers we’ve ever had. Located directly opposite to the Muri Night Market and Muri Beachcomber Hotel, this place is super convenient to get to. We recommend trying the Muri burger for only $7.50 NZD.
Villi’s is closed on Monday so don’t make the mistake we did. If you’re still hungry after your burger, grab a gelato from right next door.
10. Climb Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Need a challenge or just want to work off all the amazing island food you’ve been eating? Hike up Te Rua Manga, also known as The Needle. It’s a tall rock formation perched up high in the centre of the island.
The round trip takes two to three hours. For a shortcut, park your car or scooter at the end of Uruau drive to save you an extra 30 minutes of walking.
The walking trail is well-marked, although you could go with a guide if you prefer. I’d recommend building up to a moderate level of fitness before conquering this – it is a tiring hike. Be sure not to attempt this hike after heavy rainfall as the paths become very slippery.
Take plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget the mosquito repellent. We had a little picnic up the top while enjoying the view. Grab some rolls from a bakery, and some meats and salad from the supermarket.
This is a great idea to do on a Sunday as many places in Rarotonga are closed – Sunday is seen as a day of rest.
11. Tour Matutu Brewery
The Matutu Brewery tour is informative and you learn a lot about the process of brewing beer. The owners are lovely and it’s great to see how passionate they are about their jobs.
Tours are held daily at 12 pm and 1 pm. These cost $15 NZD which include a generous tasting of three full-sized beers, or $20 NZD including return transport.
Matutu Brewery is very close to Tikioki Marine reserve and Fruits of Rarotonga so be sure to drop by if you’re in the area. You can also book a private tour if you’ve got a large group of people. The IPA beer is definitely a crowd favourite.
One of the coolest things about this place is that you can buy beer in 1.5 L or 3 L recycled soft drink bottles. Not only is this such a great, environmentally-conscious idea, but the plastic bottles are also lighter. In other words, you can carry more home in your suitcase!
12. Climb the Rocks at Black Rock Beach
As well as being a great place to swim, snorkel and climb rocks, Black Rock Beach also holds cultural significance in Cook Islands culture. The locals believe spirits depart the world at this part of the coastline.
Go at low tide if you’re interested at walking along the rocks or at high tide when rock pools are created.
You can also snorkel here, but this was actually one of my least favourite places to do so. I found the water wasn’t as clear, but a lot of people have said otherwise. It could have been the wind direction that day causing the sea to become choppy, so it might be a good idea to check the wind direction if you’re intending on snorkelling here.
Black Rock beach is west facing, so this is another great place to visit at sunset. For photography enthusiasts, the rocks offer a great silhouette against the sun’s rays.
13. Get Muddy with Raro Buggy Tours
This one is a little pricier than the other activities on this list at $150 NZD for one person or $175 NZD for a twin-share, but it’s definitely worth it. If you’re not keen on getting a little, well, very muddy, this activity is probably not the one for you.
There’s no way you’ll finish the tour without getting covered in mud.
Just as you’d expect, you’ll need to present your overseas restricted or full licence and be over 18 to drive the buggy. Children over four years are able to ride as a passenger.
After around two hours of driving through the mud, you’ll get to swim and wash off at Wigmore’s Waterfall, then enjoy a light lunch. Remember to bring a towel, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
14. Join a Pub Crawl
The Going Troppo nightlife tour is the most popular pub crawl in Rarotonga. They operate their pub crawls every Wednesday and Friday at $42 NZD pp. This includes a drink, souvenirs, and return transport to and from your hotel which makes organising the night super easy.
A tip is to do this on one of your first nights on the island. This way, you get a preview of the best bars and specials, then head back to your favourites on the following nights of your holiday.
15. Partake in Yoga on the Beach
After swimming, snorkelling, a quad bike tour and more, you’re probably ready for rest and relaxation.
Many resorts will offer yoga classes but if you’re after something a little different, get into contact with Yogi Maya.
She hosts beach yoga, private lessons, and paddleboard yoga as well. Maya provides mats so all you need to do is turn up – she welcomes all ages and levels.
You’ll find a lot of great accommodation options in Rarotonga. We wrote a full guide to with our favourite resorts in Rarotonga that is well worth checking out.
Our top pick is Te Manava. A luxurious resort perfectly located on Tikioki beach, our favourite spot on the island. The rooms are stunning and come with everything you would expect from a 5-star resort.
Palm Grove is a great mid-range resort. It has both beachfront and garden view rooms in a great location. It’s not a 5-star resort but it’s perfect for most people. If you’re travelling with kids, then Palm Grove is perfect, with great facilities including a kids’ pool.
AirBnB Rarotonga is also a great option for groups and families with a range of holiday homes available.
Other Rarotonga Must-Knows
Rarotonga isn’t a cheap destination and it’s difficult to really get your money’s worth if you’re on a budget. For budget travellers, we always recommend staying at Rarotonga Backpackers and getting around by bus. It’s easy to experience the beach life on the cheap. But if you plan to eat or enjoy a cocktail you’ll need to pay.
However, it’s always possible to find great deals in the Cook Islands. Grabaseat by Air New Zealand, of course, is the first place to look for affordable flights. Grabone often has holiday packages and accommodation deals making it also a good website to check out.
Heading out on a tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Rarotonga. Lagoon tours such as Captain Tamas are immensely popular. You can also experience land tours, cultural experiences and party bus tours.
We’d recommend making sure to ask your accommodation for suggestions if you’re looking for a tour. That said, if you’re just hanging around the main island of Rarotonga, then a tour isn’t really necessary. It’s super easy to get around by scooter, car or bus. Just build an itinerary out of this list and you won’t miss a thing.