One of Rarotonga’s most striking features are the emerald mountains rising majestically from the centre. The highest, Te Mangais 658 metres. It is these towering mountains that distinguish this island from others in the region. Rarotonga is a jewel of an island blessed with a spectacular natural beauty. About 10,000 people are fortunate enough to call this lovely island their home.

Rarotonga has all the advantages of modern technology and is a well-informed society. Yet this island, whose coastal road measures just 32 kilometres in circumference, is also deliciously undemanding and simple with ayear round tropical climate. Cooler months are May to October when temperatures are between 64 F (18C) and 82 (28C), summer temperatures range between 70F (21C) and87F (31C).

Avarua – the hub

Through the bright little waterfront township of Avarua, colourful pareu, dresses and T-shirts flutter in the breeze as locals go about their business in their enviable relaxed manner. This clean, tidy town has much to offer in terms of gifts, souvenirs, food and drink. Up-market or inexpensive, Avarua can meet the capacity of every individual wallet! Be sure to drop in at one of the local black pearl jewelry outlets – you’ll appreciate the quality, price range and variety of exquisite designs.

At the western end of Avarua, Punanga NuiMarket, the biggest in the country really comes to life on a Saturday. In the morning it’s a colorful, lively hub of activity full of music and laughter. Stalls selling locally made food, arts and crafts, clothing and a wide range of souvenirs should all be visited.

Visitors should also look for craftwork from the islands of Penrhyn, Manihiki and Mangaia and the vast array of pareu designs. The pareu is ideal holiday attire for the beach or relaxing…go local and wear one! The two metre lengths of colourful material can be worn by men and women in many different ties. Ask the stall holder to show you a couple of ideas for the beach.

Eager to try some local food? Look out for goat meat slow cooked in wild ginger and coconut cream, grilled flying fish caught that morning, or super tasty free range local chicken also slow cooked in fresh coconut cream – there are many choices. Sip on refreshing smoothies made from local fruit as you meander around the market soaking up the sights and sounds. Almost always there is a live band or dance team performing at the market rotunda, just to add to the uplifting, joyful atmosphere.

The Magic of Muri

Muri Beach is a two kilometre long white sandy beach. A leisurely stroll and along your way and to one side, the reef and four easily accessible tiny islets, known as motu, nestle invitingly in the lagoon – Ta’akoka, Koromiri, Oneora and Motu Tapu. To the other side the lush hills and mountains are visible through trees which offer shady respite from the tropical sun.

There are also restaurants, bars and several places where one can hire water sports equipment. Marine life is abundant in the lagoons of Rarotonga and can be leisurely inspected by snorkeling. If you can’t snorkel, lessons can be booked with all scuba-diving operators.

On Saturdays the Rarotonga Sailing Club (operating from Sails Restaurant) has lagoon races and welcomes visitors. Monday to Saturday lagoon cruises on glass bottom boats operate in Muri lagoon, offering snorkeling and barbeque lunches. Muri lagoon is also the best location for windsurfing, while kayaking is possible just about everywhere around Rarotonga. Windsurfers, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can be hired from water sports outlets and most hotels located on the foreshore around the island.

Busy or relaxed?

There’s a wide, interesting range of both onshore and water activities to choose from throughout the year to suit all ages and fitness levels. The first decision you will need to make in Rarotonga is how busy or relaxed you want your stay to be. Rarotonga is an island like no other and there are many special island experiences for visitors. Romantic sunset cruises onboard a catamaran, dining ankle deep in warm water lapping on a beautiful beach, or guided treks into the mysterious cloud mountains, to name a few options. Or simply take a walk along a beach and watch a golden sunset. All make wonderful memories to take home.

Getting wet in the sun

One of the things nearly always visible from anywhere on Rarotonga, and one which visitors long remember, is the sight and sound of white crested waves breaking on the living coral reef that circles the entire island.

Beautiful beaches and safe, clear lagoons makes swimming and snorkelling the most popular activities. Being surrounded by water, Rarotonga has a wide range of water activities to suit everyone. Lagoon sailing, outrigger canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, kiting, wind-surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, lagoon and ocean cruises, deep sea fishing and reef walks are some to choose from.

Beyond the reef

There are several scuba diving operators who offer both beginner’s lessons and dive trips for the more advanced to interesting sites beyond the reef. Experienced anglers and even the keen learner will discover that game fish such as marlin, tuna, sailfish and wahoo are plentiful in the deep, blue waters off Rarotonga. Fishing boats can be chartered for groups, or individuals can join a trip being made by one of several boats moored at Avatiu wharf.

For a more sedate ocean outing, well equipped boats can be chartered for ocean and sunset cruises. Why not opt to be taken past the reef onboard a glass bottom Reef Sub, to see a huge range of marine life in its natural environment. This beats an aquarium any day!

Outrigger canoeing is a popular local sport which can be watched from the comfort of Trader Jacks’ deck on the Avarua waterfront, or at Muri lagoon most days. During August to September humpback whales can often be seen from the Rarotonga foreshore. The whales come from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Cook Islands to mate and calf. The Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been formally declared a whale sanctuary.

Seeing Rarotonga from the air is highly recommended as it gives a real appreciation for the remarkable beauty of the island and its mysterious centre of mountains and hills. This can be done on Air Rarotonga’s scenic

flights which operate most week days.

Inland excursions

Want to get “off the beaten track”? Join thrilling island adventure treks on four-wheel drive jeeps. Tours are interactive and lunch is provided after taking in the breathtaking views of the interior and coastal areas. Quad bikes (four wheel motorcycles) can be rented to take you on inland tracks and places of interest. Or for an island tour that is a little easier on the legs, visitors can join guided island bus tours to local highlights.

Visitors who enjoy hiking should experience guided ‘Cross Island’ treks or bush walks to the Takitumu Conservation Area. Both are highly informative and visitors will be taught about local medicinal plants, flora and fauna – a light lunch is also included in the tour package.

Walking across the island through the mountains is possible on a track that starts in Avatiu valley and ends at Papua Waterfall in Vaima’anga, the ideal spot for a refreshing swim. This and other unaccompanied walks and treks in a variety of locations, require a good degree of fitness, but should not be attempted without first informing others of your intentions. Maps are available.

Sore muscles from all the island activity? Treat yourself to a full massage and spa treatment at any of the well-equipped professional health and beauty spas, or look for roadside signs of locally run private massage clinics.