1. TURTLE PASSAGE, RAROTONGA
So many people visit the Cook Islands to experience swimming in the worlds most beautiful lagoon waters. But there is so much more to the Cook islands then it’s amazing majestic mountains; white sandy beaches and sapphire water.
Rarotonga is home to endangered green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Most peoples highlight of a trip to the Cook islands is swimming with turtles in a passage in Rarotonga, locals call ‘turtle passage’.
Have all the magic captured and book to do Tripadvisors Number 1 Ranked tour by booking a turtle or eagle ray tour.
If you’re going to come all the way to the Cook Islands, a visit to Aitutaki is a must! It is the BoraBora of the Cook Islands only a million times better. BoraBora is owned mainly by the Chinese; in Aitutaki you are surrounded by the warm smiles and hearts of the locals. You get an authentic experience. Aitutaki’s main attraction is the large picture-perfect lagoon with translucent turquoise sapphire water. Air Rarotonga has daily flights to the island. If you don’t wish to stay overnight, their day tour is amazing and epic value for money. The day tour shows you the best of Aitutaki. Tip! Book early for the day tour. It books out weeks in advance. Also because I get asked all the time. The only way to get to Aitutaki is by plane. You can’t get a boat there. Air Rarotonga is the only airline that fly’s there. Once in Aitutaki, my favourite place to eat (in fact for the whole of the Cook islands) is Pacific Resort. If you can’t get a booking (During peak times they only take in-house guests), book a table at the beach bar. I actually prefer eating here then at the restaurant. You can still order all the same food. Another great place to eat is “The Boatshed’. Normally has live music and atmosphere. Has the best array of food choices and one of the only places with lots of Vegetarian options.
3. ONE FOOT ISLAND and HEAVEN SANDBAR, AITUTAKI
When in Aitutaki a day trip to ‘One Foot island’ and ‘Heaven Sandbar’ is a must. I know lots of people that visit Aitutaki and don’t do this. This is where the photos on social media of people climbing a coconut tree. Walking across the whitest sandbar in the world are taken. One Foot island has seriously the most beautiful water you will ever see. There are around 10 tour companies that do day trips to one foot island. I can’t stress enough that to get the best experience you want to book with the Vaka Cruise. The locals that run this Cook Islands owned business love Aitutaki, love working and love making peoples time in Aitutaki life changing. The cruise includes ukulele serenading; lesson on how to make coconut cream skin lotion; tie a sarong; husk a coconut and the most amazing fresh healthy lunch. All food locally sourced. Fresh fish. Fruit. Vegetables. They grow all the food from their own Aitutaki based orchard. Catch fresh fish that day. Yummmmmo!
4. CROSS-ISLAND HIKE TO TE RUA MANGA (THE NEEDLE), RAROTONGA
You can’t visit Rarotonga and not climb a mountain. Such a beautiful way to see the entire island in all its beauty. It would have to be my favourite walk in the world too. You can hear water rolling down the mountain the entire walk and at the end are rewarded with a swim at Wigmore’s waterfall to swim in. The trail leads from the north coast up to the distinctive pinnacle rock Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
This challenging hike takes about four hours (Or if you are relatively fit more around 3. I normally do it in 2.5hours) and leads through dense forest, climbing to the base of The Needle, a steep, bald rock that juts straight up into the air. From the base of the Needle, you can enjoy beautiful views over the coast and surrounding forest. Go with Pa as your guide – people do get lost and he has the best stories that make the walk even better.
Tips for the cross-island walk:
- Go early as it gets busy and muggy if you start after 9am.
- Don’t carry much. It’s a steep incline for the first 40mins and weight on your back is not good for your spine.
- There are no toilets so make sure you go to the toilet before you begin.
- You are undercover pretty much the whole walk other then at the top. So no need to wear sunscreen or a hat. Sunscreen may make your hands slippery and you need them to hold onto branches and nature to help give you balance during the walk.
- Wear mosquito repellent. And when you jump in for a swim at the waterfall at the end. Get into your pickup car or continue walking. Or better yet put more repellent on. I know so many people that don’t get any bites and then get attacked at the waterfall. Mosquitos love freshwater.
- Swimming in the waterfall is amazing. Will make you feel amazing. It may look brown but it is the cleanest water ever. If it feels cool – even more reason to jump in. It will help soothe and repair your muscles.
- Take a small water bottle. Refill it in the streams during your walk. You will find as you refill your bottle in the streams that it is crystal clear. I don’t ever take a bottle as like travelling with free hands and back. I simply scoop water up straight from the streams and drink with my barehands and mouth.
- Wear swimmers underneath your clothes to jump into the waterfall at the end. Or Clothes you don’t mind getting wet. Mosquitos love me so I normally just jump in with my clothes and shoes on. Gets the mud off and saves me getting bitten changing.
- Wear shoes with good grip. The walk can be super slippery after rain so make sure your shoes have proper grip. Also wear shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. Brand new white Nikes will go home caramel. So unless you want your white shoes to go 10 shades darker bring old shoes to wear.
5. Matai Shipwreck, Cook islands
When in Rarotonga you can’t help but see a wreck popping out of the water from Avarua Wharf. You can’t fully explore something looking at it from a distance. Join tripadvisors Number #1 rated tour for a guided experience. The Matai Shipwreck (Known as ‘The boiler’ by locals) was built in 1892 by the British Royal Mail Ship. The Maitai was orginally primarily used as a cargo and passenger ship. On voyage from San Francisco to Wellington, the Maitai was shipwrecked just outside of Avarua Harbour in Rarotonga. This happened nearly 100 years ago on December 25th, 1916. After years of resting just below the surf zone, this beautiful shipwreck is now part of the reef. And has become a must do for ocean lovers wanting to explore hidden gems of the Cook Islands.
6. Best place for Lunch – The Moorings Fish Cafe
Being a Cook Islander and living between Bondi Beach in Australia and the Cook Islands. I’ve eaten everywhere in the Cook Islands. There are limited food options for Vegetarian’s or others like myself that are Pescetarianism and Gluten intolerant. Lots of places to eat. But most places are either fried fast-food places or overpriced restaurant meals that resemble pub food back in Australia.
I rarely eat out; as normally just buy my own fresh fish from Ocean Fresh which is located 500m clockwise from the Rarotonga Airport. But I can’t help but treat myself a few times a week to a reasonable meal at the Moorings. The Moorings cafe is situated 1km anti clockwise on the beach from Muri lagoon. Meals are only around $12 so great value and the portion sizes will keep your belly full of goodness for the whole day.
I love LOVE love fish. They have the freshest most delicious MahiMahi. You can have it grilled or lightly crumbed. MahiMahi is the best fish for you too; has the least Mercury. My friends always either have the fish tacos or the FOB (Fresh off the Boat) Fish burger. While my favourite meal is the Fish salad or Poke Bowl. If I’m treating myself they also do the best Fish and chips and are famous for their aioli.
All restaurants on the island purchase their fish from ‘Ocean fresh’ or boats coming into the Avarua Wharf. So if I want to get fresh fish and salad I can easily go to Ocean Fresh and purchase it myself (normally only $12-$25kg). The Moorings have a boat that goes out each morning and catches fish from a different wharf to other fisherman, so get different fish. They go out Avana Wharf and are the best at catching fresh MahiMahi. They are known to have the freshest fish on the island.
Once you visit the Moorings you will find you end up eating there most days. With a view overlooking my favourite Surfbreak. Often live music. The best customer service. It’s hard to top.
The Moorings is only open Monday-Friday and Sunday’s for lunch.
7. Best Place for dinner The Waterline
The Waterline is my favourite place hands down for dinner (also amazing for lunch). Perfect for a Date night (ridiculously romantic) and also fun for a night out with the girls or friends. Or yourself – the staff are so lovely they will probably sit down and join you for a chat. They have the best view to spot whales and watch the sunset. They also have live music most nights – known as the best place for live music on the island. It’s a locally owned business by the lovely Akisi and Chris (Nicest warmest people you will meet) and the food is fresh, vibrant, healthy and will leave your face and belly smiling. They have also got the coolest beach bars (One brand new one). If you want a magical night out, with atmosphere, healthy decadent food, warm service. The Waterline is the place to go. If the picture above of their to die for ‘Fish Laksa’ doesn’t make your mouth water. Pop in and your mouth will soon be watering.
Charlie’s Fish Cafe is the place to go if you want a relaxed bit of atmosphere (no need to get dressed up; go straight from the beach). It’s right on the beach. My favourite meal here is the fresh sashimi plate.
If you want a range of options and a relaxed atomosphere Muri Nightmarkets has something for everyone. This runs Every night except Monday, Friday and Saturday. Tip – Go before 6.30pm as by 7.30pm most of the good food options is sold. My favourite stall here is Nuku Kai. Beautiful Miss international Cook Islands Emma Walsh owns this. They do mouth watering fresh local dishes – my favourite being the fish Poke Bowl.
Rickshaw Vietnamese in Muri lagoon has delicious healthy fresh food at reasonable prices. The spicy ginger fish and Vegetarian Pad Thai are my two go-toos.
If your want a nice date night setting, and don’t mind splurging more around $30-$40 a main and have already eaten repeatedly at Waterline. As stated above go their first, its the place to go. Antipodes and Castaway would be my next recommendations.
8. Blackrock Beach and Social Centre Surf Beach, Rarotonga
If you go “clockwise” from the airport, after the break wall you will past the popular local surf beach ‘social centre’ (opposite the tennis courts / golf course) and then straight after that before you go around the corner you will come to “Black Rock Beach”.
Social centre and blackrock are two of my favorite beaches in Rarotonga because they are less touristy and the water clarity is insanely beautiful. Black Rock has a stunning massive, black lava rock formation that juts out of and contrasts with the electric sapphire water. You can climb down and swim across to climb it, or just swim in the narrow, gentle shore area in between it and the shore. On high tide you can jump off the rock. For kids this is a must!
The Cook Islands is such special place. So untouched and you will find yourself giggling with joy like a little kid everyday from the beauty of it all. If you do visit please do contact me and join me on one of my incredible tours. I would love to share my island home with you xx
Kia Manuia x