Top travel tips for the Cook Islands and Rarotonga

Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill turtle spotted on a scuba dive

A few weeks ago, my husband and I vacationed on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, relatively close to Tahiti in the South Pacific. It wasn’t that we always dreamed of seeing this side of the world (it was a 9 hour flight from Los Angeles), but that a a sweetheart travel deal arose and we said, “What the hell?” It was an adventure in food… in drinks… in scuba diving… in carb overload. Although conceived together, Scott wrote this post since he has a better memory. – Taylor

See Part 1: Top foodie tips for traveling in the Cook Islands and Rarotonga

But what else is there to do besides eat and drink, you ask?

Well, let talk about transportation. Most people zip about on little scooters that accommodate only one or two people. Right hand-drive cars are available as well if you are more than two or really can’t live without climate control. Either way, you’ll have to get a Cook Islands drivers license. Scooters will also require a short training course if you don’t have a motorcycle certification of some sort.

Or if you’re daring, there are a few places that will rent bicycles. On the islands, they are called “push bikes” – some are squeaky, old mountain bikes with terrible brakes (like we had), others have battery-assisted power for when you get tired. Your choice. But, and I emphasize the “but” here, when the sun goes down, the island gets dark, and push bikes don’t have lights. We made it home alive after a leisurely dinner stuck us five or six miles from our hotel after sunset. It’s the only adventure on the island I don’t recommend.

Adventures I do recommend are hiking, snorkeling and scuba diving. For the hiking, some trails are pretty easy, but if you want to do the cross-island trek, which includes one of the highest points on the island, hire a guide and get ready to get dirty. It’s serious hike. You’ll be using roots and ropes to scale the short but steep slopes. Bring water and mosquito repellant. By the way, we paid about $12 for a small bottle of OFF! so thinking bring some from home.

Beach waves on the west side of the island
Beach waves on the west side of the island

The diving is great. I went two days in a row and had a fun time with the little dive camera I rented. But like everything else on the island, it’s no frills. Pacific Divers has the biggest dive boat around at 27’, and after seeing the little Zodiac-style boats everyone else was using, I was glad to have a real boat with a roof and air tank supports. They offer us some hot cocoa between dives, but you’re on your own for water or snacks. Once you’re under the water, the reefs are beautiful. There’s very little in terms of soft corals or anything delicate because the island does get some big wind and waves in the stormy season. Highlight of the dives for me was a close encounter with a Hawksbill turtle.

If the deep water isn’t for you, the snorkeling is nearly as good. There are great spots all over the island and barrier reefs do a good job of slowing the Pacific waves and protecting the scads of tiny fish who are not concerned with how close you want to get. Just don’t stick your fingers into the crevices. While snorkeling in the Muri Lagoon, I spotted quite a few snowflake moray eels. They are mesmerizing to watch but, seriously, don’t try to pet them.

My final note is to pack extra shirts and shorts, especially shirts. I’m the kind of guy who likes to put on a clean, dry shirt before going to dinner. And after a day of pedaling through the humidity of a tropical island, I’ll bet you the first round drinks that you will, too. At a minimum, plan for two shirts a day – unless your wife doesn’t mind how you smell in a recycled shirt (I do, actually – Taylor).

And now you are mentally prepared for what will surely be a great vacation on Raratonga, Cook Islands. Bon voyage!


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