21 Fun Things to do in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

All the best things to do in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. From lagoon tours to quad biking and learning the local culture, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Rarotonga.

Beachfront in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is known for its crystal clear water, beautiful turquoise lagoon, white beaches and swaying palm trees.

But there are also loads of fun things to do in Rarotonga. We just spent five days there, and it wasn’t enough to to tick off everything we wanted to do.

Having said that, we did manage to pack in a load of fun activities in a short amount of time. Read on for my picks of some of the most fun activities in Rarotonga.

Fun Activities in Rarotonga

1. Lagoon Tour

Koka lagoon Cruise boats in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

The first thing you will notice when you arrive in Rarotonga is how insanely beautiful the water is. That turquoise colour looks like you’re viewing everything through an Instagram filter.

Number one on your Rarotonga bucket list therefore should be to get out on the water and enjoy it. And the most fun way to do this is by taking a lagoon tour.

We opted to join the Koka Lagoon Cruise. This great, fun morning tour is run by some fun-loving tour guides who love to bang on drums, sing and entertain.

The tour kicks off with some snorkelling before taking you to a motu (island) for lunch and a hilarious coconut show, where you will learn about the Cook Island traditions and culture.

NB: an alternative to the Koka Cruise is Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruise, which also comes highly recommended by anyone who has done it.

Check out my Instagram Reel for a better idea of what to expect:

2. Traditional Umu Cooking Class

Preparing a traditional umu in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

This was one of the highlights of our trip to Rarotonga. We joined Tumutoa Tours for a fun afternoon of learning to make a traditional Umu dinner.

Run by husband and wife team  Mania & Ngame, this is a fantastic opportunity to gain an insight into the local way of life.

It’s all hands on deck as everyone bands together to create a fantastic local feast. There’s meat and veggies cooked in coconut milk in a traditional umu, plus famous local dish Ika Mata.

Everything is made from scratch, including husking and grating the coconuts to make coconut cream and weaving your own plates from coconut fronds.

There’s also music and dancing, and the whole evening concludes with a fire show. You are guaranteed a lot of laughs along the way.

Check out my Instagram Reel for a better idea of what to expect:

3. Raro Quad Bike Tour

Father and son on quad bike in Rarotonga.

Raro Quad Tours take you off the beaten track, through some of the back roads of Raro on a  4-wheel automatic quad bike.

You’ll drive past villages, up to the waterfall and visit the infamous abandoned Sheraton hotel. It’s a great way to see some lesser-visited parts of the island.

The tour concludes with some muddy fun, splashing through puddles. Wear old clothes!

Note: Drivers must be 18+ years old and have a full overseas driving license. Kids aged 7+ can ride as passengers.

4. Raro Mud Buggies

If you’re less interested in seeing the sights of Rarotonga and just want to have fun and get muddy, then the mud buggies are a great alternative to the quad bike tour.

Tip: Wear something you are happy to throw away at the end of it, as you may never get that mud out again!

Note: Drivers must be 18+ years old and have a full overseas driving license. Kids aged 4+ can ride as passengers.

5. Punanga Nui Market

Punanga Nui market  in Rarotonga.

If you’re in Rarotonga on a Saturday morning, then you have to head to the markets. This is where you’ll find everyone on a Saturday morning.

There’s music, there’s food, there’s souvenirs and there’s a great atmosphere. It’s also a good opportunity to chat to some of the tour operators as a lot of them have stalls here too.

Don’t miss the fresh fruit smoothies!

6. Muri Beach Night Market

Muri Beach night market  in Rarotonga.

If you’re in Raro on a Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and looking for a good selection of cheap food and a relaxed vibe, then head to the night market.

You’ll find local seafood, barbecue stalls, smoothies, curries, local desserts and even crepes and churros.

Want a beer with your meal? You can buy them from the supermarket next door.

Tip: the market is open 5-9pm. Get there early to beat the crowds. You’ll have long queues from 6pm onwards.

7. Drive around the Island

Two kids looking out over the ocean  in Rarotonga.

It only takes around 40 minutes to circumnavigate the entire island of Rarotonga.

But you’ll want to set aside longer to explore all the beaches, stop off for refreshments and take a look at some of the different hotels, bars and restaurants along the way.

We hired our car from Island Car & Bike Rentals, but there are plenty of other car rental places too.

If you don’t want to drive, then hop aboard the public bus! There are two buses: the Clockwise and the Anti-Clockwise buses that run every hour. Just flag it down, jump aboard and let the driver know where to let you off. Check out the schedule here.

8. Highland Paradise Cultural Evening

For an immersive cultural experience, then head to Highland Paradise. This tour takes you to a traditional local village and offers a glimpse into Cook Island life 600 years ago.

There’s a village tour, storytelling, drumming and dancing and everyone gets to enjoy a traditional umu feast.

Tours are every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and they provide free transfers from your accommodation.

9. Te Vara Nui

Another option for a cultural evening is Te Vara Nui, located in Muri Beach.

This overwater night show and buffet dinner attracts crowds every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to watch dancers and drummers perform ‘The Legend of Tongaiti’.

This entertainment extravaganza can be combined with a village tour to learn about the history and culture of the Cook Islands.

10. Snorkelling

Boy snorkelling  in Rarotonga.

When you see how crystal clear the water is in the Cook Islands, you’re going to want to dive right in and admire the sea life.

Be sure to pack your mask and snorkel so you can jump in the water any time you want.

Recommended spots for snorkelling include:

  • In front of the Rarotongan Resort
  • Aroa Beach
  • Near Fruits of Rarotonga in Tikioki
  • Black Rock

Areas to avoid due to strong currents and rip tides include Arorangi Passage, Rutaki Passage, Papua Passage and Avaavaroa Passage. If in doubt, check with the locals.

11. Hiking the trails

When you think of Rarotonga, you generally think of beaches and ocean. But there is a whole mountain range across the middle of the island, meaning plenty of hiking opportunities.

The most popular hikes are the Cross Island Trek, the Te Rua Manga Trek (to ‘The Needle’) and the Raemaru Trek. You can join a guided tour with Maunga Tours or, if you’re fit and experienced, you can head off alone as the trails are well marked.

Tip: Remember that it is hot and humid in the Cook Islands, so be sure to pack plenty of water, suncream and bug spray.

12. Kayaking or SUP on Muri Lagoon

Man kayaking  in Rarotonga.

Muri Lagoon is stunning – a shimmering expanse of turquoise with shallow, sheltered water.

You can hire kayaks and paddle boards to explore the area from the following operators:

13. Progressive Dinner

We didn’t have time to do this, opting for the Tumutoa Tour instead (see above). But it is on my list for next time.

This unique cultural tour gives you the opportunity to visit three local homes, enjoying a different course at each home.

A string band accompanies you to provide entertainment, and you will learn about life in the Cook Islands from your hosts.

14. Sunset Cocktails

Shipwreck hut  in Rarotonga.

You’re on holiday by the beach, so sunset cocktails are almost compulsory, right?

For the best sunsets in Rarotonga, you need to head to the west side of the island (for obvious reasons). We checked out a few different beach bars, and our favourite spots were:

Other popular options include Charlie’s, Cococktail and Wilson’s (at Castaway).

15. Fish Sandwiches at Mooring Cafe

Mooring fish cafe  in Rarotonga.

Fish sandwiches are a thing in Rarotonga. So you are probably going to try at least one before you leave.

Rumour has it that the Mooring Cafe serves up the best one in town. We headed there for lunch one day and it didn’t disappoint.

Soft chewy ciabatta wrapped around crumbed fresh chunky mahi mahi, homemade sauce and salad. We tried the fish tacos too – also good!

16. Kite Surfing

Kite surfing on Muri Lagoon in Rarotonga.

A spacious sheltered lagoon, warm tropical water and easterly trade winds make Muri Lagoon a kite surfer’s nirvana. 

Kite surfing season runs from May to October when the winds pick up. 

You can hire kitesurfing equipment or sign up for a lesson at KiteSUP Watersports on Muri Beach. 

17. Whale Watching

Whales migrate through the Cook Islands from July to October. 

Excitingly in Rarotonga you don’t even need to head out to sea to spot whales, you can see them from the shore. 

The best spots for whale watching from the shore are on the west side of the island, in particular: 

  • Black rock
  • Edgewater Resort 
  • Aroa beach 

For a closer look you can join a whale watching tour or charter a boat. Try the following companies:

18. Tie Dye Rarotonga

At Tie Dye Rarotonga, you can sign up for a block painting workshop with owner Norma.

Get creative and you get to go home with a beautiful unique souvenir – a homemade pareu (sarong).

You’ll find it on the south side of the island, opposite Iro’s Beach Villa.

19. Donuts from LBV Bakery

Donuts from LBV Bakery in Rarotonga.

Who knew you could find some of the world’s best donuts in Rarotonga? Apparently it’s a thing here – eating donuts that is.

Several bakeries around the island bake up a batch of fresh donuts every morning and you will also find them in supermarkets such as Wigmore’s.

For the best of the best though, head to LBV Bakery at Muri Beach.

Oh my word.

Those donuts are pillowy and soft, like biting into a cloud… and filled with the most delicious fillings. Our favourites were the ones with vanilla custard and raspberry jam. Yum!

20. Relax on the Beach

Beach and palm trees in Rarotonga.

Of course one of the most popular things to do in Rarotonga is just to chill on the beach. Just take a look around you and you’ll see that even the dogs like to chill on the beach in Raro!

Tip: If you plan to go in the water, be sure to wear reef shoes, as there are stonefish in the Cook Islands. The pain of stepping on of these is said to be an 18/10.

21. Day Trip to Aitutaki

Blue water and sky in Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

If you think Rarotonga is crazy beautiful, just wait until you see Aitutaki!

I highly recommend heading to Aitutaki for a few days to properly soak in the vibe. However, if you are pushed for time, it is totally possible to do a day trip to Aitutaki.

In fact, Air Rarotonga has an easy day trip all set up for you. You depart Rarotonga on the first flight of the morning, take a tour around the island of Aitutaki and then join the Vaka Cruise for a day out on the Aitutaki lagoon.

Then after the cruise drops you back on shore, you make your way back to the airport for the afternoon flight back to Rarotonga.

It’s not a cheap tour at around $700 per person, but totally worth it to experience the incredible colours of Aitutaki Lagoon!

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