Last updated on March 9th, 2022
Rarotonga is the busiest of the Cook Islands, with plenty of things to do to fill up your holiday calendar. But then again, it is a tropical South Pacific island so doing a whole lot of nothing is certainly on the table. I spent nearly three weeks in Rarotonga while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands. Here’s a sample 7 days in Rarotonga itinerary to help you plan your holiday. A week in Rarotonga is enough time to see all the highlights, catch up on your reading, and adjust to the beautiful pace of island time.
Traveling to the Cook Islands? Start planning with The Cook Islands Travel Guide!
Rarotonga has no shortage of accommodations to cater to all types of travelers, from backpackers to luxury travelers. Self-catering holidaymakers will find plenty of choices in all price ranges, and renting your own beachfront cottage is certainly within reach. Check out the ‘where to stay’ section in the Rarotonga Travel Guide for accommodations I personally stayed at and loved, with exclusive offers for X Days In Y readers!
With low prices and excellent deals on long-term rentals, having your own wheels in Rarotonga will certainly add an extra degree of freedom. Have a look at the Rarotonga Travel Guide for more information on how to get around the island, including recommended providers and public transportation info (yes, there is a bus).
While a week might not be enough for a visit to two islands, you can swap one of the days mentioned in this sample itinerary for a day trip tour to Aitutaki. Have a look at this 7 Days In The Cook Islands Sample Itinerary for more info.
All places mentioned in this travel guide can be found on this companion map. Simply click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Spend your first day on the island exploring its only town and then hot the road and circle the island.
Start your first day in Rarotonga in the island’s main town. Avarua is quite a cute South Pacific settlement, small enough yet with all the amenities for a comfortable and easy-going life. For breakfast, grab one of the outdoor tables at The Lucky Rooster (formerly Cafe Salsa) and do a bit of people watching.
You’ll now embark on a short walking tour of the town, starting with the Para O Tane – the site of the treaty signing which accepted the British protectorate over the Cook Islands in 1888. From here, walk over to the Avarua CICC, the island’s major house of worship. It was built in 1853 and you’ll come back here for Sunday church service, an experience I highly recommend whether you’re a believer or not.
History enthusiasts can continue to the Takoma Theological College and National Museum, but in any case, we’ll wrap up this walking tour of Avarua at the Beachcomber Pearl Market. This historic waterfront building served as a missionary school back in the day. These days, it’s a trendy art gallery and a great spot for a hot cup of coffee, something small to eat and cool off with the help of the incoming lagoon breeze.
Hop on your scooter or fire up the car and head in the direction of the hospital. The (hopefully) only reason to drive up this road is for the panoramic views over the island’s northwest coast.
Back on the coastline, park it next to the black rocks beach and hop down from one massive boulder to another until you land on the soft sand. It’s quite an empty beach if you want to relax a little bit, but it’s also a decent snorkeling spot if the lagoon is not too rough.
Since it’s your first day in Rarotonga, I recommend just circling the island with your car or scooter. It takes about 45 minutes to complete the 35-kilometer road that hugs the island’s coastline, and it’s a great way to start scouting your favorite spots for later.
For dinner, head back to town to Trader Jacks. The atmosphere is always buzzing at one of Rarotonga’s iconic eating and drinking spots. Go for their smoked marlin, prepared in-house and tasting absolutely delicious. If you book in advance, you can get a table right on the water.
Spend the second day on the island at its most sought-after location and during the evening, witness a spectacular Polynesian show.
Today you’ll focus your attention on the Muri Lagoon, one of the prettiest and most popular parts of Rarotonga. For breakfast, head to the LBV cafe in Muri Village for a culinary voyage to Paris. When you’re fully awake, walk or drive down to Rumours Waterfall Spa for a jet lag recovery massage or better yet, their signature Vichy Shower natural water massage. This award-winning spa is the perfect way to pamper yourself on this tropical vacation to Polynesia.
Now that you’re relaxed, it’s time to get back into a horizontal mode in Muri Beach. The southern end of the lagoon is quieter, but if you feel like getting some aqua exercise – the Muri Lagoon is the best spot on the island for kayaking, kitesurfing and standup paddleboarding.
For lunch, head to Avana Harbor and the Mooring Fish Cafe. The sandwiches are so out of this world, that you’ll probably come back here again during your week in Rarotonga. The location itself is of historical significance as well. It is from here that Rarotongans set sail on massive outrigger canoes (vakas) on a bold voyage that would eventually lead to the discovery of Aotearoa – better known as New Zealand.
After a bit more relaxing, head to Te Vara Nui Village or be picked up by their complimentary shuttle. It’s a well-known fact that all Cook Islanders can sing, dance and play with fire. In Rarotonga, all three are combined with a huge buffet dinner in a memorable evening that showcases the exotic Polynesian culture of the Cook Islands. The evening reaches a climax with the spectacular overwater show.
Professional dancers wearing exotic costumes, act out the legend of Tongaiti – an ancient fearsome warrior. I don’t want to spoil things too much so let’s just say you have to see this for yourself. Here’s a full review of Te Vara Nui Village, including all packages and key information you need to know.
It’s time to stretch your legs and do some hiking in Rarotonga.
On your third day in Rarotonga, you’ll experience the island’s rugged and uninhabited interior by crossing the island from north to south on the Cross Island Track. It’s the most popular hike in Rarotonga, steeply leading you up the dense forest to catch 360 degrees views of the island from a towering cliff known as ‘The Needle’. When you’ve managed to pull yourself away from this spot, head back down through the forest, crossing a river and finishing off with a refreshing splash at Wigmore’s Waterfall. The Rarotonga Travel Guide has all the logistical information and time-saving options.
After such a sweaty but rewarding start to your day, treat yourself to well-deserved lunch at the Tahiti Cafe on the outskirts of Avarua. This was another one of my favorite places to eat in Rarotonga, serving delicious and authentic fish dishes French Polynesia style.
Head back to the beach, your cottage or wherever else you feel like relaxing for a few hours. As the day draws to a close, drive to Aroa Beach on the west coast of the island. This area is known as ‘the sunset side’, and you’ll be treated to a memorable display of strong orange and red colors as the sun drifts in the general direction of Australia.
To really see the sunset in style, grab a drink at the Shipwreck Hut. It’s the best beach bar in Rarotonga and just happens to be perfectly situated for awesome sunsets. Live music happens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and don’t forget to try the local Matutu Beer.
You’ll take it relatively easy today, preparing your own breakfast if self-catering or heading to Fruits Of Rarotonga for a giant cup of tropical smoothie. Make landfall on the soft sand of Titikaveka Beach and spend a few hours in one of those stereotypical dream tropical beaches.
The best section of the beach is just in front of the Little Polynesian Resort, and that’s also where you’ll enjoy a poolside lunch. Gaze out to the ocean and unwind, as the palm tree branches sway in the gentle breeze.
If you’re up for some adventure, head up the mountain to Highland Cultural Paradise. This used to be the site of a massive village belonging to the Tinomana tribe, covered by nature for centuries after being abandoned. These days, the High Chief’s ancestors have begun the process of rediscovering their historical land, while opening up the village to guided tours and island nights. It’s a is a great way for both adults and children to learn about the ancient Cook Islands culture and here’s a full review.
For dinner, head to the Muri Night Market. Thursdays are the best evenings to visit, with lots of local food stalls and live entertainment. It’s a place for casual dining, where you’ll share tables with other visitors from around the world.
Start your fifth day with some underwater adventure! Rarotonga offers some of the best scuba diving in the South Pacific. Book a spot with Patrick from Adventure Cook Islands and head for a pair of dives either in the south or north coasts of the island. Thrill-seekers can crawl their way through lagoon passages, battling the currents as sea turtles and moray eels come out to play. For calmer dives, cruise along magnificent coral gardens, where the visibility is like no other and where sharks like to come out to scout tonight’s dinner.
Back on dry land, head to the Maire Nui gardens for a bit of zen. Explore the tropical grounds of Rarotonga’s only botanical garden and grab a well-deserved lunch in the secluded cafe.
After a bit of relaxing on your favorite beach or perhaps some shopping in town, head to the Tamarind House for a romantic dinner. Housed in a 1909 colonial-style house overlooking a wild beach, the setting is magnificent whether you’re dining inside or by candlelight in the garden.
It must be Saturday by now, which means you have to skip breakfast and head to the Punanga Nui Market. It’s one of the best markets in the South Pacific and wraps up around noon, so no sleeping in. While the entertainment sets up (always 5-10 Cook Island minutes from now), sample some food, grab a tropical juice and do a bit of shopping.
In the afternoon, you can relax, do a bit of shopping in town or go for a hike. If it’s the third option you chose, it’s back to the island’s west coast for the Mount Raemaru Track. After you’ve managed to spot the overgrown trailhead, it’s up the mountain and then further up the cliff using a series of ropes. Your efforts are rewarded with panoramic views of the tiny-looking villages, the surrounding lush mountains and the never-ending aqua blue of the South Pacific. Have a look at the Rarotonga Travel Guide for all the logistical information.
Start your last day in Rarotonga with a visit to the Avarua CICC. Whether you’re a believer or not, attending Sunday church service in Rarotonga is an authentic local experience that you’ll cherish forever.
Follow the local crowd dressed in their Sunday whites and enjoy an absolute pure sense of community during the short service. Beautiful hymns erupt a cappella style and there’s even coffee and biscuits for those who stay until the end of service.
Here’s are some of the sights and sounds from Sunday church service in Rarotonga
To finish off your 7 days in Rarotonga, revisit your favorite spots on the island. You’ve seen a lot, and you probably have a few places you want to bid a personal farewell to. Whether it’s your favorite beach, the sunset side, a cafe or just by the pool – spend the last few hours in paradise observing ‘island time’.
This sample 7 days in Rarotonga itinerary covers all the major highlights in Rarotonga. Check out the Cook Islands Travel Guide for more information about Rarotonga and the Cook Island.