Visitors Guide H


For a range of handicrafts (grass skirts, baskets, hats, carvings, jewellery) head to the Punanga Nui Cultural Market near the harbour in Avarua. Saturday morning is the best time and the earlier you go, the bigger the range. There are some permanent stores there all week. Island Craft, next to Westpac, is worth a look and they also have a shop at the airport with a smaller range of goods. For handicrafts and beachwear on Aitutaki, head to the Orongo Centre near Arutanga Wharf (closed Sundays).

Hash House Harriers

This is a world-wide expatriate thing where adults have a weekly jog in the name of fitness, which is really an excuse for a lot of beer drinking and swapping tales afterwards. The Hash starts at 5:30pm on Monday evenings and it’s usually over a different route so call David Lobb on 27 002 for the venue or check the Monday’s Cook Islands News. You should be drinking by 6:30pm – it’s a good way to meet people and get a feel for how the locals live.


The locals drink the tap water but those with sensitive stomachs may feel better with bottled water (Foodland in Avarua is cheaper than roadside shops). You may want to get into the habit of boiling the jug in your room before bed so you have cold boiled water in the morning. You won’t contract any exotic tropical diseases but taking a small first aid kit is recommended. Hydrogen Peroxide, antiseptic cream and bandaids are recommended for coral cuts (even a scratch can attract coral dust). Analgesics and Berocca may come in handy, especially if you try to match the locals drink for drink on a Friday night and Imodium/Lomatil or similar can put a quick stop to an upset stomach. In the event of an emergency, Rarotonga’s main hospital is open 24 hours a day (phone 22 664). To call an ambulance, dial 998. There are also medical clinics and private practitioners. The Cook Islands Ministry Of health web site is at

No matter where you travel, travel insurance should be taken out.


Just a reminder that The Cook Islands are in the tropics and while it never gets really ‘hot’ it can certainly feel it because of the humidity. Temps range pretty much year round between 30°C (86°F) and 23°C (73°F) and the water is always warm. When going on an outing or an activity like a round of golf, take a bottle of water and wear sun protection. A bit of talcum powder may come in handy for rash relief.


There are some excellent tracks for hikers with a reasonable amount of fitness on Rarotonga. Tracks include to The Needle (Te Rua Manga) in the centre of the island (413m); across the island via Papua Waterfall or to the top of Raemaru, the flat-topped mountain (340m). A guide is recommended for this one as it is for novices wanting to cross the island or attack The Needle. You won’t need a guide for the Avana Walk or Turangi Walk from the eastern side of the island.

Hire Cars

See Car Rental.


Recent archeological excavations show that there could have been inhabitants in the Cook Islands since 500AD. According to legend, Rarotonga was settled around 1200AD by two warriors, Karika from Samoa and Tangiianui from Tahiti. They met on the high seas but decided it would be pointless to do battle as their was no witness to declare a victor. Instead they went to Rarotonga and competed for land ownership. From a starting point each sailed their canoes in different directions around the island until they met again, dictating how much of the island belonged to each. In reality, migration to the islands was much earlier.

Spanish explorers visited the Cook Islands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Pedro Fernández de Quirós (1606), whose mission was to discover gold and spread the word of Christianity, in that order, was met by some 500 inhabitants on a beach in Rakahanga. He noted that the women, “if properly dressed, would have advantages over Spanish women.” I believe the local women’s lack of attire contributed somewhat to the Bounty mutineers agenda in 1789.

James Cook passed through the southern group of islands in 1773 and the islands were named after him in 1824 by Russsian cartographer Johann von Krusenstern. The missionary invasion started with Londoner John Williams in 1821, on Aitutaki. Along with God’s word came white man’s diseases like smallpox, measles and influenza, which the missionaries saw as God’s punishment on the sinful heathens. Most of the population is still deeply religious today but it now compliments their Polynesian heritage and culture. Interestingly, missionaries arrived from Australia and weren’t aware that they’d crossed the International Dateline and, for 60 years, held church services on a Saturday. The British declared the islands a protectorate following reports that the French were about to beat them to it.

In 1901, the islands were included in the boundaries of New Zealand. During World War Two, the Americans had air bases on the islands of Aitutaki and Penrhyn.

Following pressure from the United Nations, the Cook Islands was made a self-governing state in 1965 with Cook Islanders holding dual New Zealand and Cook Island citizenship. Cook Islanders also have residency rights in Australia but this isn’t reciprocal for Australians and New Zealanders wanting to reside in the Cook Islands.


While the road around Rarotonga is only 32km and it’s well serviced by 2 buses that travel clockwise and anti-clockwise, if you are a walker, hitchhiking may well come to you. It’s common for locals to pull over and ask visitors if they’d like a lift.


There simply isn’t anywhere as romantic as the tropics for a honeymoon and the Cook Islands cater wonderfully for honeymooners with its natural beauty and excellent adults only resorts. If your time and budget allow, do consider Aitutaki as a side trip for two or three nights. For honeymoon advice, romantic resorts and air/accommodation packages from Australia and New Zealand, visit Tropical Honeymoons.


Hopsing’s is an excellent Chinese restaurant on Rarotonga (near the Edgewater Resort).

Horse Riding

Aroa Pony Trek (phone 21 415) operates two-hour pony rides to Papua Waterfall and returning along the beach weekdays at 10:00am and 3:00pm. Horses are limited so booking is recommended. They are located near the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa.


In the event of an emergency, Rarotonga’s main hospital is open 24 hours a day (phone 22 664). To call an ambulance, dial 998. The doctors and facilities here are adequate but the pay is low for doctors, which means that to attract top doctors there has to be a bit of charity/missionary motivation. In the case of a serious emergency, a plane flight out may be the solution, which is why travel insurance is recommended. If you do visit the hospital, you will pass some of Rarotonga’s more exclusive residences on the way.


As mentioned above under ‘heat’, humidity is part of the tropics. You acclimatise quickly – the most noticeable humidity will be when you hit the tarmac at on arrival at the airport. The most humid months are November to February – pack light cotton clothing (jeans are not recommended) and, in the cooler months, take a thicker top (long sleeves) for evenings, just in case. Carry water with you and throw yourself into a pool or the ocean if you’re feeling a bit sticky.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Coral cuts happen in the tropics and, because of the humidity they can turn nasty. Hydrogen peroxide is the pharmaceutical solution (pardon the pun). Poor onto the cut and, if it fizzes, it’s infected – but you’ve cleaned the wound. The fizzing looks worse than it feels. Throw on some antiseptic power or ointment and cover (unlike in non-tropical areas where air helps healing). Be sure to clean the wound every two hours and continue three times after the fizzing stoips. Tropical ulcers can develop within two days if wounds are left unattended. Nature’s answer to hydrogen peroxide is lime or lemon juice. A Cook Islander told me that the sap of the frangipani tree also draws out the infection.

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