Visitors Guide S
On the whole, the Cook Islands is extremely safe and misfortune will usually be because of individual stupidity or lack of common sense. Be careful when riding scooters, especially with no helmet, and don’t speed (apart from the danger aspect, it doesn’t suit ‘island time’. While the southern part of Rarotonga has some fine snorkelling (Titikaveka, Tikioki, Muri) there are passages that are dangerous for swimming and snorkelling with strong currents and rips (Avaavaroa Passage, Papua Passage and Rutaki Passage). As you would at home, don’t leave valuables unattended on beaches or in unlocked cars and women shouldn’t dress scantily outside resorts.
Sails is simply a delightful spot for lunch or dinner on beautiful Muri Lagoon (facing the lagoon from the Pacific Resort, head up the sand to the right). For a Sails dinner menu, click here – they also have a lighter lunch menu.
Your hosts at Samade on the Beach are Sam and Adrianne Vakakahi and they will make you welcome. Located at Ootu Beach on Aitutaki and open 7 days, the bar and restaurant throws a terrific Island Night on Tuesdays – good buffet feast, a floor show with traditional music and dance and a live band to follow. It’s a nice spot for a Sunday lunch from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Phone/Fax 31 526.
Halfway between Fiji and the Cook Islands is Samoa – the beautiful white sand beaches, blue-green waters, swaying palm trees and friendly locals will undoubtedly seduce you as will fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way). Whether it’s romance, soft adventure or a family holiday you’re looking for, there’s accommodation and activities to suit all tastes and budgets. Visit Samoa A To Z for more information.
The diving around Rarotonga is accessible and rewarding with wreck dives, walls, drop offs, canyons, swim-throughs, coral gardens and an abundance of fish life (and whales, turtles, rays). Diving isn’t expensive (around $130-145 dollar for a two tank dive trip) including gear hire with discounts for multiple dives) and night dives are available. It will cost around $500 to get an Open Water Diver certificate. The best thing about becoming certified in the tropics is that your compulsory dives will be in great locations and you can study the required theory poolside over a drink. On Rarotonga, dive operators include:
- The Dive Centre – The Big Fish (Sascha Schmitt & Sabine Janneck) – phone 20238
- Dive Rarotonga (Ed & Karen Redman) – phone 21 873
- Cook Island Divers (Greg Wilson) – phone 22 483
- Pacific Divers (Steve Lyon) – phone 22450
- On Aitutaki you would imagine the lagoon to offer fantastic diving but in reality it is too shallow and more suited to snorkelling. For diving you need to head outside the reef where there are some spectacular drop offs.
- Aitutaki Scuba (Neil Mitchell) – phone 31 103
- Aitutaki Bubbles Below (Onu) – phone 31 537
This property is simply stunning. There are three beachfront villas with three plantation villas across the road. It offers real five star luxury from arrival to departure. Guests are greeted at the airport by a private driver and whisked away to this intimate retreat. From your four-poster King bed you have sweeping views of the lagoon out to the waves crashing on the reef, there’s a two person shower, your own private swimming pool, state of the art kitchen and home theatre system.
Yes there are sharks, in the ocean, and scuba divers may run into a few off the reef but, because of the reef, they can’t get into the lagoon so it’s safe for swimming and snorkelling.
Your around island tour commentary may go something like this, “On your right is the unfinished Sheraton Resort. Begun in 1990 it was to be Rarotonga’s premier resort but progress stopped due to a lack of funds. At present another large company is looking at taking over development of the resort.” The Sheraton chain never owned this but signed a management contract with the government. They have never been implicated in the web of intrigue that began with a 52 million dollar loan from an Italian bank. The entire behind-the-scenes happenings will never be known thanks to missing records but, in a nutshell, it may have involved the laundering of Mafia money, a debt blowout to $120 million that won’t be repaid until 2025, part control being handed to a Japanese investor who was arrested for fraud and between 10 and 20 million dollars that just ‘disappeared’ into the ether. In early 2004 the word ‘Hilton’ was being mentioned again (it was the buzz word in 2000, too). The latest rumour says that the new owners will resurrect the ruins, divert the around island road inland 2km and put in an 18 hole golf course and direct beach access for guests. If plans to extend the existing runway to allow direct flights from Los Angeles were approved, it may happen. Personally, I’d whistle in a bulldozer.
This bar is at Aro’a Beachside Inn and featured as No3 on ’50 best beach bars on CNNGO’.
It is a well stocked beach bar, with the lagoon just metres away and the beautiful sunsets in late afternoon. Quirky jam jars for cocktails is in fitting with this rustic style bar.
Live music from local artists on 3 nights from 6-8pm creates a unique ambience and casual atmosphere.
On two nights a week Jim cooks up a treat for his renowned BBQ nights, homestyle cooked pub meals available for lunch or dinner.
Shops mostly open from 8:00am to 4:00pm weekdays and 8:00am to midday on Saturdays. It doesn’t take long to stroll around the shops in Avarua to see what is on offer. You can buy a mint condition Cook Islands $3 note at the Philatelic Bureau for $7 as a souvenir. Isn’t that a nice little money earner? If you don’t need one looking crisp and new, just ask a teller at the ANZ or Westpac banks if they have any. These cost $3, so it’s a bargain. There are two versions of the $3 note – and Aitutaki pink one and a Rarotonga green one (both are legal tender within the country). The Punanga Nui Cultural Market near the harbour is worth a visit, particularly on Saturday mornings. Island Craft is good for, well, island craft and there are shops that sell black pearls and other souvenirs. For good tropical clothing visit Tav’s Clothing Factory (Vakatini Road across from the Bowling Club in Avarua) and Joyce Peyroux Garments (Arorangi). For handicrafts and beachwear on Aitutaki, head to the Orongo Centre near Arutanga Wharf (closed Sundays).
The Cook Islands has a more relaxed attitude to smoking than some parts of the world. While it is banned in some shops and banks, there are no non-smoking areas in restaurants or bars. Some resorts, however, have a non-smoking in room policy. For the comfort of non-smokers and to perhaps get establishments to adopt non-smoking areas, why not do as you would at home and only light up in al fresco dining areas or on your balcony. And a small personal irritation – how come smokers don’t consider a butt as litter – pushing a butt into the sand on a beach is as offensive as throwing a sweet wrapper to the wind.
The finest snorkelling is just off the white sands along Tikioki (Takitumu Villas) and Titikaveka (south part of Rarotonga). Ask your bus driver to drop you at Fruits of Rarotonga. The south end of Muri Beach is also excellent. The best spot in the lagoon is between Ta’akoka islet and the barrier reef. There are spots along the southern coast where there can be rips and strong currents though (Avaavaroa Passage, Papua Passage and Rutaki Passage). On Aitutaki, your lagoon cruise will include snorkelling.
These 7 villas (5 with their own swimming pools) are located beachfront on Muri Lagoon. The exteriors are rustic log cabin with pine wall and slate floor interiors. All have kitchenettes, spacious decks and four-poster king-size beds. The Flame Tree restaurant is right next door and it’s a wander along the lagoon to the Pacific Resort’s Sandals Restaurant and Barefoot Bar and Sails Restaurant.
The Spaghetti House is next to the Edgewater Resort and advertises that it has The Best Italian Dining in Rarotonga. For mine, this title goes to Portofino but it does serve good pizza and pasta seven days from 5:00pm. It’s also handy for people staying on the Black Rock/Arorangi side of the island.
Police have become very strict due to the high number of deaths on the roads. When driving a scooter you must wear a helmet if driving faster than 40km/hr. Speed limit in town (blink and you’ll miss it) is 30km.
The Rarotonga Squash Club is behind the Catholic cathedral in St Joseph’s Road, Avarua. A session costs $5. Phone 21 056. The Edgewater Resort also has courts.
Please remember ‘slip, slop, slap’ – slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. The tropical sun can burn quicker than in other parts of the world and while its nice to show off a tan when you get home, a case of sunburn can make for a few uncomfortable days (especially for honeymooners!) – and each day of a holiday is precious.
Cook Islands is the best kept secret when it comes to surfing. You can surf pretty much anywhere around Rarotonga but you need to be aware of the shallow reef looming. Takutea has great surf if you can make friends with someone that owns a boat to get you there.