5 Budget-Friendly Things to Do on Rarotonga

Arriving in the South Pacific Island of Rarotonga feels like stepping into a screen saver. Palm trees dot along sandy white beaches while soft, transparent blue waves crawl up the shoreline.

As picturesque as this Cook Island is, the potential for a monotonous vacation is there if you are a ‘doer’ and the risk of a coconut falling onto your hammock-cocooned head isn’t enough to get your adrenaline pumping.

Despite being known as a ‘relax, tan and drink cocktails by the pool’ destination, Rarotonga does offer a variety of things to do. The reputation of being overly expensive isn’t necessarily true, either; you’ve just got to look a little harder to find cheap activities. Here are some of my favorites.

Do the cross-island trek

The cross-island trek is a three to four hour walk which starts in the north and finishes in the south of the Island. The trail makes hearts thump and sweat drip as hikers have to climb almost vertically up-hill before being able to catch a break up top. It’s worth it though; once you’ve made it you can get a close up look of ‘the Needle’, a rock formation that gained it’s name by sticking straight up in the air, as well as a spectacular view of the island.

The path down the other side is much easier and surrounded by jungle forest full of Rarotonga’s most exotic birds, such as the endangered flycatcher. Near the end of the trek you will pass Papua waterfall, which allows for a well-deserved cool off. Make sure you bring good walking shoes, and a truckload of mosquito repellent- the combination of rain forest and waterfall makes the perfect breeding ground for bloodthirsty stingers.

Take a touristy day trip

Usually I’m a fan of going off the beaten track. The thought of spending even a small part of my vacation with the stereotypically rich and culturally insensitive tourists that tend to be attracted to commercialized day trips makes me shudder. However, my sister and I decided that the best way we would get out to the deeper, less crowded snorkeling areas was by boat and with guides that knew where to go. And yes, we were also intrigued by the advertised ‘coconut show and delicious fresh fish lunch’.

The tour, which is titled ‘Koka Lagoon Cruise’, was fun and informative. The guides, who are talented musicians and cooks also, provided for entertainment as we cruised from one snorkel destination to the next.

Ok so for this one we had to fork out some money (around $65 NZD) but, as part of proceeds go to a marine conservation program, we were glad we could give a little back to Rarotonga. Visit www.kokalagooncruises.co.ck or call (682) 27769

Dance up a storm

For a tiny Island, Rarotonga has a surprisingly happening nightlife. In the centre of Avarua, there are several main clubs, and many more casual watering holes. One of Rarotonga’s main attractions is ‘Island night’ which offers local dancing and drumming. These are offered at many restaurants and bars around Rarotonga, however the show on Thursday nights at the ‘Staircase Bar’ uses proceeds to send their young drummers and dancers around the world; youth who may not have the opportunity to leave the island otherwise. I recommend this particular show if you like knowing your money is going to a good cause, plus it’s affordable ($5 NZD). Call (682) 21254

‘Whatever Bar’ and ‘Rehab Club’ are the most popular places for both tourists and locals to eat and dance (Whatever Bar’s burgers are huge and cheap). They are located next to each other by the waterfront, and easy to find as the proud owners have hung many signs, which point toward the popular nightspot. None of the bars charge an entry fee, although bands playing expect to be tipped. If heading out, be ready to alter your usual night owl routine though; besides Friday nights, on which they stay open until 2am, bars shut at 12am on the dot, so be prepared to high tail it out of there Cinderella style. Music being shut off at 11.59 PM on a Saturday night may seem rather party pooper-ish but the reason for this is that Rarotonga is very religious, and believes in keeping Sunday sacred. It’s important to respect their values and leave when the clock strikes midnight.

Attend Church

You may not be religious, and the mere thought of getting up early on a Sunday morning might send shock waves through your body (believe me, it did to me), but try and push yourself to go to Sunday service, as it’s truly a wonderful experience. The main reason we went was to hear the music and we weren’t disappointed, those big Rarotongan mamas can sing! The awkwardness we felt intruding what seemed to be a close-knit community of regular churchgoers quickly subsided as, after the service, we were invited to a special ‘guests to the church’ lunch. Having been not only accepted but also made to feel special by strangers who wanted nothing but our company in return was a highlight of the trip.

Keep your eyes open for local events

On our last night, we attended ‘Raro Idol’, the finale of a month long build up. Front row tickets cost about $3 NZD, and we couldn’t resist attending what was no doubt one of the Cook Islands’ biggest events in months. The show was absolutely hilarious. The notion of ‘Island Time’ was pushed to a whole new level when the advertised starting time kept on being deferred by hours, technology broke down so many times it was almost a surprise when a song was performed in it’s entirety, and I couldn’t hide my laughter when the host forgot the contestants’ names.

Random events happen all the time in Rarotonga, ones you may not be able to research before arriving because they are impromptu or primarily designed for locals. It is definitely worth asking the residents what type of activities are on once you get there, as some smaller things may slip under the tourist radar but are worth going to.

Photos by: superandy47, stedmantriples, Airflore