With an area of 67.2 sq.km, Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, with almost 60 per cent of the total population of the archipelago. Its bizarre landscape and lush tropical vegetation make it, in the opinion of many visitors, one of the most beautiful of the Polynesian islands. The chief place, Avarua, is the administrative, economic and cultural center of the Cook Islands.Rarotonga is the visible tip of a volcanic cone that reaches down to 4500m below sea level. The hilly interior consists of a number of much weathered overlapping volcanoes. Due to rapid weathering in the moist tropical climate the slopes of the hills have been deeply indented by rivers. Round the rugged interior is a coastal plain about 1km wide, covered with fertile alluvial sands and dunes in which grow various ornamental and useful plants, coconut palms, pawpaws, bananas, coffee. Between the belt of dunes and the volcanic hills is a swampy depression that, as on other islands, is used for growing taro.The island is fringed by a reef that encloses a narrow lagoon, linked with the open sea by a number of gaps in the reef. Only on the south and southeast is the reef further from the coast, separated from it by the Muri Lagoon, with three sand islands and an island formed of a volcanic rock known to the inhabitants as taakoka.Rarotonga can be explored on the regular buses, in a hired car or on a moped or bicycle. Most the places on the island can be reached on a 30km asphalted ring road, and most of the hotels and other accommodations are on this road within sight of the sea. A second road, negotiable almost all the way, serves the agricultural areas at the foot of the hills, and from this route minor roads and a number of tracks lead into the interior. A good way of getting to know the island is to join a guided walk.
Muri Beach, or Muri Lagoon as it is sometimes called, is a popular beach on the southeast of Rarotonga. Some small offshore islands make it a very picturesque area. There are also some coral areas for snorkeling.
Cross Island Walk (The Needle)
The cross-island walk from the north coast up to the pinnacle rock Te Rua Manga (413m) and then via Wigmore's Falls to the south coast takes about 4 hours.This is the most popular walk on the island. The trail leads through dense forest, climbing to the base of "the Needle", a steep bald rock which juts straight up into the air. From the base of the Needle there are good views over the coast and surrounding forest. Climbing the Needle is only for the serious rock climber.The trail then continues on past Wigmore's Falls, terminating on the opposite side of the island. It is also possible to start at the north end of the trail, hike to the needle, and return back to the same starting point.
Marae Arai-te-tonga is the most sacred cult site on Rarotonga, with the remains of ancient Polynesian stone buildings.Before the arrival of Christianity, the Polynesians held religious ceremonial gatherings at what is called Marae.
Avana Harbour, Ngatangiia, Cook Islands
North of Muri Beach, at the town of Ngatangiia, is Avana Harbour, a popular mooring spot for yachts. This is also the area from which the Maori's launched their canoes for the journey to New Zealand in the 14th C. There is a historical plaque and monument in Ngatangiia commemorating the voyage.
Piri Puruto III
Piri Puruto III hosts entertaining shows at various locations on the island, including his own small resort. The show usually includes a fire making demonstration and a traditional meal, followed by Piri climbing the tallest coconut tree in sight.
Arorangi, Cook Islands
Arorangi is a small inland village on the west side of the island. It was the first missionary village on Rarotonga. There is an 1849 CICC church in the village with a monument to the island's first missionary, Papeiha.
Black Rock, on the beach approximately 6km/3.7mi west of Avarua, marks the spot where the missionary Papeiha is thought to have landed on shore. Papeiha was the first Christian missionary on the island.
Just east of Avarua is a small cemetery. The patients of the unsuccessful cancer specialist, Milan Brych, are buried here. Also located in the cemetery is the grave of the hermit of Suwarrow atoll, Tom Neale.
Island Nights are cultural events held at different resorts on the island on different days of the week. The event features traditional Polynesian dancing and performances and there is usually a buffet dinner before the entertainment begins.
Matavera, Cook Islands
The little settlement of Matavera is located along the northwest coast of Rarotonga. Of interest in the town is a CICC church, which is lit up at night, and a perfume factory.
This 15m/49ft waterfall is located on the south side of the island, along the cross-island hike. From the coast road there is a rugged dirt road which leads inland to the falls. It is only suited for 4WD vehicles but it is an easy walk.
The Cultural Village offers a glimpse of traditional island life with demonstrations of traditional methods of cooking, fishing, dancing, and art.
The Cook Islands Parliament is a converted workers hostel, built in the early 1970's. It is located west of Avarua on the main road.
Rarotonga Golf Club
Titikaveka, Cook Islands
Titikaveka is a small settlement just inland from the south coast. There is an 1841 coral CCIC church and an interesting graveyard in the village.