Enjoy paradise on a budget
Rain, rain go away... sandy beaches and bright sunshine are just a four-hour flight away, writes Rob Maetzig.
Right now it seems that every second New Zealander is holidaying in Rarotonga. And why not? What must rate as the most laid-back island in the South Pacific is a short trip to some much appreciated sun and warmth.
The Cook Islands’ currency is the New Zealand dollar, and this helps make Rarotonga an affordable holiday destination. Even better, there are plenty of activities that are super cheap or free. Here’s a list of 10 of the most inexpensive activities on Rarotonga.
1) Eat breakfast
Here’s a brilliant way to begin your day in Raro – take a slice of locally-grown pawpaw, peel one of the island’s thin-skinned ladyfinger bananas, squeeze the juice of a segment of lime over it all, and eat. It’s delicious sunshine on a plate.
It’s inexpensive, too. Right now in Rarotonga pawpaws are as little as $3 at any shop or roadside stall, and bananas are around $6 for a bunch of six or eight. Limes are around $6 a kilogram.
Most days we figured that was easily inexpensive enough to go for seconds.
2) Catch a bus
Feel like a drive but haven’t got a rental car or scooter?
For just $5 you can climb aboard one of Rarotonga’s circleisland buses and enjoy a ride right around the island.
You can even choose which way you want to go, because the service runs both clockwise and anticlockwise.
These buses aren’t airconditioned and, at times, the ride can become a bit harsh, but the trips are fun.
And, if you want to spend all day riding on them, then you can pay $16 for an all-day pass that allows you to hop on and off as many times as you like.
3) Go to the beach
One of the benefits of holidaying on a compact circular island such as Rarotonga is that if it is windy and raining on one side, then there’s a good chance it will be calm and sunny on the other.
So you hop into your car, or on to your scooter or the circle-island bus, and find another beach.
It’s a pleasant experience sitting on a beach anywhere around Rarotonga – the views are fantastic, and there’s the constant roar of surf pounding the reef that protects the island.
Many of the beaches also offer excellent snorkelling and swimming, particularly along Muri on the south-eastern side, and at Black Rock to the north. And visits to these beaches are absolutely free.
4) Play golf among the wires
The Rarotongan Golf Club has what has to rate as one of the most hard-case courses around.
Why? Because if you play 18 holes by taking on the nine-hole course twice, you are hitting your ball through communications masts and wires on 10 of the holes. The rules say that if your ball hits any of these, you must replay your shot without penalty.
But it doesn’t really matter – all those masts and wires simply add to the fun. In fact, there are many who can claim to have legitimately scored a hole-in-one, even after they’ve had one or more balls ricochet out of bounds.
Also fun is the fact that some of the fairways are shared by golfers playing in opposite directions, which means you do need to keep an eye on who is hitting where. And not take anything too seriously. attraction and a national embarrassment – the unfinished and now dilapidated and graffitistrewn Sheraton resort.
If you’re not reasonably fit, don’t attempt this walk. And locals strongly advise against trying it when it is raining, because the track becomes very slippery.
But the ascent and descent, which is aided by the presence of plenty of tree roots that can be used as grab handles, is rewarded not only with magnificent views at the top, but the prospect of a cold beer at the bottom – just turn right when you reach the road, walk to the nearby Rarotongan Resort, and order one.
8) Swim with the fish
Everyone knows that the snorkelling can be great in the lagoon surrounding Rarotonga.
And it’s free – well, maybe you have to buy some snorkelling gear, and don’t forget to wear flippers or sand shoes, because coral cuts can quickly get infected.
Many agree that the best snorkelling location is the southeastern side of the island, particularly off a little shop called the Fruits of Rarotonga.
But it doesn’t matter where you go, because if the conditions are right you’ll spot plenty of tropical fish. And what can be better than splashing around in warm water under the Raro sun?
9) Buy street food
Well, it’s not really street food – but road food.
The main road that circles Rarotonga is called Ara Tapu, and while it is sealed for its entire 32 kilometres, the speed limit is never more than 50kmh, and quite often a lot slower than that. But that allows plenty of time to spot food stalls and stop. They offer everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, to coconuts, cakes and pastries, and the doughnuts that Cook Islanders seem to love and have for sale seemingly everywhere. Stop to try them – after all, you are on holiday and you can watch your weight when you get back home.
10) Check out the roosters
Once you’ve been on Rarotonga for a few days and you have slowed down your pace of life to what is known as Island Time (translation: doing nothing), a great way to while away the hours is to watch the chooks – particularly the roosters.
In stark contrast to the visitors who watch them, they never seem to relax.
They’re too busy guarding their harems of hens, and they’ll crow if they suspect another rooster is nearby, which is always the case, because there are heaps of roosters on Rarotonga, even at the summit of the Cross Island Walk where they’ll follow you on the off-chance you’ll feed them.
The writer travelled on his own dime.
Rarotonga is the perfect choice for travellers seeking sun, surf and serenity.
Take a walk up through the jungle on the Cross Island Walk to the peak known as Te Rua Maunga.
There’s plenty of fresh food to purchase along Ara Tapu.