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Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

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Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Hi Everyone,

Well, we are back in NZ winter after our fab trip to Rarotonga, having arrived home yesterday evening. Here is our report – hope it is of use to some of you planning your own escape. Before I launch into it I really want to draw a line under the topic of “shall I bring food with me to Raro?” as I feel quite strongly about it. In my opinion it’s not worth it. There are two supermarkets on the island and Wigmore’s store on the south coast, which is more of a superette, but has a great range of freshly grown veg and fruit and all the other dry goods etc. We found Foodlands to be better than the other supermarket in Avarua as it had a good range of meat, fruit and veg, dairy, wines and beers. {Hint: If its beer and wine you’re after give the Duty Free in Avarua a miss – you won’t get much of a saving or selection – just pick it up with your groceries and get the jump over the others in the queue for Customs.} I can’t even begin to think about shoving frozen chooks and chops and fresh milk into my suitcase!!! Someone even asked about taking in eggs! That’s just laughable! The island is overflowing with delightful free-range poultry!

Do yourself and the local island economy a favour and leave it at home. The prices in the stores are somewhat more than in NZ (which is surely the same in most out of the way places and to be expected) but not hugely so. We found that by having breakfast and lunch in we could dine out for dinner each night – and to be frank the dining out was less than in NZ mostly – where can you go for a first rate meal in a top notch restaurant here and pay less than $140 for a lovely meal? (2x entrees, 2x mains, 2x glasses of wine). Plus we had our feet in the sand, dining by flaming torches, lagoon lapping a few feet away, scent of flowers in the air, a sky jammed with tropical stars…. See what I mean? We loved stopping at the road side stalls to get some pawpaw and bananas, have a chat with the stall holders. If you take the Ancient (back) road you will see just how fertile this land is as you pass by the beautifully tended farms full of fresh fruit and vegetables. You can easily buy all your meat needs – Prime Foods in Avarua is great – and I didn’t think it was expensive – just don’t eat eye fillet every night! Include some local fish like Mahi Mahi or Tuna which is very reasonable and some chicken. You’ll be doing your body a favour too! If you are on a micro budget then you really need to ask if you should be going at all, as you won’t enjoy yourself if you are counting every cent. Righto, onward.

We stayed for 8 days at TeRito Sunset Lagoon bach. This is a real gem, and I have emailed TA to ask that it is included – so hopefully they will and I can place the well-earned great review. Meanwhile you can find it on www.holidayhomes.co.nz. It’s right on the beachfront at Titikaveka on the south coast and has everything you could need for a relaxing stay including a fantastic open air bathroom filled with tropical plants, a pebble floor, sunken bath with lagoon views etc. There is a small galley style kitchen with full (gas) oven, fridge freezer, m/wave, toaster and kettle, and outdoor bbq. Towels and linen are supplied. Our deck looked right out to the lagoon and we had outdoor seating and sunloungers. It was a step from our deck to the sand, literally. The best thing was the privacy. No-one overlooked us. We were down a long drive so no road noise either. Perfect! The current price range is $160 –200 per night. Right next door is the Royal Takitumu Villas which are $630 a night for a beachfront villa… and further along the beach is Sea Change Villas who are up to $850 per night. Sure the others are more luxurious but our place was delightfully decorated with original artworks, we had a tv, dvd player and cd player, comfy bed and cane lounge suite plus that great bathroom and outdoor space. We went to sleep at night to the sound of the waves roaring down on the reef, and awoke to the cry of the roosters! All good! Although my husband may disagree about the rooster.

We chose to rent a small car from Island Car Rentals instead of a scooter. It cost about $34 a day so if you were thinking of 2 scooters then it’s a no brainer. Each to there own, and although the concept of zapping around in the sun with the wind in your hair is a pleasing one, the reality of bugs in your eyes after dark and the cooler evenings and tendency for tropical downpours should not be dismissed. In addition, I would not wish the sight of my bum overflowing the scooter seat on any poor soul. Saw a bloke at the airport who had come a cropper from his scooter – bandaged elbow, knee and hand all down one side – not much fun! The rental process went seamlessly – with the car being left exactly as and where they said in the airport carpark. As we arrived at 1am this was most appreciated. The only hitch was lack of arranged temporary drivers licence, but we weren’t stressing. We got up early despite only having a few hours sleep, heading into the Police Station to get a drivers licence at Avarua arriving at 9am – good move, no queue. I’ve heard (and since seen) long queues for this! Ours took all of 2 mins and $20. On the subject of cars etc – be aware of the speed limit of 50kph open road and 30kph through more built up areas – they do police it (rightly so, the roads are narrow with chickens and dogs a plenty, and the odd scooter has been known to swerve violently to avoid a pothole. The roads are fine if you simply drive to suit. We saw the local Police out most days with their laser gun catching speedsters – and they are particularly vigilant around Muri in the 30kph area so don’t say you haven’t been warned!

We weren’t sure about drinking the water at our bach, which was very hard probably from a bore, so we bought a couple of 3 litre plastic bottles of the local Vaima water. The empties can be refilled at Wigmores for not much. Well worth it, as even though local water can be fine for someone used to it, it can hit the system of someone used to overclean town supply quite hard. Dining on Raro is a real treat. There is just so much choice. We’re glad we went for more than just a handful of days so we could try as many different places as we did. Here is a run down of what we found.

Night One: The Little Polynesian. Not far from our bach we had swum all afternoon and wanted somewhere close. Never again. The food was very average and we waited ages for our meals. (Pawpaw chicken salad and Ribeye steak). We asked twice where they were and in the end the kitchen had never received the order so it was an hour and half before they came. No real apology but we did get two glasses of wine as comps. There are other places charging the same prices that are much, much better.

Night Two: Bamboo Jacks. New kid on the block – from the stable of Trader Jacks, in the old Portofino premises. Excellent. Sort of Asian-fusion mix encompassing many specialities. We sat in the very romantic garden courtyard, the place was well patronised by locals (always a good sign) and visitors, the service and food were great.

Night Three: Tamarind House. Unbeatable on the romance factor. Think lagoon views, flaming torches, palm trees festooned with fairy lights, old colonial building with provenance and seriously good cuisine. This is great for a special night out as it is fairly formal - no children under 12, starched white cloths, immaculately dressed & professional wait staff. We enjoyed our meals very much – can recommend the brie baked in filo! This was our Push the Boat Out Night and it still came in under $150. 2 entrees, 2 mains, 2 glasses of wine, 2 cocktails and a shared dessert! We had NZ lamb loin and the Mahi Mahi. Both were great. Seriously good value and what a beautiful place to dine with the one you love. Be sure to book – every seat was taken by the time we were eating our mains.

Night Four: Captain Andy’s Bar at the Rarotongan Hotel. We came here for a bit of a lighter option, as they do burgers and pizzas, wedges nachos, steak sandwiches and all the other normal restaurant offerings. It didn’t quite pan out that way as we drank 2 cocktails each and wine and beer, entrees, mains and a shared dessert! A bonus was the Trivia Night which was hilarious – three rounds of trivia with a very funny compere, somehow we came home with the top prize of a bottle of Marlborough Sav Blanc. Hugely great, fun night, with good food, enjoyable company, lively staff – one guy in particular loved pulling my leg! This ended up being our most expensive night at $165. But we got the wine!

Night Five: Vaima. Located in Vaimaanga on the south coast. This was a real find – and took our vote for best meal out. The food was sublime, the service was warm, friendly and professional, and the setting was all out stunning. Tables on the sand with the water just feet away, flaming torches, fairly lights in the trees, island music and a sky studded with stars. More magic you could just not find! 2 entrees, 2 mains 2 glasses of wine. Husband almost passed out with pleasure at his scallops. Around $100! Heaven! Expect to wait at least an hour if you haven’t booked. Popular with locals and tourists alike. They even operate a free shuttle service.

Night Six: Island Night at Te Vara Nui Village. Having gone for coffee the day before we succumbed to the idea of an Island Night as the venue was just so lovely overlooking the water. Located in Muri it was handy for us, and we well impressed by the slickness of this sizeable operation. We were ushered down ahead of the huge crowd that arrived in the bus, and shown to elevated seats at a table for four. The show was most enjoyable island theatre at its best, the fire dancers most impressive. The food was plentiful if not wildly exciting but people-pleasing is the order of the day in this kind of set up. If you consider we had been spending $130 - $150 on dinner a night then this for $178 was not bad. Glad we went, but probably wouldn’t bother next time as a little commercial. Hats off to an event hugely well managed, however.

Night Seven: The Flame Tree, Muri. Had great expectations but although it was fine it was well below the standard of Vaima, Bamboo Jacks or Tamarind House. Only a handful of diners in on the night we went, which kind of supports our opinion. Limited menu was reasonably unimpressive so we gave the entrees a miss, mains were huge and certainly nothing wrong with them but lacked the culinary flair of aforementioned establishments. Service was fine but not terribly engaging as the young lass seemed very shy. The décor was a very weird mix of Island meets Egypt, most diners were seated out on the deck which overlooks a pool in a stream (take your mossie repellent) and we were seated overlooking this. We amused ourselves watching the small black fishes and were interested to also see some freshwater lobsters scuttling about. Halfway through our meal we were staggered to realise that the submerged tree was actually a whacking great eel – the girth of a island man’s thigh – and about four or five feet long! The two kids at the neighbouring table delighted in feeding it titbits – and when we quizzed the waitress it transpired that the eel is a of a lofty old age, and named Papa Tuna (Maori for eel) - the pet of the owner. Well worth seeing as although I have seen some in my time I have never ever seen such a massive specimen!

Other places we ate or drank at include The Saltwater Café on the south coast – great burgers, toasties, thai curries and more in a vibrant & clean little café with sea views (great surf) and ultra friendly service.

Sails at Muri for a drink – not impressed. Really bad service (white girl from Eastern Europe) and horrible cocktails (muddy looking, worse tasting) and loudly swearing other clientele who had clearly been drinking for too long whom management clearly were not interested in managing.

Oceans at Crown Beach at Aorangi for sunset cocktails – best on the island for cocktails – they may be pricey at $18 but they have a two hour happy hour from 4pm – 6pm and its buy one, get one free. Check around as some happy hours they only knock off a dollar. At Oceans if you get there around 5.30 you will get a front row view of the sun sinking into the Pacific, top this off with a couple of rounds of cocktails (which incidentally are TALL without any stinting on key ingredients, and beautifully decorated) and you have all you need to kick start a great night out. Once the sun drops below the sea the place pretty much empties out.

We had an average couple of cocktails and some pretty surly service at Sands (was the Paw Paw Patch) and great burgers and chips at Boogies tucked away down a lane near the courthouse. We went to Boogies after we poked our noses in at Trader Jacks and experienced the feeling of being invisible to wait staff for a full five mins. We decided the snub overrode our desire to experience this well known hangout, especially as the menu wasn’t overly good value – instead we enjoyed mouth-wateringly good burgers with perfect chips for around $20 the lot.

Café Salsa in Avarua is great for lunches – I had a visually gorgeous and very tasty pawpaw, mint and lettuce salad for $12 and husband had a wood fired pizza which he pronounced perfect. Sitting in the filtered shade of the trees whilst watching the world scoot by was very pleasant.

Best coffee on the island is to be found at Deli-Licious in Muri, nice with an almond croissant… we went here most mornings and the lovely girl remembered us each time and what we our “regular” order was perfectly! Coffee is no different in price to NZ but does vary in quality depending on where you go. At the Yellow Hibiscus they charge $3.50 but it’s instant – bleeeugh. At Les Palmiers it is too milky and overly hot. The coffee shop across the road from Wigmore’s is ok, but the coffee is a little milky and weak. You won’t better Deli-Licious at $4.50, trust me! You can also read the local papers that are available along with some magazines.

Don’t miss poking around down at the port, always interesting, we watched a Game Fishing boat land with a huge Mahi Mahi proudly held up by the fisherman. The gardens at Marie Nui are lovely (by donation) but the café was firmly shut up (maybe for winter?). The museum is small but interesting (Avarua) and also by donation, the Saturday markets were a revelation of unharrassed shopping so not the norm in the Pacific! Loads of bright and colourful wares, pearls, and local food both ready to eat and fresh fruit and veg. Great live entertainment in a central arena, and plenty of seats to sit and enjoy a chicken wrap and drinking coconut (which we took home, bashed with a rock and ate on our muesli for the rest of the week). Make sure you climb Hospital Hill for some fabulous views over the northern side of the island. Check out the graveyard around the historic CCIC church in the middle of Avarua a short way down a road that leads off the main rd opposite the Beachcomber Gallery – The Cooks first premier, controversial but much loved, Albert Henry is buried here and has a life sized bronze of his head and shoulders atop his tomb.

Now to address a few frequently asked questions/topics….

Dogs: There were about four or five dogs that regularly hung out on our beach at Titikaveka. Usually one would accompany us on our walks. We found them to be well behaved, reacted consistently to voice commands, loved chasing and fetching sticks, and seemed well socialised within themselves (i.e. they didn’t fight each other). They certainly showed us no aggressive behaviour at all. One dog stayed knee deep in the lagoon almost all day every day watching the fish. One day he surprised himself by catching one! Other dogs we encountered around the island were all of pleasant demeanour and seemed very road savvy and intelligent. I saw nothing at all of the supposed “packs” of dogs mentioned. We donated to Ester Honey foundation while we were on the island, and a few days later I was chatting to a young island man who had a three-legged dog with him. She had been run over by someone reversing, but as she was a healthy young dog, Ester Honey’s had covered the cost of the surgery and the charming young man hadn’t lost his lovely companion, making me very glad I had stuffed those notes in the collection box.

Snorkelling: Great! Good range of fish (I’m an avid snorkeler and have experienced some pretty good spots over the years), especially out close to the reef. We were lucky enough to have a good spot right out in front of our bach, but Vaimaanga, and opposite the Fruits of Rarotonga are great too. Apparently around Black Rock is good too, but it was a bit closer to the reef and shallower as well as being very windy the day we went so we gave it a miss. Take your own gear if you want a good fit.

Mossies & Dengue Fever: When we went inland near waterways like streams and the waterfall at Wigmore’s we put on long pants and plenty of mossie repellent. I prefer Repel which is pretty deet-heavy and I know works and I brought it with me. The CITC shopping complex stocks a pretty good range of repellent as do Wigmore’s. We always whacked it on our ankles and arms at night before heading out. Got a total of five bites between us and they can’t have been Dengue mossies as we are fine. When the rain comes out come the mossies arrive in droves even on the beach, so be prepared.

Theft: I think this may have been a bit overplayed on TA and induced a bit of paranoia (much in the same vein as the Dog Packs). There is nothing to suggest behaviour that one would not encounter anywhere here in good old NZ. If you are dumb enough to leave your flash camera/wallet/I-Pod/phone lying around on show in your car or through your window then it may well disappear. But you won’t have someone snatch your handbag off your shoulder, hold you up with a broken bottle or flick knife, or like my friend who was standing on a train in Rome – have the man behind him push his hand into his front trouser pocket in search of his wallet – TWICE! Just be sensible. We left our flash camera at home, didn’t pull out a wallet bulging with cash, didn’t take any valuables at all, even left our wedding rings at home and wore a silicone $1 watch! We did lock up our bach when we went in the water but probably could have got away with not although we would not be responsible if we advised you to do so. All the people we met around our area were very friendly, we would often chat with locals who came to our beach to spear fish – one guy came back with about 8 fish and was very quick to offer us some.

All in all? Definitely going back. A really easy holiday in terms of ability to organise over the net, short travelling times, good choice of accommodation (we would absolutely return to TeRito Sunset), plenty to do, choice of dining and blissfully easy with using NZ currency - no bother changing money and easy to keep track of how much one is spending. Liked the fact that it wasn’t massively hot – it was 24 – 26 most days, cooler evenings made for better sleeping. You don’t get crowded beaches at weekends either as it is the winter and the locals think its cold {during May/June/July which are the driest months as well} The locals thought we were crazy as we swam & snorkelled every day but the water was fine. One of the best things is the way everyone has access to the beach - its a lot like here – you can drive up to a picnic/parking area often with toilets and some with fireplaces overlooking the beach and just go on the sand. Not so with many villages in the Pacific. The other (and best) thing is the lovely warmth of welcome from the beautiful Cook Islanders found all over the island. Ka Kite Ano!

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1. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Good thing you don't have to pay by the word. Chuck...

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2. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

I really enjoyed reading your review, I'm sure readers will gain loads from your experience and I really agree with your comments about food.

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3. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Thanks for taking the time to put together this insightful and down to earth review. It's cleared up a lot of concerns we had and will be a huge help for our upcoming trip!

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4. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Thank you so much for this review. Really helpful... Unlike others on this site...

Has given me renewed excitement for our first trip in August. Pleased you had a good time

Dargaville, New...
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5. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

What a good post. We are going back for our 3rd time in August, for 2weeks this time. It was good to read your comments on the restraunts as they are some that we are wanting to try this time.

Christchurch NZ
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6. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Thanks for the report.We are going in July and your info on restaurants and other topics will be most useful.

Very happy that your holiday was so enjoyable

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7. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

I just love all the newby excitement and exuberance. Chuck...

Toronto, Canada
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8. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

What a lovely report Cowgirl. Brings back memories of my trip a few years ago and will help in planning my next sojurn to the Cooks.

Honestly Chuck, why does it bother you so much that newbies are enthused and that Cowgirl includes details in her report?

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9. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

Honestly, XXX, not bothered, just amused. Chuck...

10. Re: Trip Report - 8 days in Rarotonga

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