Written by: Erica Louise
Erica is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Melbourne, Australia. She spends most of her time writing and exploring all the cool things to do with kids in Melbourne and beyond with her family.
Explore the Undiscovered: Rarotonga Cook Islands
Before travelling to the Pacific Island archipelago nation of the Cook Islands, we’d heard you could rent a vehicle and drive around the circumference of Rarotonga in 45 minutes.
Considering Rarotonga is the largest of all the 15 Cook Islands you can only imagine how tiny the other land specks sprinkled across the Pacific would be in comparison.
What we hadn’t envisaged was the sense of freedom we would have simply hiring a car in Rarotonga and the interesting spots we’d find along the way
Why rent a vehicle in Rarotonga?
It is easy to rent a vehicle in Rarotonga, in some cases you don’t even need to leave your resort because car hire can be organised from the comfort of your hotel lobby.
That said, catching public transport is relatively easy too. There’s one bus clockwise and one anticlockwise and only one route in either direction. Buses depart hourly. This is fine if you only have one destination in mind, however as a family who loves to explore, we thought the bus would perhaps limit our travel plans.
Within an hour of us hopping off the bus we found ourselves driving out of Rarotonga’s tiny town in a compact Avis rent-a-car, heading west around the island.
Hiring a vehicle gave us the opportunity to explore this quaint Pacific island we would call home for the next 8 days, and all on our own terms.
Everyday life in Rarotonga
Above all else, hiring a car in Rarotonga opened our eyes to what life was really like as a Cook Islander. Pastel coloured houses sit pretty against the lush green backdrops of an extinct volcanic landscape. Chickens, cats and dogs roam the peaceful lands where organic produce grows in abundance and the gentle sea breeze dries bed sheets on laundry lines. Locals whizz past on their scooters; not in any rush mind you because the speed limit around the island is 50km/h or 40km/h if you don’t wear a helmet. Life is slow in Rarotonga, but life is good.
Discovering Rarotonga’s lost and abandoned
Our daily driving expeditions around Rarotonga unleashed a growing fascination with abandoned buildings. The island is by no means overrun with ruins, however, we did find a handful of long-forgotten houses and abandoned properties scattered throughout Rarotonga where in some instances, only a few walls remained.
The power of nature is a fabulous thing; the way flora and fauna takes over where humans, for whatever reason, have given up. The Cook Islands is rich in natural beauty; no doubt due to the region’s tropical climate. For this reason, the few derelict properties we discovered were at varying stages of decay but all swamped in greenery.
Ruined architecture has long been earmarked as eerie or haunting; but perhaps the enchantment in Rarotonga’s lost and forgotten buildings lies in the stories behind the crumbles.
Once such place which fascinates visiting tourists is the ruins of the long-deserted Sheraton Hotel project. What is left of a near-complete luxury-hotel complex back in the late 80s is now a huge derelict structure that has been reclaimed by Mother Nature.
Rumour has is that the crumbling 70-acre Sheraton site is cursed. Some say this is tittle-tattle, while others believe the troubled history of this unforgiving land in Vaimaanga lies in its pre-colonial blood-shed past.
Whether you choose to believe the curse or not, tourism is alive and well in the region. Thrill seekers can book a Raro Buggy Tour and weave through the muddy back roads of the grounds surrounding the abandoned Sheraton Hotel.
Other hot spots in Rarotonga
While derelict buildings may not stir everyone’s interest, there’s a lot to be said for hiring a vehicle in Rarotonga, particularly if you are travelling to the Cook Islands as a family.
Right after breakfast each day, simply throw a beach bag into the boot of your car and be on your way. Likewise, during the evening you have the option of dining anywhere on the island.
Some of our favourite hot spots:
- Muri Night Market – open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays and Sundays from 5pm, the Muri Night Market is an atmospheric outdoor “food truck” style alfresco dining spot. Food options are varied: crepes, fried rice, noodles, curries, seafood, cheesecakes and desserts.
- Charlie’s Cafe – A friend recommended Charlie’s Café and Bar at Titikaveka Beach. We stopped by twice and enjoyed reasonably priced lunches whilst taking in the beautiful views of Akapuao Marine Park.
- LBV Le Bon Vivant Muri Beach – LBV is a bakery with a little playground and beautiful yard space just minutes away from the best beach on the island. 10/10 for menu giggles; “Fush and Chups” – a nod to our fellow Kiwi holiday makers.
- Shipwreck Hut at the Aro’a Beachside Inn – The restaurant with the one of the best sunset views on the island. The Shipwreck Hut at the Aro’a Beachside Inn was also voted as no.3 in the “World’s Best Beach Bars” by CNN Travel.
- Tikioki snorkelling spot – we discovered Tikioki’s marine park by chance whilst booking a couple of tours at Chantal’s Concierge. We parked our car off the roadside here many times and rented snorkelling gear to get up close and personal with Rarotonga’s marine life.
Tips on hiring a car in Rarotonga
If you hold a car license from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK or the EU then car hire is relatively straightforward. Note that most car hire rental companies in Rarotonga require a minimum 3-day rental and you will need to pay a bond. Shop around if you’re not entirely happy with the first quote you receive.
Hiring a scooter is a little more complex; you must first obtain a Cook Islands licence if you are not in possession of a motorbike license from your own country. This entails a visit to the Police Department to complete paperwork and undertake a short test.
Vehicles are available to rent via most resorts in Rarotonga, but if you do find limitations in availability, head to any number of car hire places around the island such as Avis or Island Car Hire.
Why you should head to the Cook Islands
With beautiful coral lagoons, lush mountainous landscapes, nutritious fresh foods and a nation rich in Polynesian culture, there’s a good reason why a growing number of tourists’ flock to the Cook Islands year on year.
Why don’t you add Rarotonga to your destination hit list and see what all the fuss is about? You’ll be glad you did.
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