Since our kids were born, we have loved any opportunities for focusing on family time and ‘doing’; as opposed to emphasising a focus on ‘stuff’. We find it harder and harder at Christmas time in New Zealand, with the growing pressures of society being more and more about presents… It’s everywhere! It’s hard to escape from consumerism at normal times of year; but near impossible at Christmas.
So we made the decision to trial a family Christmas away from home, and chose Rarotonga as a new destination for all of us… Santa even brought tropical fruit and coconuts this year!
Punanga Nui Market
The local markets of Rarotonga are abuzz with all kinds of handicrafts, souvenirs, food, fruit and vegetables, music and wares…
An accurately colourful representation of the culture of the Cook Islands!
The market is open Monday to Friday from 7.00am–3.00pm, though Saturday is the main market day, opening from 7.00am-12.00pm, with all the stalls, shops and huts occupied with vendors, and a live music and cultural show on stage.
The beaches of Rarotonga
We drove a full loop of the island a couple of times, stopping at various little beaches that were signposted on the way around. Some beaches on the island are private, so definitely check ahead where you are going.
Muri Beach is in a beautiful lagoon on the eastern side of the island, and is certainly the most popular beach. We spent a day there, took a picnic, and hired paddle boards to enjoy the calm and shallow waters there.
Aside from Muri Beach and a few random others, we spent most of our time on the little beach right outside our accommodation! It was perfect for the kids, and fairly sheltered. Sunset on our side of the island was stunning!
Te Rua Manga (Needle) walk
This is Rarotonga’s most popular walk, passing through incredible natural scenery following a track from the north to south coast of the island.
We didn’t do this walk with the kids, as the top of the track it is quite rugged and overgrown in parts (and climbs to 413m to the base of Te Run Manga (The Needle).
Definitely do the walk from a south to north direction, so that you finish down on the coastal round-island road. Wear sneakers or walking shoes, and take plenty of drinking water.
The track ends at Wigmore’s Waterfall and it’s about a 15-minute walk from there to the coast road, where you can flag down the circle-island bus or hitchhike (we did!) back towards town.
Te Vara Nui Village
This is Rarotonga’s most well known cultural show, and we reckon definitely worth booking ahead for. Te Vara Nui is set up as both a cultural village for daytime exploration, and also opens in the evening with an over-water, nighttime cultural performance with music, dancing, and fire-dancers, as well as a Rarotongan style buffet… delicious!
Watching for fish/eels in the pond under the restaurant!
Nighttime hermit-crab hunting
This warrants it own spot in our list of favourites from Rarotonga…
We were staying right on the beach and every evening as the sun went down, the kids loved taking torches out and hunting for hermit crabs in the sand with Granny!
One challenge in Rarotonga…
If you are there at Christmas time; EVERYTHING is closed on Christmas Day and potentially the day/days following if it falls with a Sunday before or afterwards. Definitely do your research, and check ahead about dates to public holidays to make sure you are adequately stocked up for your stay.
Where we stayed
We loved our stay at the Rarotonga Backpackers. Paul went out of his way to welcome us and make our stay as enjoyable as possible. And… if you are looking for accommodation right on the beach that doesn’t involve a resort (or breaking the bank); then this is the place for you.
They have beachfront self-contained apartments, rooms in the hostel, and dorm-style accommodation. We loved being right on the beach and enjoyed having our own kitchen to cater for ourselves.