With tourism as its main business, Rarotonga has enough sporting and other outdoor activities to occupy the time of anyone who decides to crawl out of a beach chair and move the muscles.
Boating & Sailing
Captain Tama's AquaSports (tel. 27-350) is at the Rarotonga Sailing Club on Muri Beach, where the lagoon is the island's best spot for swimming, snorkeling, and boating. The outfit rents a variety of watersports equipment, including kayaks, sailboats, Windsurfers, canoes, and snorkeling gear. Rental rates range from NZ$5 (US$4/£2) for an hour's use of a one-person kayak to NZ$25 (US$20/£10) to rent a Windsurfer for 1 hour. You pay NZ$35 (US$28/£14) for a windsurfing lesson. Captain Tama's is open daily from 8am to 5pm.
There have been some world-class catches of skipjack tuna (bonito), mahimahi, blue marlin, wahoo, and barracuda in Cook Islands waters. If the sea is calm enough for them to leave Rarotonga's relatively unprotected harbors, charter boats start deep-sea fishing as soon as they clear the reef. Several boat owners will take you out, but I recommend Elgin and Sharon Tetachuk's Seafari Charters (tel. 20-328; www.seafari.co.ck) and Wayne Barclay and Jenny Sorensen's Pacific Marine Charters (tel. 21-237; www.pacificmarinecharters.co.ck), which have ship-to-shore radios and safety equipment. They charge about NZ$150 (US$120/£60) per person for half a day's fishing, one of the lowest rates in the South Pacific. They like to have a day's notice, which you can probably give in person at the Cook Islands Game Fishing Club (tel. 21-419), beside the lagoon 1km (a half-mile) east of the traffic circle. Whether you fish or not, you'll be welcome to have snacks and drinks at the club while taking in the view and swapping tall tales.
Don't expect to keep your catch; fresh fish are expensive here and will be sold by the boat operator. Bring your camera or camcorder.
Visitors can take their shots at the radio towers and guy wires that create unusual obstacles on the 9 holes of Rarotonga Golf Club (tel. 22-062). The course was once located on what is now the Rarotonga International Airport, but had to move when the runway was expanded. It now lies under Rarotonga's radio station antennae (balls that hit a tower or wire can be replayed). Greens fees are NZ$20 (US$16/£8). Rental equipment and drinks are available in the clubhouse, where "a reasonable standard of dress" is required. Open to guests Monday through Friday 8am until dark.
There are a number of hiking trails on Rarotonga, but the most popular by far is the Cross-Island Track from Avarua to the south coast. It's the best hike in the South Pacific. The trail begins in the Avatiu valley and follows the stream high up to the base of Mount Te Rua Manga (The Needle). It's a steep and often slippery climb, but the trail is well marked. It's a more rewarding experience with Pa's Cross-Island Mountain Walk.
Both adults and children will enjoy gentle rides along the beach and up to Wigmore's Waterfall with Aroa Horse Riding (tel. 25-415). The 2 1/2-hour rides cost NZ$40 (US$32/£16) for grownups, NZ$25 (US$20/£10) for kids. Age and weight restrictions apply.
Captain Tama's AquaSports (tel. 27-350), at the Rarotonga Sailing Club on Muri Beach, has glass-bottom boat excursions on Muri Lagoon which include fish-feeding, snorkeling, and a barbecue lunch on one of the small offshore islands. Captain Tama charges NZ$60 (US$48/£24).
Rarotonga's lagoon is only 1m to 3m (3 1/4 ft.-10 ft.) deep, but a shelf extends about 200m (656 ft.) beyond the fringing reef until it precipitously drops to more than 3,600m (11,811 ft.). Depths along the shelf range from 10m to 70m (33 ft.-230 ft.). There are canyons, caves, tunnels, and many varieties of coral. Visibility usually is in the 30m to 60m (98 ft.-197 ft.) range. Two wrecks -- a 30m (98 ft.) fishing boat and a 45m (148 ft.) cargo ship -- sit in depths of 24m (79 ft.) and 18m (59 ft.), respectively. Best of all for money-conscious travelers, the diving fees here are the lowest in the South Pacific.
Dive Rarotonga (tel. 21-873; fax 21-837; www.diverarotonga.com), Cook Island Divers (tel. 22-483; fax 22-484; www.cookislandsdivers.com), the Dive Centre (tel. 20-238; www.thedivecentre-rarotonga.com) on the west coast, and Pacific Divers (tel./fax 22-450; www.pacificdivers.co.ck) on Muri Beach charge about NZ$80 (US$64/£32) per one-tank dive, including equipment. They also teach PADI certification courses.
The Best Swimming & Snorkeling
Getting into the water has to have high priority during a visit to Rarotonga. The lagoon is deep enough for snorkeling off most hotels at high tide, but you'll do better walking on the west coast reef when the tide's out. The best spot for snorkeling (and the only one at low tide) is the Titikaveka lagoon on the southeast coast. If you're not staying at the Little Polynesian, Rarotonga Beach Bungalows or the Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel, you can snorkel off the nearby Fruits of Rarotonga shop. Muri Lagoon off Rarotonga Sailing Club is the best spot for boating.
Most hotels have snorkels, fins, and masks for their guests to use for free. You can rent them from the Edgewater Resort (tel. 25-435) or from Dive Rarotonga (tel. 21-873) on the west coast, or from Captain Tama's AquaSports (tel. 27-350) at the Rarotonga Sailing Club on Muri Beach. Cost is NZ$10 (US$8/£4) a day.
Outsiders are welcome to play at the two lighted tennis courts at the Edgewater Resort (tel. 22-034) for NZ$20 (US$16/£8) per hour.
Hooking up with Raro Safari Tours (tel. 23-629 or 61-139; www.rarosafaritours.co.ck) or Tangaroa Tours (tel. 22-200; www.tangaroa4x4.co.ck) is the best way to see the island's mountainous interior without hiking. In fact, you'll get better views down over the reef and the sea from these four-wheel-drive vehicles than you will on foot. The open-air trucks go up the Avatiu Valley on some unbelievably narrow tracks. Guides give often humorous commentary about the native flora and its uses, about ancient legends, and about what life was like in the old days when Rarotongans lived up in the valleys instead of along the coast. Tangaroa Tours provides a meal cooked in a traditional earth oven The 3 1/2-hour tours cost NZ$60 (US$48/£24) per adult, half for kids 6 to 12.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.