I thought I’d write a post about general travel tips, since I see them everywhere, and I haven’t really written one before!
My tips for Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Respect the local culture
I know this sounds really obvious, but it includes small things as well as big things. Greeting others with “Kia Orana” can go a long way! Always be polite and courteous, and don’t get angry if it’s a Sunday and you can’t have a beer with your meal because they will not make an exception for you. Likewise, don’t be impatient if you think your meal is taking too long. One thing I learned when in Fiji a couple years ago is that everything runs on “island time”, which means it’ll happen when it happens.
Topless or nude sunbathing is not acceptable in the Cook Islands, and you should dress appropriately when not at the beach, eg. wear a t-shirt and shorts instead of walking around in swimwear.
Check your visa requirements
For New Zealand passport holders, you can stay up to 90 days without a visa, and you need to show evidence of a return ticket.
For all other passports, you can stay up to 31 days without a visa, and you need to show evidence of a return ticket.
Money and banks
The local currency is the New Zealand Dollar, and you will also find Cook Island coins mixed in with your change.
Most shops and restaurants take credit cards (Visa/Mastercard), and there are ATMs around the island. There is also a currency exchange in Avarua – most places in Rarotonga do not accept other forms of currency.
There are only two different banks in the Cook Islands: ANZ (Australia New Zealand Bank – blue in colour), and BSP (Bank of the South Pacific – green in colour). I saw ATMs at the airport, several in Avarua, two in Muri, and two at Wigmore’s supermarket on the southern part of the island.
I would advise withdrawing as much cash as you think you’ll need beforehand, as ATM fees get very expensive very quickly!
We spent $400-$500 per person over our stay of 9 nights, and that was almost all on food.
Get a sim card
It makes everything easier, especially because there’s no free wifi (at least none I could find). From communicating with my friends via text or facebook group chat, phoning/texting New Zealand to check up on my dog (who had surgery while we were away), to using google maps – it was incredibly convenient. The local carrier is BlueSky. We bought the 10-day package for $49 which included 300 texts, 30 calling minutes and 3gb of data, and we didn’t use close to any of that.
There are a variety of combo packages you can purchase based on the length of your stay, and I would say it’s well worth doing.
This was the balance on the day we left – I regularly used snap chat and Instagram, and uploaded photos to facebook at one point.
BlueSky stores are in Muri and in Avarua.
Try something new, especially with food
At home, I don’t usually eat things like fish, because I typically don’t enjoy it. I decided to make myself try new food, especially fish, while in Rarotonga, and I enjoyed all of it. I even tried a raw fish dish at my friend’s wedding, and liked that too!
Visit roadside fruit stalls and markets
You will see many roadside stalls around the island that sell a variety of fresh fruit, including mangoes, pawpaw, pineapples and avocados, among other things. Prices start from $1-$2 per piece of fruit and can be dependent on the size, especially pineapples.
Don’t forget to visit the Muri Night Market, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 5.30pm, and the Pununga Nui market in Avarua on weekdays and Saturdays from 8am for many kinds of delicious food.
Make bookings for restaurants
I was terrible at this because I kept forgetting it’s something I could do. The first night we went to La Casita Mexican Cafe, they asked if we had a booking, and told us because we didn’t we would have to wait half an hour to order food. We didn’t mind, so we ordered drinks. Within about 10 minutes someone came to take our order, and we were enjoying our meal well within that half hour!
When we turned up at the Rickshaw, asking for a table for 7 people without a booking, they were also very accommodating. We were initially told we would have to sit at two separate tables, but by the time the rest of our party arrived, they had rearranged some tables so we could all sit together.
We were visiting in November, which is the start of the low season. I absolutely recommend making bookings for restaurants, especially if you are there at the busiest times of the year.
Low season: 1 November – 31 March
High season: 1 April – 31 October
Where we were staying at Tropical Sands, we were told the tap water is filtered three times before it reaches us, but it is still advisable to boil it before drinking. You can buy bottled water at convenience stores and cafes starting from $2 for a small bottle.
There are also filtered water stations dotted around the island that you can use for free as many times as you like. The water is absolutely safe to drink.
They are signposted, so just keep an eye out when travelling around.
Donate your leftover coins before leaving
At the airport, there are a variety of donation boxes for different charities. I recommend adding any Cook Island or New Zealand coins you won’t be needing to one or more of these. Cook Island coins aren’t used anywhere else, and if you’re not a New Zealander, you likely won’t be needing New Zealand coins either. Not to mention, you can’t use them at currency exchanges.
Giving back to the country you were a guest in is a nice way to help show your support 🙂
Thanks for reading!
All opinions are my own.
All images are my own unless otherwise stated.
This post contains no affiliate links.