Rarotonga (Photo:wallix/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Melissa Paloti
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Rarotonga

The island of Rarotonga lies at the heart of New Zealand's Cook Islands, its beautiful lagoon sheltered by an encircling reef system. While narrow sandy beaches ring the island, the center is dominated by dramatic, lush green mountains reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings," which was filmed at least in part in New Zealand (proper; not here).

About Rarotonga


Pro

A rich heritage, cafes and a variety of water activities are offered alongside the lagoon

Con

It usually requires a full day at sea to reach and another to travel back from

Bottom Line

The scenic hikes, blue lagoon and white beaches do not disappoint


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While most of the ports are in French Polynesia -- and within a few hours of each other by cruise ship (like Moorea and Tahiti) -- it takes a full day to sail to Rarotonga and another day to get back. So why is this out-of-the-way port a mainstay on South Pacific itineraries? For starters, the sea days are a nice benefit for those who consider their ship as much a destination as the ports; plus, we found the day's journey down and another back increased anticipation and whet the appetite for a change of pace from French Polynesia.

The island is also a bit more polished and prosperous than the islands of French Polynesia, and well developed for tourism; this is once place where it's easy to do your own circle island tour on the local bus system. Finally, it's a financial relief for shoppers. While food and goods are expensive throughout French Polynesia, Rarotonga offers lower prices on just about everything from fried fish lunches at roadside stands to souvenirs and jewelry -- mainly because it is closer to main importer New Zealand than, say, Bora Bora is to France or even the mainland U.S.

Verdant Rarotonga is a perfect choice for safaris and hikes, particularly because there are no snakes, wild animals or poisonous insects on the island (just watch out for mosquitoes with the munchies). Watch out for carvings and maraes, or sacred sites. But water babies will find plenty to do in the shimmering lagoon, including windsurfing, diving and glass-bottom boat tours.

Top Rarotonga Itineraries

Where You're Docked

Ships anchor in Avatiu Harbor, on the northern side of the island of Rarotonga.

Good to Know

If you are prone to seasickness, you may want to pack your choice of meds as the ride to and from Rarotonga can be choppy (calls sometimes get canceled due to sea conditions -- occasionally at the last minute, which means you'll have to do the trip there and back anyway). Barring a freak storm, it should be the only real "roughness" you'll experience while cruising in this region.

Rarotonga is a tender port, and since ships often miss calls here due to rough water conditions, climbing in and out of tender boats can be tricky; be cautious and follow the instructions of your ship's staff. Another note: Some public restrooms do not stock toilet tissue, so you'll want to carry something in your purse or pocket.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The New Zealand dollar is the standard, though U.S. dollars are widely accepted. The exchange is about $8 U.S. to $10 NZD, but check xe.com for the latest rates. There's an ANZ Bank ATM at Cook's Corner in the town of Avarua, within walking distance of the tender port.

Language

The official language is Cook Islands Maori. English is widely spoken -- with fabulous Down Under accents -- but learning a few local phrases (kia orana means "hello") is sure to spread smiles.

Shopping

The Cook Islands, like the islands of French Polynesia, are renowned for their production of black pearls and jewelry, and loose pearls are sold throughout the island. Another top-notch gift idea is a CD of traditional singing or drumming -- music is a part of the old Polynesian culture that Christian missionaries weren't able to squash; try Raro Records in town. Cook Island stamps and banknotes are popular with serious collectors of the stuff.