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krisek Avarua - A travel report by Krys
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Avarua,  Cook Islands - flag Cook Islands
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krisek's travel reports

South Pacific Extravaganza. Rarotonga.

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Although part of Cook Islands, Rarotonga was a country in its own right. It was a small island. It took just 45 minutes make the entire loop by car. Out of all of the islands on the South Pacific Extravaganza trip, Rarotonga was the least attractive.

Rarotongan village
Rarotongan village
Now, sadly, this part of the trip was ridiculous. It required me to travel almost 4 hours south from Apia on the 'Upolu island in Samoa to Auckland only to wait 3 hours at the airport for a connecting 4 hours flight north to Rarotonga. Whilst 'Upolu and Rarotonga are just about 1.5 hours of flight apart! However, this part of the world seems less populated and more culturally and economically disconnected to justify more direct flight connections between the islands.

My flight to Auckland was on time. The international to international transfer in Auckland was completely painless. And if one had just 30 minutes between the flights, the connection would be perfectly doable.

My Rarotonga flight had a technical fault (they had to change a tire), so I departed about 20 minutes late. On Rarotonga, no-one was there to collect me, although almost all hotels had representatives meeting their guest and welcoming them with garlands of flowers. It was awkward. I booked a garden suite at the Manuia Beach Resort, but I guess I was not welcomed that much. One has to bear in mind that after midnight, there are no taxis on the island, and that includes the airport! I landed at about 1:00am. So, I was stranded. Me, another British lad, called Rich, (although much younger than me, and staying at the International Backpackers), and a group of three staying somewhere else were stranded. An airport employee named Martha was kind enough to wake up one of the taxi companies and organised transport of two taxis for us. One for the group of three, and the other for me and Rich. Rich was concerned that the taxi was going to charge NZD4 per kilometre per person, rather than per vehicle, which would have meant that we might not be able to share the fare. I told him not to worry about it. Eventually, the taxi cost cost NZD40 in total, which was NZD4 per kilometre per vehicle, so we were able to share the cost, but instead, I just gave Rich NZD50 (as I disembarked first) for him to have enough.

Favourite spots:
The beach in Avarua
The beach in Avarua
The day on Rarotonga was easy. A visit to Avarua, the capital, and a round the island trip. It takes about 45 minutes to circumvent the island. And I have to say that, compared to all of the islands that I visited on this holiday before, Rarotonga had little to impress. The beaches were small and dull. The lagoon colours looked more grey than turquoise, and there were no interesting village to speak of. The mountainous interior with at least two interesting peaks, might win a few points, but that would be no different to what one could do on Tahiti, Mo'orea, Bora-Bora, Viti Levu or 'Upolu. And many islands in between.

What's really great:
Weaving technique
Weaving technique
The only highlight of my stay on Rarotonga was the visit to the Te Vara Nui cultural village. I normally do not do 'artificial' villages, but there was very little to do on the island otherwise. And it was great. It was educational and great fun. Mostly due to the personnel, who explained the Rarotongan life but also put a lot of positive energy to it, superb humour and stunning looking people. There was a feast afterwards and some theatre, which depicted a Rarotongan legend.

A market in the capital
A market in the capital
Rarotonga had practically no sights. Apart from the green rolling hills, the island did not offer much. There were a few interestingly looking small structures in Avarua and its vicinity, one poor looking church and a couple of government buildings, the most striking one being the Ministry of Justice (no pun intended). I made an entire loop of the island, and I failed to satisfy my eyes. That is not to say that the island had no quality at all. It however compared rather unfavourably with other islands in the South Pacific.

Manuia Beach Resort
Manuia Beach Resort
I stayed at the Manuia Beach Resort, and I do not have too many great things to say about the place. I booked it via for NZD245 for a hut in the garden. Although the terms and conditions of the reservation clearly stated that no deposit was going to be charged and that I had an option to cancel the booking two weeks before arrival. And yet, the venue charged my card just a couple of days after I made the reservation. That was a blatant abuse of my card details, and I should have reported Manuia Beach Resort to Visa. However, I convinced the hotel to reverse the charge.
The venue offered dubious value for money. The hut I got was basic, decor was awful, and the bed was crawling with all types of insects. On outside, the hotel looked just fine. Nice pool, good looking restaurant, sandy beach. But I would not stay there again, and I would not recommend it.

The Whatever! bar
The Whatever! bar
The Whatever! Bar & Club in Avarua was a great place for a night out. They had a great location just by the beach, although with no access to the beach, and a fantastic terrace with plenty of breeze. The downstairs bar was small, but offered great ambiance. I am not sure how to describe it, though. It was cosy, I guess. A bit tropical, perhaps. The bar had a great selection of spirits, but the beer was only served in bottles. It was super cold, though. The owner was very friendly and although I never ended up partying there late at night, it looked like well frequented spot on the island. It had some door policy and age restriction, but otherwise a very relaxed and inviting place.

The Tongaroa statue
The Tongaroa statue
Avarua was very small and there were not that many places to hang out. The beach was rather unattractive and underdeveloped. Only few bars lined the main avenue. I would not want to overstate that Rarotonga was terribly boring, but it somewhat seemed that way. It was definitely over advertised. The allegedly best beach of the island looked uninviting and mediocre. Much worse that average beaches of cold northern European countries.

Dancers at the Te Vara Nui restaurant
Dancers at the Te Vara Nui restaurant
I ate at the Te Vara Nui restaurant. They had a great buffet with a decent selection of dishes, really good chicken, tender lamb and tasty fish. The tables could hardly hold all that food. And everything was delicious. Even the soup to start was great. It was seafood chowder. The dessert selection at the end of the meal was also good. The drinks were extra, but reasonably priced. The personnel was very friendly. On top of that there was this show that venue put up. At the end of it, the performers come by the restaurant, so one can take pictures and talk to them. They were also very friendly.

Other recommendations:
The main gate to Te Vara village
The main gate to Te Vara village
I hate to do it but to be honest, I would have to say that Rarotonga was very boring, and that there would be no reason to go there. The beaches were unattractive and compared with islands in the vicinity, the Rarotongan lagoon was grey and bleak. Sadly, other, even smaller, Cook Islands, would not have many more attractions to keep travellers busy. Yet there were atolls with great lagoons and beaches. One of them was Aitutaki. It was easy to get there on daily flights from Rarotonga. It was also possible to do a day trip, flying out in the morning at about 8 o'clock and come back in late afternoon, just about at sunset.

Published on Friday January 11th, 2013

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