Every year here at Skerah, we decide on a trip to experience another country, another culture. This year, we decided that Rarotonga would be our next destination. The main purpose of our trip is to determine whether it is a country that Papua New Guineans might be interested to include in their bucket list. So let’s what you need to know when planning your trip and what to expect.
Before we can consider the costs, visa, accommodation and so on, it’s important to first understand the route from Port Moresby to Rarotonga. There isn’t a direct flight so you will have to go through Australia and New Zealand. You don’t need a visa prior to entering the Cook Islands as you can be granted a visa on arrival provided you have a valid passport of up to 6 months and you have a return ticket out from Rarotonga. There is no cost to the visa.
The other good news as far as visas are concerned if you’re travelling through New Zealand (particularly Auckland) is that Papua New Guineans are eligible to have the transit visa waived provided your transit in New Zealand is no more than 24 hours. Papua New Guinea is listed as a country of which its citizens are eligible for the waiver. That said, you don’t need to make any visa applications here in Port Moresby prior to flying out.
The bad news though is that you will still need a visa (if you don’t currently have one) to enter Australia.
If you’ve never travelled for more than 3 hours, the journey from Port Moresby to Rarotonga is quite long. It took us approximately three hours from Port Moresby to Brisbane departing at 2 in the afternoon and arriving 5pm in Brisbane. The next flight from Brisbane to Auckland was scheduled for 6.30am and we stayed overnight in Brisbane before making our way to the airport in the early hours of the morning. It’s possible to stay in the airport to save money on accommodation although it can be a little uncomfortable trying to sleep.
We arrived in Auckland at 11am local time and waited in the airport for further 5 hours before departing Auckland to Rarotonga. The flight took just over 4 hours arriving 11pm Cook Islands time. Cook Island is 20 hours behind Port Moresby so we actually arrived 11pm on the same day we departed Port Moresby. In total, the journey took over 25 hours from the point of departure to the time of arrival to our intended destination.
We stayed at the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa which we booked on Booking.com. The location of the resort was excellent with the beach right in front of your room. The photo is self explanatory and we weren’t disappointed.
There are other accommodation types scattered around the fringes of the beach from self-contained units, bungalows, beach houses and more. There are no major brand hotels and most of the accommodation on offer are owned by locals.
Rates of accommodation vary and it’s best to check the rates on booking sites to get updated rates.
The island of Rarotonga is quite small and there is only one road that runs around the island. The public transport systems consists of two buses with one running clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. Bus fares cost $5 one way or $8 two ways.
Interestingly, the bus transport system is mainly used by tourists.
Other options include hiring your own vehicle, hiring a scooter or the accommodation you’re staying at can arrange transportation although this can be somewhat expensive.
Cook Islands uses the New Zealand currency so changing your money isn’t really a problem. Just bear in mind that the rates used at the airports are quite expensive. You have a visa debit card like the one issued by BSP, you can actually use it in Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Best to have minimal cash with you to avoid expensive rates until you arrive in Cook Islands.
Interestingly, if you use the ATM at a BSP ATM in the Cook Islands, your balance will be shown in the PGK currency.
What to do
Rarotonga is a pretty laid back and peaceful island. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to do but if you are there to have a relaxing holiday on the beach, Rarotonga is indeed Paradise. That said, a lot of the activities revolve around the water from swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and more.
The town is often quiet and you can see more tourists than locals. The locals are surprisingly shy but friendly when you get to talk to them.
If you ever get to Rarotonga, definitely visit the Gift Shop and Mareko. These two shops sell amazing island wear and sarongs. It’s amazing the number of different type of dresses you can come up with when tying the sarong and at Mareko they give you a card that shows you the many different types on how to tie a sarong.
Because Rarotongans rely much on the sea, seafood is common on the dining table. Fish burgers and seafood platter are on most menus and they are delicious. The resorts and other upmarket restaurants are expensive but the side markets and smaller takeaway shops do not disappoint at all with a fraction of the upmarket prices.
Te Vara Nui Village
Te Vara Nui Village is located in Muri which is one of the more popular holiday spots. The Village offers a buffet consisting of both western and traditional dishes followed by an exhilarating hour long cultural performance that will get you moving and swaying. You will need to book in advance as it is often packed and we recommend you booking before you leave Port Moresby.
If you’re in Rarotonga on a Saturday, the local market is a must visit. A lot happens at the market but you have between 7am to 11am to visit and buy whatever you need to buy. The market closes around 12 although sellers start leaving just after 11. There is so much to see and buy from clothing, music, local food and drinks and fresh fruits and vegetable stalls set up by farmers.
Rarotonga is a beautiful place. It’s not cheap to go there but it is definitely a place to relax, enjoy the sun, sand and sea and best of all enjoy their culture and their surroundings.
Papua New Guineans could learn a lot from the Cook Islanders too on how to look after our place, take advantage of what tourism offers by integrating our cultural traditions, singing and dances. Tourism is a renewable resource and Cook Islanders rely heavily on the tourism opportunities on offer but at the same time ensure that their traditions and cultures are not lost.