After hearing nothing but glowing tales about the tropical Rarotonga, we decided to get on board and take the family for a bit of fun and relaxation. And inevitably, after snorkelling and diving in the warm lagoon, eating great food, quad-biking and watching our kids enjoy hours of fun in the water and the sand – we’re hooked!
I can’t help but think of Rarotonga as the perfect tropical island. For such a small island (45 minutes to drive right around the island on one road), you’ll find great restaurants, good coffee (and killer donuts), loads of culture and most importantly: a warm lagoon to lounge about and play in. We found Rarotonga a great place for all ages; a good option for those who are trying to please littlies and teens. Protected by a reef, the kids are safe in the water, and if you don’t like a breeze, then it’s just a quick hop over to the other side. If you’re there between July and November, you might even find yourself gazing at the migrating whales while you laze.
We have a family philosophy of learning as much as we can about any destination we go to, so for this trip, we planned a couple of adventures, psyched the kids up to try out some of the local foods and enjoyed the culture.
Where to Stay in rarotonga
We wanted to try a couple of places, and decided on the Moana Sands Villas and the Pacific Resort at Muri Beach.
Moana Sands Villas on the southern coast
These villas are right on the beach, which is so great with younger kids. The villas are modern and cool, with a long galley kitchen, plenty of cooking utensils if you want to sort any meals out for yourself, and are big enough to sleep up to 5. There are two bathrooms, which makes life a lot more pleasant, a large TV and DVD player. The villas are serviced every day, so you can ditch the bedmaking and cleaning – you’re on holiday!
We opted for the ground floor villa so we could spill out onto the sand, and happily spent our days running in and out from this quieter part of the beach. The Moana Sands have kayaks and snorkelling gear you can freely use, so the kids were easily entertained without much effort (and the snorkelling is good here). You are right opposite Wigmores Supermarket, which is a go-to place for fruit and veges for the locals apparently. Importantly for me, I was delighted to find our gluten and dairy free requirements on sale here too (sadly no GF bread though).
Tip – for a very quiet night’s sleep, ask not to be in the villa near the pump.
Pacific Resort at Muri Beach
It’s so beautiful here: all lush green gardens, water, sand and a really friendly tropical vibe. We stayed in one of the newly refurbished villas which, according to my kids, was a major step up from home. They were right, we could have moved in and lived here. Right next to the beach (in fact, they are all pretty close), this villa had it all. Lounge around inside or out, and enjoy the easy access to the beach. Bathrooms for all, TVs in just about every room, a large and very modern kitchen (great cooking facilities) and a laundry. I’m completely sold on having a laundry wherever
I go – some insist on a break from the domestic droll, but
I prefer not to come home to five loads of washing. Also, it means you can pack a lot lighter.
With kids, it’s really easy here. A continental breakfast is included for all guests (loads of lovely fruit) and there is a free Kids’ Club for children 6-years and over. Younger kids can go too, you will just need to supervise or hire a nanny ($10 per hour). There is also general entertainment for
the guests every day, so the older kids enjoy joining in. They can try out scuba diving, go on a snorkelling trip, learnt to windsurf and climb coconut trees. Every day is
a bit different.
Tip – have a sleep on the bean bag loungers while the kids are at Kids’ Club – so relaxing.
Big Fish scuba diving
My sons were thrilled to find out they could actually give scuba diving a try. This gave them a real taste of adventure, and our guides were great fun and really inspired the kids to hunt around for interesting fish and sea life. www.thedivecentre-rarotonga.com
Jungle Quad Tours
Our 10-year-old had the best time going offroad on a quad with our very cool guide from Coconut Tours. We all went, but with three kids to share between two of us, our youngest scored the lucky ride. We hooned through streams, jungle and a bit of rugged terrain. You get to see and learn about the inland part of the island, including where a lot of the locals live, keep animals and grow their food. But best of all, you get to see huge smiles on the faces of your kids. www.coconuttours.co.ck
Navigation Pacific Skies with Tua Pittman
Tua was part of the two year epic journey of the Pacific Voyagers sailing in Vakas, navigating only by the stars. He took us through their adventure, showed us photographs, and taught us about how we can use the moon, the stars and the changing sea to navigate; and how a coloured hue on a cloud is actually a reflection and can mean land ahead. We then drove around to check out the important stars for navigation and, of course, because Rarotonga is such a small island, you easily get to see all 360 degrees of our southern aspect. This evening was very interesting.
email@example.com or call 00 6825 5884.
Koka Lagoon cruises
The five local boys who take you out on this glass bottom boat cruise really know how to have fun — we all highly recommend this trip. The boys play ukulele and drums, they sing and entertain with coconut husking, weaving and pareu tying. You get to go snorkelling in Muri Lagoon and see the local clams. They cook lunch on the beach, and then put on a great coconut show which is fun for all. It feels refreshingly casual, but still well organised, with great food.
Whale and Wildlife Centre
This place is very cool. It’s just a small museum, but filled with so many treasures you could lose hours in there. Absolutely everything you want to know about whales, but also, a lot of information on the local sealife. Check out a real life Stone Fish eating his dinner (quite a sight to see) and the horrifying insides of a dead turtle who’d been feeding on cigarette butts. The best thing was that the kids can touch everything, which is quite a relief with two inquisitive boys in tow (and did I mention loud as well?). They were in heaven blowing the conch without any adult telling them to be quiet (even though I felt like it). This place has been inspired by the passion of local Marine Biologist, Nan Hauser. www.whaleresearch.org
Island night show
This is probably one of the most enjoyable cultural shows I’ve been to. Called ‘Dances of the Legends’, the show is performed on a stage surrounded by water. Guests sit all around the waters’ edge, so everyone basically gets a front seat. The buffet dinner is delicious and includes plenty of local flavours. We chose this night to have a few cocktails and mocktails as it really was the perfect setting. Kids played ‘Spot-the-Guide’ as they recognised their favourite Glass Bottom Boat and Quad Tour Guides dancing in the show. www.tevaranui.co.ck
Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market: Pick up some local craft and have a fruit smoothie.
Sunday morning church service: Rarotonga has a very religious community and welcomes tourists.
Reef Sub Tour: Check out a shipwreck and sealife, maybe even a whale if you’re lucky.
There are a great number of decent restaurants and cafes on the Island. Many restaurants have a live music night, so you may want to check out which night it is, if you’re keen. Here are a few standouts:
Trader Jacks Probably Raro’s most famous restaurant, and a great place to view the whales in season. The food is excellent and had plenty of great choices for the kids.
Vaima It’s one of the ultimate holiday experiences to sit out on the beach under a coconut tree and eat by candlelight. We had a lovely dinner, and enjoyed the live music.
Waterline Inn This was a beautiful calm spot, right on the beach. We loved our table, which was in a small Pacific cabana elevated a little over the beach. It sort of felt a bit like Nimms Island, and the food was enjoyed by all.
Mooring Cafe Tucked away near Muri Beach, this cafe serves the ultimate fish sandwich. Most tourists now seem to have caught on to this previously well-guarded local favourite, so you may need to plan for a slightly earlier or later lunch to avoid the crowds!
l Go to Wigmores for an ice cream. It was $2 for two big scoops! (Mum’s favourite was coconut and marshmallow.)
l LBV has the best donuts in the whole world. We tried them all, but chocolate custard was the best. Be quick, they sell out before lunchtime.
l Go on the rope swing at Koka Lagoon Cruises – it’s the best on the whole island.
l We tried arrowroot, taro and cooked taro leaves at our friend’s house. The taro leaves were the best (cooked with coconut cream, garlic and chilli), but they have to be cooked in the proper way or they make you itchy.
l If you see our adopted dog Scoobie Doo (that‘s what we called him), please give him a pat from us.
why so easy?
l New Zealand money used
l Good coffee
l Efficient but in a very laid-back way (island time with a bit of pep)
l Great temperature during our winter (warm and breezy, but not unbearably hot)
l Easy to navigate your way around
l Safe swimming
l Kids are safe in the resorts and around the island
l Everywhere is close to the beach
l Good variety of restaurants and food
l Plenty to do, or easy to do nothing!
By Aana Marionvich
More on travel from Tots to Teens: