A Self-Drive Day Tour of Rarotonga
Have a day to spend on Rarotonga and don’t know what to do with it? This one-day itinerary of Rarotonga will ensure you make the most of this Polynesian paradise! Rent a car, scooter, bicycle or even take the bus and hit the island road to explore stunning snorkelling spots, stop by quaint cafes, visit museums, check out historical sites and even stretch your legs at tropical gardens and island hikes. You don’t need to hire a guide, as this self-guided day trip around Rarotonga lays out the top sights and attractions on an easy-to-follow route complete with maps.
How to Get Around Rarotonga Using This Self-Guided Itinerary
This self-guided one-day itinerary of Rarotonga has you exploring the main island independently. To get around, you will either need to rent a car, scooter or bicycle (although we’ve included cycle times, it’s only recommended to cycle sections of the itinerary rather than doing it all in one day). Alternatively, you can take the island bus. Tips on where to hire vehicles and how to take the bus can be found in the following guides:
- 7 Best Car Rentals in Rarotonga: The Top Car Rental Companies
- Scooter Hire on Rarotonga: Where to Rent, Cost & More
- Cycle Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Where to Rent Bikes & E-Bikes
- The Bus in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Bus Fares, Timetable & More
For more transport options, check out our Rarotonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Rarotonga.
Muri Beach to Vaimaanga
Distance: 9.2km (5.7 miles), Drive time: 15 minutes, Cycle time: 40 minutes
Starting at Muri Beach, the watersports mecca of Rarotonga, kickstart your morning with a stroll on the beach or even the sunrise hiking tour with Arore Mountain Adventures before hitting the road south!
You won’t have to go too far before there are plenty of reasons to stop, whether it’s to learn about the fascinating history of the Cook Islands at the Te Ara Museum or have coffee/breakfast at the LBV or Deli Licious cafes – see the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga.
As you leave Muri, the village merges with Titikaveka. If you’re keen on snorkelling, stop at Tikioki Beach opposite the Fruits of Rarotonga store for lots of lagoon and coral bommies to explore within a marine reserve – see The Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
Just 1km (0.6 miles) further west you’ll come across Charlie’s Cafe & Beach Hire where you can stop for an oversized sandwich and/or hire a kayak to explore more of this lagoon paradise.
A further couple of hundred metres from Charlie’s is the Mairie Nui Gardens, which is well worth a stroll for its gorgeous tropical displays. Entry is by donation and is one of the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Rarotonga.
As you leave Titikaveka, lookout for a dirt road that runs alongside the beach lined with coconut palms. Opposite Papa’aroa College, this is Papa’aroa Beach, which offers a scenic beach and “Hollywood Boulevard” photo opportunity – see the 10 Best Beaches on Rarotonga.
The next village area you’ll come across is Vaimaanga. At the eastern end is the Avaavaroa Passage where you can freedom snorkel with turtles thanks to the lifeguard services of Snorkel Cook Islands – just make sure you book beforehand, which can be done via Viator or Tripadvisor.
Should you need to pick up any road trip supplies or top up fuel, stop by Wigmore’s Superstore on the righthand side of the road. About 500m (1,640ft) further down the road, you’ll come across the inland Papua Road, an uphill gravel road to the Papua Waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall). Head up there for a refreshing swim under a waterfall – but take some insect repellent.
Vaimaanga to Black Rock (via Arorangi)
Distance: 9.8km (6 miles), Drive time: 17 minutes, Cycle time: 40 minutes
From the Papua Waterfall, make your way back onto the main road and continue west. It’s approximately 2.5km (1.6 miles) until you reach Aroa Beach and The Rarotongan Beach Resort. Here, you can snorkel at the marine reserve, hire kayaks from Adventure Cook Islands and have a drink at the resort’s Captain Andy’s Chea Bar & Grill. For more about snorkelling here, check out The Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
Lunch Stop and Eco Centre
Continue on the main road north, passing by the resorts and boutique accommodations lining Arorangi Beach. Stop by the Beluga Cafe, either for lunch or a quick coffee or, if you have kids in the party, head straight to the Discover Marine Wildlife and Eco Centre just a couple of hundred metres further up the road. The indoor mini-museum and conservation centre is an interesting stop to learn more about the marine history and wildlife of Rarotonga. There’s also a cafe on-site with ice cream!
Island Hike, Shopping or Mini Golf
After you’re done, those with itchy feet might like to tackle the Raemaru Track (2-3 hours return). If so, take the next road inland – find out more in the 10 Best Walks on Rarotonga.
Otherwise, continue on the main road where you’ll find a couple of shopping opportunities, such as the black pearl jewellers The Pearl Lounge and island fashion store Joyce Peyroux Garments next door. Then further up on the righthand side opposite Crown Beach Resort is Tokerau Jim with amazing carved pearl art.
Just before Tokerau Jim is the inland turnoff down Inave Road where you can enjoy a game of tropical golf at Aumata Mini Golf! Learn more in The 3 Best Golf Courses in Rarotonga.
On your final stint up the top of the west coast, you have more resorts tempting you to the beach but hold off until you reach Black Rock. There’s a large roadside parking area at this spiritual site. You can learn more about the rock’s significance on the interpretation panel. The beach here also makes a decent snorkelling and reef paddling spot, so there are plenty of reasons to stick around.
Black Rock to Avarua
Distance: 6.8km (4.2 miles), Drive time: 12 minutes, Cycle time: 27 minutes
From Black Rock, continue on the main road as it takes you around the end of the runway with its mural paintings. Should you want to purchase some traditional Cook Islander linen or rito hats, turn right to Tivaevae Collectables or if beer is more your thing, the Rarotonga Brewery is on the lefthand side offers tasting and brewery tours.
If you’re feeling peckish, pop into the beach bar of Vaiana’s Bar & Bistro on the coastal side where you’ll also be able to soak in the scenery of Nikao Beach.
The road continues east, past the airport and the Avatiu Harbour as you approach Avarua town.
Shopping in Avarua
At the western end of town is the Punanga Nui Market, which is a must-visit on a Saturday morning. Otherwise, the boat sheds/beach huts here have street eats available throughout the week.
More shopping opportunities are available once you get into the heart of town, such as the CITC Shopping Centre and Cook’s Corner where the bus station is also located. See The Ultimate Guide to Shopping in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for more shopping recommendations.
While there are also plenty of cafes and restaurants that we can recommend in Avarua – see The Food Guide to Rarotonga – an iconic spot is Trader Jacks overlooking the Avarua Harbour and the Matai Shipwreck.
As you venture along the eastern side of Avarua, look out for the peach-coloured Beachcomber Building on the coastal side. Here, you’ll explore one of the Cook Islands’ oldest buildings housing the Bergman Gallery, as well as a gift shop and a cosy and quirky cafe called “The Cafe“.
After you’re done at the Beachcomber Building, cross the road and head down Makea Tinirau Road where you’ll get an awesome view of the historic Avarua CICC Church with a backdrop of Te Rua Manga (The Needle). Follow the road all the way down to the Cook Islands Library & Museum to browse its historical island and maritime artefacts. Once you’re done, another museum isn’t too far away; head down Constitution Avenue to the Cook Islands National Museum. Compare the two in the 5 Best Museums in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Avarua to Muri Beach
Distance: 8.4km (5.2 miles), Drive time: 17 minutes, Cycle time: 34 minutes
Ara Metua Historical Road
From the Cook Islands National Museum, we recommend making your journey back to Muri Beach via Rarotonga’s original road, Ara Metua. The road established by the island’s ancestors holds a lot of history, which you’ll be able to appreciate on this journey.
The first historical site you’ll come across is Arai-Te-Tonga, some 2.5km (1.6 miles) from the museum. Here are the remains of a “marae” (gathering place) and “koutu” (royal court), first established around 1350 AD.
Approximately 2.7km (1.7 miles) further down Ara Metua is the sign-posted and well-kept Pokata Papae, another marae where the stone remains are still distinct. Then only a few hundred metres further is the grassy clearing and stone remains of Pa’s Palace. Learn more about all of the sights above in the 10 Best Historical Sites on Rarotonga.
Before the Ara Metua road comes to an end, we recommend seeing one last historical site. Turn down Kaireva Road (or if you miss it, Itiakaraua Road) which takes you onto the main road. Pull into the cleared parking area on the waterfront opposite the Ngatangiia CICC Church. Here, at the Avana Harbour, you’ll find a stone circle which commemorates the vaka migration point where the Cook Islands Maori made their voyage to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Back to Muri Beach
Heading south, you’ll finally make your way back to Muri Beach. Hopefully, you’ll be just in time for dinner at the RSC, Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar or the Nautilus Restaurant – check out The Food Guide to Rarotonga for details.
More About Planning a Self-Guided Day Trip Around Rarotonga
That’s it for our self-guided day trip around Rarotonga. If the sights visited on this one-day itinerary of Rarotonga weren’t enough, these other articles should give you more ideas!
- Sightseeing on Rarotonga: Top 10 Sights on Rarotonga
- 10 Best Beaches on Rarotonga
- 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga
Finally, don’t miss a thing on the atoll with The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga.