The Most Fascinating Historical Points of Interest on Rarotonga
First settled around 1,500 years ago, Rarotonga offers a fascinating history of Polynesian settlement and European influence. Trust us, you can get an overview in A Brief History of Rarotonga & the Cook Islands, which will show you Rarotonga’s colourful past. Today, the stone formations of ancient maraes and limestone coral buildings constructed under the guidance of the missionaries still remain, adding to your sightseeing list of Rarotonga. Discover the historical points of interest for yourself with the guidance of our top historical sites on Rarotonga!
For more Rarotonga trip planning, also check out The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga.
1. Avana Point (Vaka Migration Site)
Located just north of Muri is the spot where the Maori set off in their canoes (vaka) to make the migration to Aotearoa New Zealand. The site has a memorial with commemorative stones set in the circle listing the name of each vaka that departed Avana Point. Many New Zealand Maori can trace their heritage back to these vaka. The spot is also good for watching the sunrise and offers minimal lighting for stargazing.
Location: A gravel roadside clearing on the coastal side of the Main Road (Ara Tapu) opposite the Ngatangiia CICC Church, Ngatangiia (eastern side of Rarotonga).
2. Arai-Te-Tonga Marae
One of the best examples and remains of a “marae” (gathering place) and “koutu” (royal court), Arai-Te-Tonga sits just off the Ara Metua (inland) road. The koutu, built by the first settlers of Rarotonga in 1350 AD, sits just behind an interpretation panel displaying a deliberate arrangement of stones in the grassy clearing.
Location: Corner of the Inland Road (Ara Metua) and Maotangi Road, Tupapa (northeastern side of Rarotonga).
3. Pare O Tane Palace of Makea Nui
Opposite the prominent CICC Church Avarua stands the historic Pare O Tane Palace of Makea Nui and the surrounding Taputapuatea Marae. The grounds are where the paramount ariki (chief) of the area, Makea Takau, signed the treaty accepting the Cook Islands as a British protectorate in 1888. Note, however, that the grounds are private property, so be sure to admire the sight from the road. See more historical sites nearby in the 10 Best Things to Do in Avarua.
Location: Makea Tinirau Road, opposite the CICC Church, the eastern end of Avarua (northern side of Rarotonga).
4. Matai Shipwreck
This British cargo ship that wrecked on Christmas Day in 1916 is now part of the reef lining the Avarua Harbour. Either admire “The Boiler” poking out of the ocean from shore at Trader Jacks or swim out to ship yourself. Caution: Only strong swimmers with fins and snorkelling gear should make the journey – and at low tide with other people. The swim is about 500m (1,600ft) from shore. Alternatively, the Matai Shipwreck can be admired on Raro Reef Sub and snorkelling tours with Ariki Adventures and KiteSUP.
Location: Trader Jacks, Main Road (Ara Tapu), the western end of Avarua (northern side of Rarotonga).
5. Black Rock
A jet-black volcanic outcrop among the white and, Black Rock is historically significant as a spiritual site. The rock is said to be where Rarotonga’s spirits depart to the afterlife, which you can learn more about on the interpretation panel erected in front of the rock. Additionally, the rock pools are interesting to investigate at low tide, while it’s also a fun snorkelling spot at high tide. Check out more places to snorkel in The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Nikao (northwestern side of Rarotonga).
6. Takamoa Theological College
A multi-storey building kept in prime condition at the foothills of Avarua, Takamoa Mission House or Takamoa Theological College was completed in 1843. It was the first college for training indigenous missionaries of the London Missionary Society in the Pacific. An interpretation panel at the entrance of the grounds tells more of the story and construction of the college.
Location: End of Makea Tinirau Road, the eastern end of Avarua (northern side of Rarotonga).
7. Maungaroa Marae (Highland Paradise)
An archaeological site that can be witnessed with traditional ceremonies still performed to this day, Maungaroa Marae or Tikai Marae is the site seen on cultural tours with Highland Paradise. Dating back to the 1700s, this ancestral site of the Tinomana tribe hosts nearly 100 stone structures. Witness a welcome ceremony and engage in other cultural activities, such as weaving, coconut demonstrations and storytelling, on either a day or an evening tour with Highland Paradise. The latter also includes a cultural performance as part of their island night – learn more about it in the 7 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Highland Paradise, top of Maungaroa Drive, Arorangi (western side of Rarotonga).
8. Beachcomber Building
A grand limestone coral on the waterfront of Avarua’s eastern shores, the Beachcomber Building not only offers a flair of history but it packs a few reasons to visit between The Beachcomber Store, Bergman Gallery and The Cafe/Vinyl Revival Club. The limestone building, thought to be the second built on Rarotonga, was built in 1845 by the London Missionary Society. Again, an interpretation sign at the entrance of the building reveals more about its past. Plus, learn about the gallery in the 5 Best Art Galleries in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands and cafe in the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga.
Location: Coastal side of the main road (Ara Tapu), opposite Makeatinirau Road, the eastern end of Avarua (northern side of Rarotonga).
9. Pa’s Palace
Another interesting stop along the Ara Metua road is the prominent remains of an old limestone palace. Pa’s Palace, one of the palaces that housed the ariki (chief) of the house of Takitumu, offers an interesting spot for a photo opportunity thanks to the locals stopping the grass from taking over the ruins. There is no interpretation panel here but guided tours with Raro Tours will reveal more from a local’s perspective (find out more about the tour on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Location: On the interior side of the inland road (Ara Metua), between Avana and Ngatangiia villages (eastern side of Rarotonga).
10. Avarua CICC Church
The CICC church of the most populated town in Rarotonga, Avarua CICC Church is a popular historical site that’s perhaps one of the easiest on the island to seek out. The coral limestone church was built in 1853 (following the destruction of the first church during a cyclone) and has the most stunning backdrop of Te Rua Manga (The Needle) from the outside. Visitors are welcome to experience a Sunday church service, which provides more opportunities to marvel at the architecture. Find out more in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Visitors.
Location: Makea Tinirau Road, Avarua, Rarotonga.
More Historical Sites on Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Now that you know some of the best historical sites to visit on Rarotonga, discover more historical points of interest across the Cook Islands, as listed in the following:
- 10 Best Historical Sites on Aitutaki
- 10 Best Historical Sites in the Cook Islands
- 5 Best Museums in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, don’t miss a thing from your Rarotonga bucket list with the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga and 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.