7-Day Budget Trip to Rarotonga!
Travelling with a limited budget is often when you have the richest experiences. This is certainly true for our itinerary for Rarotonga. Forget lounging at the same resort for an entire week; this Rarotonga budget and backpacking itinerary for 10 days has you exploring the Cook Islands’ largest and most vibrant island. Staying in affordable accommodation, doing the best free or cheap activities yet not missing a thing off your bucket list is what this trip is all about. So pack your backpack and get ready to venture to the Polynesian paradise of Rarotonga as we guide you with this 2-week budget itinerary.
While you’re here, don’t forget to explore The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget; your bible to affordable travel in the Cooks!
Overview: Rarotonga Budget and Backpacking 1-Week (7-Day) Itinerary
- Day 1 – Arrive on Rarotonga
- Day 2 – Explore Avarua
- Day 3 – Explore Muri Beach
- Day 4 – Island hike
- Day 5 – Rarotonga tiki tour
- Day 6 – Free day on Rarotonga
- Day 7 – Departure.
How to Get Around Rarotonga in 1 Week
This Cook Islands budget and backpacking itinerary for 7 days (1 week) has you mostly travelling on the main road of Rarotonga, Ara Tapu. Here’s a quick rundown on how to get around Rarotonga in 1 week.
Road Transport on Rarotonga
The first road transport you’ll encounter on Rarotonga is your airport transfer. Book this in advance with one of the airport shuttles, your accommodation or you could even take the bus. Learn more about transfers in The Cheapest Airport Transfers in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
For subsequent travel around the island, car hire offers the most flexibility and convenience, while scooter hire tends to be more cost-effective if hiring for no fewer than three days. See The Cost of Renting a Car in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for more details on the subject. Bicycle hire can also be very cheap. Alternatively, there is a frequent and affordable bus service around Rarotonga.
For all of your transport options across the island, not limited to the cheapest, check out the Rarotonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Rarotonga.
Day 1 – Arrive on Rarotonga
Welcome to Rarotonga and the start of your 7-day backpacking trip around the island! After the arrivals process of going through customs and biosecurity, you’ll step outside of the arrivals hall to either a “Kia Orana” from your airport shuttle/accommodation representative or you might like to venture across the car park to get the bus – see the section above for links to more details.
If you plan on self-catering, stop by a supermarket on your way to your accommodation (or check in first, if you know there is a supermarket nearby). Then, since it’s your first day in the Cook Islands, take it easy and get settled at your chosen accommodation. Relax in a hammock by the beach or among tropical gardens, have a paddle with the kayaks provided if applicable, meet fellow travellers and transition to “Raro time”. We’ll go over a few things you can do on Rarotonga tomorrow.
Rarotonga Cheap Accommodations
- Aremango Guesthouse & Cottage
- Ariki Bungalows
- Club Raro Resort
- Paradise Inn
- Central Motel
- Backpackers International Hostel
- Are Tamarini Beachfront Cottage & River Studio
For more information on each stay, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations on Rarotonga.
Self-catering is always an easy way to save some cents on your trip, but if you feel like eating out tonight head down to Vaiana’s Bistro & Bar on the sands of Nikao Beach for their ultra-affordable burgers, wraps and fish and chips. Get more recommendations from The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga.
Day 2 – Explore Avarua
Spend your first full day exploring the capital of the Cook Islands, Avarua. Not only will you get to experience the sights, sounds and tastes, but if you were hoping to hire a scooter for your time on Rarotonga, you’ll want to get your scooter license here too. Learn more about it in How to Get a Rarotonga & Cook Islands Scooter License.
Things to Do in Avarua
If it happens to be a Saturday, don’t miss the Punanga Nui Market with its array of local food, crafts and vibrant community vibes. You might like to have a wander around town, browsing the gift shops and tasting sweet treats at Cook’s Fudge Factory. Check out some of the historical buildings, like the Beachcomber Building housing a cool and cosy cafe aptly named “The Cafe“, as well as the Bergman Gallery. Browse the Cook Islands National Museum and the Cook Islands Library & Museum; two different museums but both very affordable. Then relax with a bite to eat at the iconic Trader Jacks and views of the Matai Shipwreck. If you’ve got your snorkelling gear, fins, a buddy and it’s low tide, it’s an awesome mission to swim out to.
Learn more about all of the above and other activities in the 10 Best Things to Do in Avarua.
We’ve already recommended Trader Jacks at the Avarua Harbour but you’ll find a lot more worthy yet affordable dining options in the town. Try the fresh seafood dishes, including traditional Cook Islander dishes at the Bite Time Cafe or Michele’s Cafe at the boat sheds leading to the Punanga Nui Market. For dessert, The Waffle Shack is within steps of the above recommendations. Again, we detail all of these and more in The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga.
Day 3 – Explore Muri
Head to the beach paradise and lagoon hotspot of Muri Beach! If you have the budget, you can hop on a lagoon cruise, try out kitesurfing, go on a SUP snorkel safari and much more. But if you want to keep things nice and cheap, we recommend hiring a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) to explore the lagoon. If the weather is a bit iffy, make sure you add the Te Ara Museum to your list also.
Kayak the Muri Lagoon
Hire your kayak from Captain Tama’s or KiteSUP and hit the Muri Lagoon’s tranquil waters to explore the four motu (islets) just offshore. Take some snorkelling gear and paddle following the inner reef between the motu of Koromiri and Taakoka with some excellent wee snorkelling spots. You can even land on the beach of Koromiri and relax on the sand.
Learn more about hiring kayaks in the 5 Best Kayak Hires in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands or find out about alternative places to paddle in the Top 5 Places to Kayak.
For lunch, Vili’s Burger Joint just north of Muri offers affordable and tasty burgers, pizzas and shakes. Alternatively, head south of Muri to Titikaveka where you’ll find Charlie’s Cafe which has a very affordable menu along with a very enviable location on the beach.
Stick around Muri for dinner, as you’ll not want to miss the street food spectacle of the Muri Night Market, available on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings from 5pm.
Of course, there are also plenty of restaurants in Muri itself that, although are not the cheapest, are well worth treating yourself to. Check out The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours for ideas.
Day 4 – Island Hike
Explore inland today with one of Rarotonga’s spectacular hikes! There’s something for all levels of fitness, so check out our three recommended options below or the 10 Best Walks on Rarotonga.
Option 1: Cross Island Trek
The longest hiking trail on Rarotonga, the Cross Island Trek is a 6km (3.7-mile) trail marked with small orange markers for those who want to experience the hike independently. Aside from trekking through lush jungle forest, a highlight is Te Rua Manga, also known as “The Needle”. The trail ends at Papua Waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall) where you can have a refreshing dip.
Option 2: Raemaru Track
Another popular hike on Rarotonga, the Raemaru Track is a mountain hike on the west side of the island. Allow 2h30mins to 3 hours to return on this steady mountain climb that zig-zags through the attractive forest on its ascent up the flat-topped mountain. A highlight is climbing a 15m (50ft) rockface with the aid of steel bars and ropes to the summit.
Option 3: Mairie Nui Gardens
Ok, so this isn’t really a “hike” but if you’re really not into over-exerting yourself, then a pleasant stroll through these gorgeous gardens should suit. Cross the quaint footbridges and into seven acres of botanical paradise with lily ponds, intriguing plants and a backdrop of the dramatic mountain landscape. Entry is by donation only.
If you’re doing a half-day hike, like the Cross Island Trek, take some lunch and plenty of water with you. For those hitting the Raemaru Track, reward yourself with a bite to eat from the bright blue and yellow hut of The Pacific Fish & Chip Shop also in Arorangi. Otherwise, those at the Mairie Nui Gardens will find there is the garden’s own cafe or Charlie’s Cafe within walking distance. Compare them with more cafes in the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga.
Day 5 – Rarotonga Tiki Tour
Either hop on the bus or rev up your scooter for a tour around Rarotonga, hitting the free snorkelling spots, historical sites, natural attractions and more!
Self-Guided Tour of Rarotonga
Explore the backroads of Rarotonga, known as Ara Metua which was originally established by the first island settlers. You’ll find all sorts of well-preserved marae (meeting grounds) between the palm-lined roads and plantations. Tick some from the list of the 10 Best Historical Sites on Rarotonga.
You’ll also want to check out the awesome free snorkelling spots and marine reserves too, such as Black Rock, Aroa Beach and Tikioki Beach. All of these are detailed in The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
If you haven’t checked it out so far, don’t miss Papua Waterfall (Wigmore’s Waterfall) tucked away inland. It’s one of many Top 10 Sights on Rarotonga.
For a full itinerary you could be following for the day, check out A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Rarotonga.
As you’re tiki touring around Rarotonga, you’re likely to stumble upon the island’s many food trucks lining the shores with their affordable meal deals. One of our favourites is The Kai Guy located at the Nikao-end of Avarua for their freshly made and delicious tacos, gyros and burritos. Should you want to increase your budget for this evening, check out The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants for recommendations.
Day 6 – Free Day on Rarotonga
Use your final full day on Rarotonga to do any activity you might have missed so far! You also have the opportunity to do one of your bucket list items that might not necessarily fall under the “budget category” but you still want to do, such as swimming with turtles, scuba diving, off-roading tours or something else from the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga.
Free and Cheap Things to Do on Rarotonga
If you want to stick to affordable activities, however, then other recommendations not mentioned so far on this itinerary include:
- Exploring Rarotonga by bike, following the 5 Best Bike Trails in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Looking out for whales during the whale season
- Relaxing on the beach
- Hitting the best sunrise or sunset spots
- Checking out the art galleries
- Enjoying the singing at a Sunday church service
- Kicking back with some stargazing…
… And more as listed in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Rarotonga!
Dining and Drinking Recommendations
Head to any of The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga or The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants that you haven’t managed to get to so far then make one of these nights the night that you experience Rarotonga’s awesome bar scene! Either jump on one of the party buses, which will return you to your accommodation at the end of the night, or hit the bars and clubs of Avarua independently. Both how-tos can be found in The Ultimate Guide to Rarotonga Nightlife + Happy Hour List.
Day 7 – Departure
Enjoy your final morning on Rarotonga (or nurse your hangover from the party bus) before checking out of your accommodation and getting a transfer to Rarotonga International Airport where you’ll need to check in for your international departure.
Remember to arrive at Rarotonga Airport a couple of hours before your scheduled departure so that you have enough time to check in, go through security and browse the duty-free. Rarotonga International Airport’s duty-free stores are well worth a look for their local crafts, while booze is certainly cheaper than the duty-free stores upon arrival in New Zealand, Australia, etc. Just in case you were interested…
And it’s “ka kite” from the Cook Islands!
Alternative Cook Islands 1-Week Itineraries
Is this 7-day budget and backpacking itinerary for Rarotonga not quite speaking to you? How about checking out our alternative itineraries for 7 days/1 week:
- Aitutaki Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 7 Days
- Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 7 Days
- Cook Islands Honeymoon & Romance Itinerary: 7 Days
- Cook Islands Adults-Only Itinerary: 7 Days
- Cook Islands Family Itinerary: 7 Days
- Cook Islands Luxury Itinerary: 7 Days
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed from this Cook Islands budget itinerary, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget.