The Only Budget Travel Guide to Rarotonga You’ll Ever Need
Forget about blowing all your hard-earned cash on a resort. If you’re the type of traveller who cares more about travel experiences than where you sleep, then you’re onto a good thing with Rarotonga. The remote island in the South Pacific has much to explore among the craggy peaks of its rugged interior and the coral bommies of its lagoon. Cheap takeaways and food trucks line the coastal road that only takes around 45 minutes to drive. And there’s a small selection of guesthouses, backpackers and holiday homes that will ensure a comfortable stay for the non-fussy traveller. Plan your epic yet cheap Raro getaway with this complete travel guide to Rarotonga on a budget.
Before we begin the guide, be sure to also bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga for more styles of travel.
5 Tips for Visiting Rarotonga on a Budget
Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Rarotonga, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:
- The cheapest way to get around Rarotonga is by taking the bus – see Taking the Bus in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Bus Fares, Routes & More
- We know that most accommodation on Rarotonga is quite expensive. If you don’t like the budget accommodation, at least consider accommodation with plenty of free inclusions (bikes, kayaks, airport transfers, etc.) that could help you save money!
- Convenience stores, supermarkets and cheap takeaways are abundant on the island, so consider staying nearby for easy access to affordable food
- Speaking of food, double-check that your accommodation does have self-catering facilities, as some only have amenities for making breakfast
- Use CookIslandsPocketGuide.com to compare your big-ticket activities and sprinkle some of the free and cheap activities into your itinerary.
How to Get to Rarotonga
Rarotonga lies in the Southern Group of the Cook Islands, 3,000km (1,865 miles) from Auckland, 4,980km (3,095 miles) from Sydney and 2,855km (1,775 miles) from Hawaii. The main island of the Cook Islands is home to the country’s only international airport and receives regular flights from New Zealand and Australia, which are well connected to the rest of the world. Find out about airlines travelling to Rarotonga in Which Airlines Fly to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?. Plus, check out How to Book a Cheap Flight to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for tips on how to save on flights.
Alternative ways to get to Rarotonga include day trips with cruise liners, as well as sailing via private yacht. Find out more about your arrival options in Getting Here: How to Get to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?.
How to Get Around Rarotonga
Rarotonga is well-connected with a coastal road network. The main road (Ara Tapu) is 32km (20 miles) long taking approximately 45 minutes to drive around the entire island. Car rentals, scooter rentals and bicycle rentals are readily available – just note that you’ll need to apply for a scooter license if your current driving license doesn’t already cover motorcycles. We list some of the cheapest in The Cheapest Car Rentals in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands. Alternatively, there is a frequent bus service travelling in both directions around Rarotonga, while taxis and cheap airport transfers are also available.
Find out all you need to know about transport in our Rarotonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Rarotonga.
Free Activities on Rarotonga
Rarotonga has enough going on between the snorkelling spots and the hiking trails to keep you entertained without having to spend a cent. Just some of the free highlights include…
Let’s start with the obvious free thing to do on Rarotonga! The coral bommies of the lagoon provide hours of free fun within the safety of the lagoon (unless you’re near a passage – you should avoid snorkelling near a passage). Rarotonga has no lack of snorkelling spots to be enjoyed, from the lively Aroa Marine Reserve to the famous “Fruits of Rarotonga” site. Find out more about the free snorkelling hotspots in The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 10 Places to Snorkel.
Like snorkelling spots, Rarotonga also blesses travellers with oodles of free hiking trails, this time to explore inland. Walk the verdant jungle trails and up volcanic mountain peaks, from the half-day excursion of the Cross Island Trek to the perfect sunset views from the Raemaru Track. There are far too many trails to list here, so compare your options in the 10 Best Walks in Rarotonga.
Speaking of historical sites, there are plenty more intriguing points of interest scattered across Rarotonga. Let’s start with the Avana Vaka Migration Site where the ancestors of Aotearoa New Zealand departed on their vaka (canoe). The site has a memorial at the northern end of Muri. Additionally, ancient marae (meeting areas) can be found along the inland roads, such as Pokata Marae and Arai-Te-Tonga Marae. Find all of these sites and more in the 10 Best Historical Sites in Rarotonga.
Sunday Church Services
The powerful harmonies echoing across the churches on a Sunday is an experience not to be missed. Don your most church-appropriate attire (cover knees and shoulders) and head to one of the churches across Rarotonga, typically with a 10am service. The Avarua CICC Church is highly recommended for a traditional experience or enjoy something more contemporary and upbeat at the Celebration Church in Avarua. For more recommendations, check out the 10 Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor.
More Free Things to Do on Rarotonga
Of course, the list continues with stargazing, visiting art galleries, watching magnificent sunrises and sunsets, watching whales in the whale season and more. Check out the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Rarotonga for details on all of these experiences.
Cheap Activities on Rarotonga
Don’t miss the worthwhile experiences on Rarotonga that are still pretty affordable. Most activities that we list here range from NZ$2 to $20.
Mairie Nui Gardens
Cross the quaint footbridges and into seven acres of botanical paradise at Mairie Nui Gardens. These gorgeous tropical gardens just outside of Muri provide a stunning place to explore between the lily ponds, intriguing plants and a backdrop of the dramatic mountain landscape. You can also stop by the Cafe & Grill with food flavoured with the garden’s homegrown herbs and spices. Entry to the gardens is by donation.
Te Ara Museum
One of the most impressive museums on Rarotonga, Te Ara Museum makes for a relaxing (and cheap) activity that will only take an hour or so out of your day. See grand exhibitions about the early Polynesian navigators who made it to Rarotonga and trace back their journey across the world, learn about European influence, as well as see displays on the present and future of the Cook Islands. You can stick around for light refreshments at the cafe and browse the 100% locally made gifts at the shop. Admission is approximately NZ$15 per adult and NZ$7.50 per child.
Punanga Nui Market
The vibrant Punanga Nui Market is the place to be on a Saturday morning on Rarotonga. Try an array of tropical produce, smoothies and other treats at the food stalls, while pareu (sarongs), island shirts and black pearl jewellery (maybe a little out of the “cheap” price range, however) make for fun souvenirs. Don’t forget to check out the street food stalls at the sheds on the east side of the market! The market is free to go to but what you spend there is up to you.
More Things to Do on Rarotonga
For those of you with a little more budget to spend, don’t miss some of Rarotonga’s more elaborate experiences, like swimming with turtles, island nights and more. Check out the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga so you know all of your options.
Budget Dining on Rarotonga
Don’t worry, it’s not all resort restaurants and fine dining. Rarotonga is packed with casual cafes and food trucks where the locals like to eat and you can eat there too! We also recommend the night markets for affordable street food, while self-catering is always an obvious go-to for saving money on food.
Cheap Restaurants, Takeaways and Food Trucks
At the northern end of Muri, Vili’s Burger Joint offers a welcome relief from the nearby resort restaurants. Enjoy casual dining out in the courtyard or under the verandah with a choice of burgers, pizzas and fried chicken.
One of the many takeaway sheds just before you reach the Punanga Nui Market in Avarua, the Bite Time Cafe offers a range of fresh seafood dishes for a reasonable price. Try ika mata, sashimi, a gourmet wrap or their catch of the day.
For your food truck fix, we recommend The Kai Guy between Avarua and Arorangi. Indulge in fresh ingredients used to make affordable tacos, gyros and burritos. They also do some wonderful vegetarian options.
And don’t miss Palace Takeaways in Avarua for their famous Wednesday NZ$3.50 burgers!
For more recommendations, head over to The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga.
The best market for cheap street food is the Muri Night Market on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings from 5pm. It’s when the island’s food trucks gather together for a whirlwind of tastes.
The vibrant Punanga Nui Market is the place to be on a Saturday morning on Rarotonga. Try an array of tropical produce, smoothies and other treats at the food stalls, as well as plenty of locally-crafted souvenirs.
Learn more about the markets in the 5 Best Markets in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Self-Catering on Rarotonga
Cooking your own meals is by far the cheapest way to keep yourself fed on Rarotonga. Grocery stores are abundant along the main road (Ara Tapu), while the largest supermarkets are the CITC Supermarket in Avarua and Wigmore’s Superstore in Vaimaanga.
Check out typical food prices and tips in The Cost of Food in the Cook Islands and A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping the Cook Islands.
More About Rarotonga on a Budget
That’s it for our complete guide to Rarotonga on a budget but by no means the end of our advice. Check out more guides to help save the cents on your trip:
- 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 15 Ways to Save Money on Food in the Cook Islands
- How Much Spending Money Do You Need for the Cook Islands?
Finally, don’t forget to open The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget and Cook Islands Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to the Cook Islands Cost? to plan more of your trip later.