Te Au O Tonga has two paramount chiefs or Ariki, Karika and Makea. It was Makea Takau Ariki who was largely responsible for the Cook Islands becoming a British protectorate by petitioning the British government in 1888.
She believed at the time that the French were intending to invade the Cook Islands as they had done to other islands in the region.
The renowned Trader Jack’s Bar and Restaurant is also on the waterfront of Avarua Harbour. Jack Cooper, who owns Trader Jacks, is known amongst regulars as the unofficial harbour master of Avarua Harbour.
Takitumu on the south east of Rarotonga is comprised of three villages, Titikaveka, Ngatangiia and Matavera. Ngatangiia is famous for its Muri lagoon and beach, and the four Motu (islets) which can be reached by wading across the lagoon.
These Motu provide the area with protection from hurricanes and the Takitumu people have resolved never to allow any development to take place on them. Pa and Kainuku are the paramount chiefs of Takitumu. Kainuku is possibly the oldest chiefly title in Rarotonga. An ancient Marae (Sacred gathering place where ceremonies were held) unearthed by Japanese archaeologists on Motu Tapu in around 2001 belonged to Kainuku.
Carbon dated artefacts from the Te Urunga’au Marama i Takamanini Marae are said to be well over a thousand years old. Tinomana Ariki is the paramount chief of Puiakura to the west of Rarotonga. Tinomana’s two-storey hand built coral limestone palace is next to the district’s Cook Islands Christian Church.
In the Cook Islands the phrase “island time” is used a lot - Even on the capital Rarotonga, the government and business centre of the Cook Islands group. The pace is slightly faster on Rarotonga compared to her sister islands.
But the speed of life is still the easy “island time” and a long way from the hectic hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Visitors can choose whether to make their holiday busy, filling their days with the many activities and things to do on Rarotonga, or keep it unhurried and relaxed.
With clear blue lagoons and a huge ocean at its doorstep, there is a good range of water sports to suit all ages. Whether it is Skimming the lagoon on a windsurfer, kayaking, a lagoon boat trip, scuba diving or simply just swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing.
One of the best spots to snorkel is in Tikioki, in the Village of Titikaveka, opposite the Fruits of Raro Café where Mama Puretu makes delicious smoothies from local fresh fruit. A raui, (a traditional ban on fishing and the gathering of seafood), protects the Tikioki lagoon, so it teems with marine life. Beyond the reef there’s game fishing, glass bottom boat tours and catamaran cruises.
As one would expect, being surrounded by so much ocean, the game fishing is excellent and fresh fish is always featured on restaurant menus. Or if one fancies cooking, a wide variety of fresh fish is available from the shops, Fish processing companies and takeaway stores at Avatiu harbour.
Like other islands in the group, Rarotonga’s white beaches with sand as fine as powder stretch into lagoons where the swimming is safe, children can safely play.
One can eat out every night of the week for a week and still not experience all of Rarotonga’s excellent restaurants. If you find yourself peckish on the road, takeaways all around the island can amply fill the gap and are open until very late.
Punanga Nui Market in Avarua on a Saturday morning is a lively, colourful scene and an inexpensive place to eat – especially if one wants to sample local cuisine and traditional dishes like raw fish.
Also at the Market, visitors can shop for souvenirs, watch dance performances and mingle with the locals who go early to get the choicest produce and seafood delicacies.
There is always a lot to do in the evenings on Rarotonga. Island nights are staged by local resort hotels and the, feature buffets of local food cooked in an umu or earth oven. Entertainment at island nights is provided by one of the islands’ professional dance groups.
A vibrant, sensual show with drumming that is recognised as some of the best in the world and is guaranteed to thrill every time. Bar hopping at night with an experienced guide and bus driver ensures you will get to well-known establishments like the Banana Court and Trader Jacks and to sample cocktails at a number of other bars, then safely back to your accommodation at the end of the evening.
Rarotonga has numerous car and scooter hire outlets for those who want to get out and about on their own to explore the inland roads and see the plantations that supply this tropical island with fruits and vegetables.
Otherwise, a reliable bus service travels both clockwise and anti-clockwise around the island every hour. The last bus service is at 11 pm at night, time enough for a meal and island show before heading back to your accommodation.
Take the time to wander around Avarua, the capital of Rarotonga where a variety of shops offer a wide selection of souvenirs and a number of café’s serve wonderful meals and coffee. But possibly the best souvenir of the Cook Islands is a black pearl from the northern islands of Manihiki or Penrhyn.
The Cook Islands is the second biggest producer of black pearls in the world. Then there is also the colourful pareu, a two-metre piece of cloth that is either tie-dyed, hand painted with local designs and vibrant colours.
These make fantastic souvenirs or gifts and learning how to tie and wear one like the locals is handy for the beach or barbeque.
Keeping in touch with home is easy from Rarotonga where there are numerous internet café’s. Direct dial phone calls can be made from most accommodations and the Telecom Cook Islands centre in Avarua, has a 24-hour internet and phone service. Pre-paid Telecom phone cards are available from most stores on the island.
Sundays is when the whole island relaxes, so do not expect to find any major activities, as Sunday is regarded as a day or worship and rest. Make a point of getting to a local church to experience some of the most incredible gospel singing, which is truly unique to the Cook Islands.
Some of the finest singing is by the congregations of the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC). The singing is a wonderful memory to take home, as is the hospitality of the churches to all visitors. The CICC coral limestone churches were hand built by the forefathers of Cook Islanders today and there is one in every village on Rarotonga.
Rarotonga has become a sought after location for weddings and honeymoons.
Wedding packages designed to suit each couple are provided by Island Hopper. The golden beach of uninhabited Koromiri islet in Muri lagoon is the most popular location for weddings. Young coconut saplings planted by each newly wed couple that line Koromiri beach are testimony of the islet’s popularity.