Rarotonga is the youngest island in the Cook Islands southern group and is physically unlike its other volcanic neighbors where erosion and periodic submersions have reduced mountains to gentle hills. Rarotonga's central massif is the eroded remains of a once mighty volcanic pyramid whose crags now form sawtooth peaks and razorback ridges covered with tropical jungle. These are separated by streams running down steep valleys.
The island stands 14,750 feet (4,500m) above the ocean floor and is 20 miles (32k) in circumference. Rarotonga is surrounded by a lagoon which extends several hundred yards to the reef which then slopes steeply to deep water.
Humpback Whales come each year to these waters in late August to nurse their young. The gentle sloping legdes of shallow water next to the steep dropoff make the water conditions ideal for the whales.
Around the central mountainous area of this beautiful island is a narrow band of agricultural terraces and flats. Rarotonga is the second furthest south of the Cooks group and is almost exactly opposite Hawaii in relative latitude, just inside the Tropic of Capricorn. The wet season is normally January to early May and severe weather is seldom experienced.
The island's present-day name stems from 'raro' meaning 'down' and 'tonga' meaning 'south'. The most popular version of its origin is that the famous Tahitian navigator, Iro, visited it once and some years later while on Mauke he met Tangiia who asked where he was going. Iro replied: 'I am going down to the south.' The Samoan voyager, Karika, is also reputed to have called it Rarotonga when he first saw it from the north-east because it was to leeward -- 'raro' -- and towards the south -- 'tonga'.
In 1997 Japanese archaeologists unearthed a previously unknown 'marae' -- sacred site -- on Motu Tapu, an islet in the lagoon at Ngatangiia. This is estimated to be 1500 years old which would put settlement much earlier than the legend of the arrival of Kainuku Ariki. Based on the evidence of fires, archaeologists have estimated that there was human life on Rarotonga about 5000 years ago.
Getting There & TransportationMost people will rent a car, scooter, or bike while they are there. Budget Car Rental can handle all of these requests and has offices throughout the island. If you are going to rent a scooter or car, you MUST have a local drivers licsence that can be obtained through the police station in Avarua for NZ $20. They may even make you take a drivers test!
Rarotonga is encircled by a main road that traces the coast. In places there is also a secondary ring road slightly further inland. Due to the mountainous interior, there is no road crossing the island. Rarotonga only has two bus routes: Clockwise & Anti-Clockwise. Although they have bus stops, the bus drivers drive around picking up anyone they see and dropping them off when the passengers want them to.
The island has three harbors (Avatiu, Avarua and Avana) but Avatiu harbor is the only one of any commercial significance. Avatiu harbour serves a small fleet of inter-island boats and fishing vessels as well as cargo ships to and from New Zealand. Large cruise ships have to anchor off shore because of the relatively shallow water surrounding the island and the pristine coral reef surrounding the island.
Air New Zealand has daily trips to Auckland and weekly flights to and from Los Angeles. You can also connect through Aitutaki (home of Survivor: Cook Islands) to Vancouver and San Francisco via Air Rarotonga. Rarotonga International Airport is the main hub of inter-island transportation within the Cook Islands with daily flights to Aitutaki, regular flights to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro and occasional flights to the remote Northern Atolls of Manihiki, Tongareva (Penrhyn) and Pukapuka.
Red TapeOther than obtaining a visa and a drivers liscence (when renting a car or scooter), the island is fairly laid back with regard to red tape.
ClimbingThere are a number of peaks on the island and most do not have established trails to and from them. Most peaks have a substantial amount of vertical gain over a very short horizontal distance. That makes for some steep hiking and almost all peaks involve at lease some class 2 or class 3 scrambling. Some peaks have established but little used climbing routes and the island has a suprising amount of good quality vertial rock.
The two most popular peaks on the island are Te Manga (the hightest point on the island) and Te Rua Manga (aka the Needle).
[img:631468:aligncenter:medium:Te Rua Manga]
Below is a list of the peaks and their estimated elevations.
Te Manga (653m) - accessed via Te Manga Track
Te Atu Kura (638m)
Te Kou (588m) - accessed via Te Kou Summit Track
Maungatea (523m) - approached via Maungatea Bluff Track
Te Vaakauta (450m)
Te Reinga O Pora (438m)
Te Rua Manga (413m) - aka The Needle and accessed via the Cross Island Track
Reamaru (350m) - accessed via Raemaru Track
CampingCamping is not allowed on Rarotonga, but there are numerous low budget accomidations on the island. I reccomend the Aremango Guesthouse. Great people, great service, and great price.[img:631454:aligncenter:medium:Other great places to stay...]
External Links & Sourceshttp://www.ck/