Rarotonga is the essence of Polynesia with its warmth, vibrant tropical plants and some of the happiest and friendliest people on Earth. As the main island of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga supports most of the country’s people and services. The island was settled about 1500 years ago by traditional sailing canoes as part of the great Polynesian expansion. Cook Islanders are proud of their culture and happy to demonstrate their traditional skills. Mesmerising dances incorporate energetic posturing of warrior men and seductive gyrations of grass skirts on the hips of women, along with graceful hand movements.
An ancient eroded volcano bedecked in rainforest dominates the island. Skirting the mountain is a flat coastal strip where most people live. The island is fringed by white coral sand beaches and a shallow coastal lagoon stretching to a protective outer ring of coral reefs. Rarotonga has many modern water and land activities for visitors, but without the tourism hype of more well-known Pacific islands.
An easy escape is to trek across the island’s interior past the Needle—an aptly named volcanic rock spire. The decaying volcano on Rarotonga produces fertile soil and captures rain, ensuring lush vegetation. Bird life is headlined by the Cook Islands Fruit Dove, and the Kakerori (Rarotongan Flycatcher). Kakerori were critically endangered with only 29 birds in the Takitumu Conservation Area in 1989. A dedicated conservation program controlling introduced rats has enabled a recovery to over 500 birds.