CULTURAL VILLAGE  Officially the best cultural attraction in the world
A trip to the cultural village is a must if you want to learn more about the Cook Islands and its people.   And in 2013, it was awarded the travel industry's equivalent of an Oscar as the best cultural attraciton in the world.   The village is on a back road in a wonderful garden setting in Arorangi and well worth the NZ$64 (approx. UK¬£32, US$53, 39 Euros) entrance fee, which includes transport from your accommodation ($NZ$60 if you make your own way).  Children 5-12 get in for half price.

The islanders are passionate about sharing with you information on everything from traditional ways of fishing to the medicinal uses of fruits and plants.   Your visit ends with music, dancing and lunch served on "plates" woven from bamboo leaves.   The village is  a privately owned and operated family business and reservations are essential, but you can make them on line at the 
Cultural Village websiteLocation map  Currency exchange rate is for guidance only and correct at Janaury, 2014
The cyclones in February and March, 2005 sadly devastated the fringing reef off Muri beach, but snorkellers can still have a great time just a few minutes up the coast from there opposite Fruits of Rarotonga.    For the best experience, go down on to the beach, turn right and walk about 300 metres, then swim towards the edge of the reef (but NEVER over it)...it's perfectly safe and the fish are very friendly!
Underwater friends
Who's watching who?
Starfish
Plants and flowers as medicine
Learning about coconuts
Wigmore's Falls
Wigmore's Waterfall isn't the easiest of places to find as it isn't signposted...head out past Muri Beach, then turn right just after the Vaima restaurant and keep driving (and I warn you, it's not much of a road).  The falls are at their best after really heavy rain, but beware of the mosquitos!

Colourful cultural market
Mangaia musicians
The cultural market every Saturday from 6 am till about 1 pm keeps getting bigger and better.  Local artists are now a regular feature.  And you'll often see local music and dance groups...the one above, right was from Mitiaro.
The market's near the port.  Hop on Cooks Island Bus and it'll drop you off outside.  Go early for the best experience.  There are also occasional night markets and some stalls open during the week as well.
 
More pictures of the market
Lazing in the Rarotongan sun
Captured (or is it cat-tured!) at the cultural market one sunny lunchtime.  He says he's busy thinking where to go for his night out!
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SNORKELLING
CULTURAL MARKET (Punanga Nui)
WIGMORE'S FALLS
And if all the sightseeing get's a bit much...
take a cat nap!

TREKKING WITH PA
If you want an insight into the interior of Rarotonga, 'Pa's cross island trek' is a must.   Pa's white haired dreadlocks may seem a bit incongrous, but this Polynesian has an encylopaedic knowledge of the island, its plants and their medicinal uses.  There's also a more leisurely nature trail for the less energetic.  The Tourist Office can book the trips for you, including pick ups from your accommodation.  (Friendly advice: Unguided trips into the interior can be dangerous because of the terrain)
ISLAND NIGHTS
Dancing and drumming are THE national "sport" of the Cook Islands and a visit to an island night is a must do.   And there are plenty to choose from. The Staircase Bar and Restaurant (Thursday and Friday) tends to have the best dance troupes but unfortunately the food doesn't match the outstanding performances.  But it would still be my recommendation. The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa (Wednesday) lays on a great feast, but the show itself, although very entertaining, is bit too touristy for my liking.  

The Pacific Resort (Monday and Friday), Edgewater Resort (Tuesday and Saturday), Crown Beach Resort (Tuesday), Highland Paradise (Wednesday), and Manuia Beach Hotel (Saturday) also have their own shows.  Prices typically range from NZ$35 to NZ$80 (approx. UK¬£17.50-40, US$29-66,21-48 Euros) for the show and meal.  Some will also let you just pay for the show, but you won't get the best seats.  Check locally for the latest information about when each venue is holding its island night, as they are subject to change. 
Currency conversions approximate at January, 2014
Rarotonga's Pa
Personally, I hate organised trips and "tourist traps".   But what I've selected on this page are some of the things that are a world away from that.  Yes, things like the Islands Nights and the Cultural Village are very much aimed at visitors, but the Islanders who are part of them are also passionate about their country and its traditions.  And I think your enjoyment of the Islands will actually be enhanced if you decide to go to them.
Tour the capital island
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"Must See" and "Must Do"
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WHALE WATCHING
If you're in the Islands between July and October, you could enjoy possibly the best free show of your life.   That's when whales swim past en route to warmer waters to mate, give birth and rest.  And you don't even need to get into a boat to see them.  In the Cook Islands, the whales come to you.   There are plenty of vantage points around Rarotonga, including the shoreline in front of the main road through Avarua.   Our whale watchers' guide has all the essential information.
Humpback whale off Rarotonga
Whales and wildlife centre, Rarotonga
And if you're visiting any other time of the year, you can still marvel at these majestic creatures and learn much more about them at the whale and wildlife centre which is a short and easy walk from Avarua.   It was opened in 2000 and has just been given a complete makeover, including the addition of a theatre screening documentaries.  You might also be fortunate enough to meet and learn from one of the world's leading experts on whales, Nan Hauser who's based in Rarotonga.
Read a fantastic first hand account of a trek with Pa by a US newspaper reporter
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