Perched along the island's northern shore, the bustling town of Avarua is the capital city of the Cooks and Rarotonga's only town. Bordered by twin harbours at either side of a sweeping bay, and backed by a vista of sawtooth mountains and tree-topped hills, it's the closest thing you'll find to a metropolis in the Cooks. Just over a decade ago Avarua was little more than a sleepy South Seas port, but recently the town has been thoroughly spruced up and the long main street is now packed with busy shops, cafés and galleries. It's also home to the main weekend market, as well as a few decent museums and the National Culture Centre. If you're looking for a little bit of after-dark action on the island, then Avarua is where you'll find it.


Getting around Avarua is easy; there's only one main road, the Ara Maire Nui (which turns into the main coast road, the Ara Tapu, at either end of town). The Ara Maire Nui, usually known as 'the main road', runs right along the waterfront. A grassy strip down the middle offers plenty of shady trees.

A useful landmark to get your bearings is the main traffic circle at the eastern end of town. Facing west (with the harbour to your right), the large orange building just to your left is the new courthouse; on your right is the entrance to Avarua Harbour.

The road leading inland to your left passes the post office and the Philatelic Bureau on its way to Papeiha Stone. Here the road joins up with the Ara Metua (inland or back road), before continuing up the Takuva'ine Valley.

The commercial centre of town is along the main road west of the traffic circle. The Banana Court Bar, with the Blue Note Café on the verandah, is an obvious landmark. A little way up from the Banana Court is the main tourist office. Further up on your left you'll see the large CITC Shopping Centre; the left-hand turn here passes Cook's Corner Arcade and the main bus stop, before continuing on to the large Telecom office.

The banks, shops and cafés, as well as the police station and the supermarket, are on the south side of the road. At the other end of town on the north side of the road is the Punanga Nui market. Just past this is Avatiu Harbour, where the inter-island passenger freighter ships and Port Authority are based. The airport is 1km further west. The post office is opposite the courthouse and the Telecom centre is just off the main

Rarotonga Tutakimoa Avarua


ANZ Bank 1 E1

Banana Court (see 37)

Bounty Bookshop (see 10)

Cocophoto (see 43)

Cook Islands Environment

Services 2 F1

Cook Islands Library &

Museum Society 3 F2

Cook Islands Tourist

Authority 4 E1

Cybernet.ck (see 37)

Fuji Image Centre 5 E1

Internetshop 6 F1

Island Hopper Vacations (see 37)

Jetsave Travel (see 52)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

& Immigration 7 E1

National Library 8 G1

New Zealand High

Commission (see 10)

Philatelie Bureau (see 10)

Police Station 9 E1

Post Office 10 F1

Shekinah Homes (see 22)

Snowbird Laundromat 11 B1

Telecom 12 E2

Tele post (see 43)

Treasure Chest (see 47)

University of the South

Pacific (USP) 13 G1

Westpac Bank 14 E1


Avarua CICC 15 G1

Cook Islands Whale

Education Centre 16 A2

Dive Shop Avarua (see 47)

National Auditorium 17 G1

National Museum 18 G1

Papeiha Stone 19 F2

Para O Tane Palace 20 F1

Punanga Nui Market 21 C1

Raro Eco Tours 22 G1

Raro Mountain Safari

Tours (see 23)

Rarotonga Squash Club (see 24)

Rarotongan Brewery 23 C1

St Joseph's Catholic

Cathedral 24 D1

Seven-in-One Coconut

Tree 25 F1

Sir Geoffrey Henry National Culture

Centre 26 G1

Takitumu Conservation Area Office (see 22)

Paradise Inn 27 G1

Rarotonga Realty 28 C1


AramoanaFish & Chips 29 B1

Foodland Supermarket (see 31)

Japanese Sushi Restaurant 30 F1

Mama's Cafe 31 E1

Palace Takeaways 32 C1

Paulina's Polynesian

Restaurant 33 F1

Portofino 34 G1

Whatever Bar & Grill 40 F1


Empire Cinema 41 F1


Arasena Gallery (see 37)

Beachcomber Gallery 42 F1

Bergman & Sons Crafts

Store (see 37)

Bergman & Sons Pearl

Store (see 44)

CITC Pharmacy (see 43)

CITC Shopping

Centre 43 E1

Cook's Corner Arcade 44 E1

Goldmine 45 D1

Island Craft (see 48)

Kenwall Gallery 46 D1

Mana Court 47 D1

Mareko 48 E1

Mike Tavioni's

Workshop 49 A1

Moana Gems (see 43)

Perfumes of

Rarotonga (see 44)

Raro Records (see 41)

The Perfume Factory 50 D2

Tuki's Pareu 51 F1

Vonnia's Store 52 D1


Trader Jack's 36 F1


Banana Court Bar 37 E1

Bond's Liquor Store (see 23)

Coco Bar 38 C1

Hideaway Bar (see 44)

Staircase Restaurant &

TJ's Nightclub 39 F1

Avis Rental Cars (see 43)

Budget Rent-a-Car 53 D1

Budget Rent-a-Car

Downtown Office 54 E1

Bus Stop (see 44)

Harbourmaster 55 C1

Island Car & Bike

Petrol Station 56 E1

Polynesian Bike Hire (see 53)

Ports Authority (see 55)


Tattooing is a common practice across much of the South Pacific, and the Cook Islands is no exception. The word 'tattoo' is a derivative of the original Maori word, tatau. Tattoos served many purposes in the pre-Christian Cook Islands; some denoted rank, status and achievement, while others were simply for decoration; the missionary William Wyatt Gill related that 'the arms of warriors - between the shoulder and the elbow - were tattooed black so that, on dance nights, the beautiful white shell fastened across it with sennit might be the more admired.'

Usually tattoos were given by the ta'unga auta (high priest) using a special comb made of bird bone and a tapping instrument; the black pigment was obtained from the soot of the tuitui (candlenut), which was commonly burned for light in the early Cooks. The designs were generally derived from traditional wood carving, and often the specific motifs of the vaka (canoe) from which the person's tribe was descended.

Early missionaries tried to stamp out the practice, but it never quite died away and it's now back in favour in a big way. Even the most respectable of Cook Islanders, such as Pa Upokotini Marie Ariki (one of Rarotonga's premier ariki), sport traditional designs.

road, on Tutakimoa Rd. See p51 for information on services available in Avarua.



About 200m east of the traffic circle is the tumbledown Para OTane Palace (Map pp56-7). It's the traditional residence of the most senior ariki in the Avarua area, Makea Nui Teremoana Ariki, and was the place where Makea Takau (the ruling Queen of Rarotonga) signed the treaty accepting the Cook Islands' status as a British protectorate in 1888. You can see some fascinating photos of the event in the National Museum.

Once a grand edifice, the palace has fallen into disrepair and isn't open to the public. Officially, though, it's still one of the island's main seats of power. The surrounding area is known as Taputapuatea. Named after a marae in the Society Islands, Taputapuatea was once one of the largest and most sacred marae on Rarotonga. Christian missionaries destroyed the marae in order to break ties with the old ways; today nothing remains.

COOK ISLANDS CHRISTIAN CHURCH The Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church (Map pp56-7; CICC; Makea Tinirau Rd) is a fine, old, white coral building, much in the same mould as other CICCs in the Cooks. It was built in 1853, when Aaron Buzacott was the resident missionary. The interesting graveyard around the church is worth a leisurely browse. At the front you'll find a monument to the pioneering Polynesian missionary, Papeiha. Just to the left (as you face the church) is the grave of Albert Henry, the first prime minister of the independent Cook Islands; you can't miss it -it's the one with a life-size bust of the man himself. Other well-known people buried here include author Robert Dean Frisbie.

You're welcome to attend services; the main one of the week, as at all of Rarotonga's CICCs, is Sunday from 10am to 11.30am. See p30 for advice about attending a CICC.


Opposite the CICC is the large Beachcomber Gallery (Map pp56-7; @ 21939; Ara Tapu), which occupies a building constructed in 1845 by the LMS for its Sunday school. The building was on the verge of ruin before its restoration in 1992 - you can clearly see where the new roof sits on top of the old walls (though quite where the present Renaissance theme came from is anyone's guess). It's now been converted into one of the best arts and crafts galleries on the island, offering a great selection of jewellery, carvings, pearls, craftwork and paintings (most of which are locally sourced, unlike some of items you'll see in the more touristy shops around town). You can sometimes visit the workshop behind the main building to see how the black-pearl jewellery and shell carvings are made.

Avarua has several other good galleries for arts and crafts; see p91.


One block inland from the Paradise Inn is the Sir Geoffrey Henry National Culture Centre (Map pp56-7; www.culture.gov.ck). Conceived by Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry, the complex was formally opened on 14 October 1992 and hosted the 6th Pacific Festival of the Arts. The centre is home to six cultural organisations: the National Auditorium, the National Museum, the National Library, the National Archives, Performing Arts and the Anthropology Unit. There are also a number of government ministries based within the complex.

The National Museum (Map pp56-7; § 20725; admission free, donations appreciated) has a good range of Cook Islands and South Pacific artefacts, including a traditional vaka (canoe) from Pukapuka, Mangaian toki (adzes), carved gods from Rarotonga and the outer islands, and a fascinating collection of old photos. You can't help feeling the collection would be rather more impressive if the missionaries hadn't shipped most of the best stuff back to Britain, where it's now mostly housed in the British Museum.

Visitors to the National Library (§ 20725) can borrow books by signing up for a temporary visitor's card (see p55).

In the centre of the compound, the National Auditorium is the venue for large scale concerts and other red-letter events.


Beside the waterfront near Avatiu Harbour, Punanga Nui (Map pp56-7; § 29370) is the island's main outdoor market. The market is open several days a week, but the biggest market day is Saturday (morning), when it is packed with locals selling fresh fruit, vegetables and home-cooked meals. There's also loads of craftwork, textiles and souvenirs for sale - the market is an especially good place to pick woodcarving, inexpensive jewellery and pareu (sarongs). If you're after fresh fish, you'll need to set your alarm - most of the fish goes very early. Look out for some basalt sculptures carved by local artist Mike Tavioni (p92) near the market's entrance.

Walking Tour

Start your walk over on the eastern side of town, outside the coral-coloured Paradise Inn (1; p80), once the largest dance hall in the whole South Pacific. Follow the road leading inland opposite the hotel. A short way down the road you'll see the Tupapa Sports Ground on your left, and directly opposite the startlingly shaped National Culture Centre (2; opposite), which houses the National Library (3), National Museum (4), and some government offices. A little further into the compound, you'll see the huge National Auditorium (5), used for many of the island's main concerts, presentations and events.


Start Paradise Inn End Avatiu Harbour Distance 1.5km Duration 2 hours

Avarua Airport Bilder

Just before the National Culture Centre, take the first left and follow the road past the outer-island hostels (6), which provide accom modation for outer islanders when they're visiting Rarotonga. At the end of the road, turn right onto Makea Tinirau Rd. On your left is the Cook Islands Library & Museum Society (7; p51), with a good selection of local literature and a small museum. The museum (admission NZ$2) has an interesting collection of ancient artefacts, including shells, spears, musical instruments, carved gods, a beautiful old outrigger canoe and the island's first printing press. In case you're wondering, that large iron pot wasn't used in cannibal rites: it's an old whaling pot, used for boiling down blubber. When people were eaten in the Cooks, they were baked in ovens.

On your right as you leave the library is the Cook Islands outpost of the University of the South Pacific (8; p54), which has an excellent shop selling books on the culture, history and customs of the Cook Islands. Continue north along the road past the white coral CICC (9; p58), where you can wander around the gravestones of some of Rarotonga's most famous historical figures and (if it's a Sunday) stop to hear some of the island's trademark singing.

At the main road, hang a left and head towards town. On your left you'll catch sight of the once-grand Para OTane Palace (10; p58), now crumbling into ruin. Continue past the Empire Cinema and cross over the bridge across Takuva'ine Stream, which empties out into Avarua Harbour to the north. Nearby you'll catch sight of Trader Jack's (11; p85), a favoured watering hole for all the island's movers and shakers.

When you pass the courthouse on your left (recently constructed with Chinese cash, in case you're wondering about the Oriental influence) look out for the famous Seven-in-One Coconut Tree (12) near the roundabout -a group of tall coconut trees growing in a perfect circle. Legend has it that the seven trunks all belong to the same tree, originally found on the island of Takutea. The tree was brought here to serve as a boundary marker between the districts of two ariki.

If you like you can take a short detour south along Takuva'ine Rd to check out Pa-peiha Stone (13), which marks the spot where the Tahitian preacher Papeiha preached the gospel on Rarotonga for the first time.

The occasion is remembered with an annual holiday, Gospel Day, when Papeiha's walk from Avatiu Harbour to this spot is re-enacted, and a commemorative sermon is preached from Papeiha's Stone.

From the roundabout outside the courthouse, head west into town past the legendary Banana Court (14; p91), once the most notorious nightspot in the entire South Pacific. Originally built as a sanatorium in 1905, and later Rarotonga's first hotel, the 'BC' became an infamous stopover for South Seas high rollers and bon viveurs; sadly, these days it's a shadow of its former self, but still a popular hangout on Friday nights. The present name was adopted in the 1970s and refers to the banana grove that once stood on the site.

As you head into town, take some time to browse around Avarua's shops or stop for lunch at one of the excellent cafés. The local's favourite spot is Mama's Café (15; p88), next to the large Foodland supermarket. While you're hanging around, cross over the main road to the central tree-lined reservation and cast your eyes out to sea - you should be able to glimpse the skeletal smokestack of the SS Maitai, a 3393-ton Union Steam Ship vessel that was wrecked on the reef on Christmas Eve 1916. Her cargo included a number of Model-T Fords.

Cross back onto the left-hand side of the street and continue west past the modern St Joseph's cathedral till you reach Bond's Liquor Store, where you'll also find the Raroton-gan Brewery (16), home of the Cook Islands' national beer - Cooks Lager. On the opposite side of the road is Punanga Nui Market (17; p59), a great spot for trying some local food and buying a few souvenirs. A little further west beyond the market is Avatiu Harbour (18), Avarua's main port, where you'll normally be able to spy a few inter-island cargo ships, some local fishing boats and sometimes the occasional luxury yacht.


Avarua has most of the island's top drinking spots (p89) and some great restaurants (p85). If you're interested in basing yourself near town, check out p78 for accommodation options.

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