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An online cruising guide for yachts sailing to Rarotonga, Cook Islands

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21°14′S, 159°47′W
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Rarotonga map.jpgMap of Roratonga Island

Rarotonga is the most populated island of the Cook Islands and contains approximately 70% of the total population of the Cooks (2010 figures: approx 14,000 out of 17,000).

The capital of the Cook Islands, Avarua, and the main and only navigable port, Avatiu, are close together on the northern coast.

Rarotonga is a useful provisioning stop for sailors continuing on to elsewhere in the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Niue and other places further west. Prices here are generally cheaper than in French Polynesia and it's about 4 days sail downwind from Bora Bora. Important trade relations are maintained with New Zealand, the local currency being the New Zealand dollar and imports from New Zealand, generally without additional tax, are plentiful.


LINZ -- Land Information New Zealand
NZ93 Cook Islands (1:1500000)
NZ9558 - Rarotonga

It's worth obtaining the latest edition of this chart (after 2013 publication) due to the realignment of Avatiu harbour.


Rarotonga is on the southern side of the tropical belt, and temperatures are a bit more temperate and less humic than they are further north. This also means that the temperature can drop a little in the cruising season, especially in the evenings, and a light jacket is often advisable.

A daily weather forecast for the Cook Islands is issued by the Fiji meteorological service and is available for retrieval via saildocs.

See also Weather.


List popular passages/routes, timing, etc.


There are a few motus along the reef side of the lagoon across from Avana harbour. They are best visited by dinghy or kayak from the shore inside the lagoon, or take one of the cruise boats that operates inside Avana harbour.


There are no specific radio nets for Rarotonga.

Rarotonga Radio maintains an occasional listening watch on VHF 16, and the port operations can be contacted on VHF 16 during working hours (8am to 4pm Monday to Friday).

Also see Cruiser's Nets


The approach to Avatiu Harbour has been widened and deepened recently. Check the LINZ charts (New Zealand government office) for the latest details.


Enter the main harbour at Avatiu from the north. Contact harbour control on VHF 16 as you approach if it is within working hours.

Drop anchor about 40 to 50 metres from the southern end of the harbour and reverse in. Tie up, using your dinghy to take stern lines ashore if required. Leave the stern of your vessel approximately 5 to 8 metres from the harbour wall, using the dinghy to go to shore. There are aluminium steps on the dock which can be used.

Despite what some cruising guides say, do not buoy your anchor. An anchor buoy will present a hazard to large ships entering and leaving the harbour, and the harbour master will ask you to remove your anchor buoy.

Officials from the Ministry of Health, Agriculture (Quarantine), and Customs will visit your vessel (they are usually fairly quick to attend arrivals in working hours, or the next day if you arrive out of hours). Keep the Q flag flying until passed by quarantine. The customs officer will invite you to leave the vessel and complete the remaining paperwork at one of the tables near the nearby takeaway restaurant.



Avatiu Harbour

Harbour Entrance and the south wall at Avatiu. Mediterranean style mooring is done to the wall, drop anchor far enough out into the harbour to give enough chain scope, 30 metres or more is recommended, and reverse to the wall. There are usually some old salts nearby ready to catch ropes. There are large black tyres against the wall, which can't be seen in this photo, and there are a couple of sets of aluminium steps on the wall as well which can be used for dinghy access.

Avatiu is the only port and main harbour in Rarotonga, near the main town of Avarua. The entrance has recently been widened and dredged, and so entry is fairly simple. The photo to the right shows the entrance cut.

The inner harbour at Avatiu, where most of the fishing charters run from, and there is a ramp available for haul outs

The next photo shows the harbour, to the west of the entrance.

There is a daily fee for mooring in the harbour, depending on the length of the vessel. Shower facilities (including hot water) and toilets (bring your own toilet paper) are available downstairs of the harbour master's office, for a $30 fee of which $10 is a refundable key deposit. Water is available from a tap near the takeaway restaurant -- approximately 30 metres of hose will be required to reach the harbour wall. There is no electriciity available in the main harbour.

Avarua Harbour

Although marked on the charts as reasonably deep, there is no room for anchoring inside this small harbour, and it is entirely exposed to the elements.

Avana Harbour

The Mooring near Avana

This harbour is generally only used as a bolt-hole in the case of strong northerly winds. Although there are no charts, a vessel of 1.8m draft or so should be able to make the entrance at high tide with a local guide. There is an excellent fish cafe on the beach which does a highly recommended fish sandwich.


There is no free anchoring at Rarotonga, except for berthing in the main harbour at Avatiu.

Yacht Services and Repairs

Marine Stores

There are no ships chandleries as such, however a number of stores have supplies that will be of some use.

  • CITC Building Supplies, directly across the road from Avatiu Harbour
  • Vonnia's Warehouse, on a side street off the main road towards Avarua
  • Jaycar have an outlet about 1km west of Avatiu harbour
  • 2 or 3 motor supply places around Avatiu or Avarua will supply oils, filters, lubricants, etc.

Gas bottle refils (butane only) are available from Origin Energy at Avatiu. When facing the port from the main road, there is a small service road to your right, this forks into two roads, one going to the main loading/unloading docks, and a smaller one to the right which goes around the back of the docks. Origin Energy are at the end of this smaller road. They are open 7 days per week and will fill a bottle on the spot.


About the only yacht repairs available are via Keith Christian of Sail Rarotonga. See below under Cruisers Friends.

Fuel, Water, & Electricity

Diesel and Petrol are available at a service station across the road from the main harbour at Avatiu
Water is available from a tap behind the Palace Takeaway restaurant, adjacent to the harbour at Avatiu. A long hose will be needed. Opinions vary as to the quality of this water but I have found it to be quite drinkable.
There is no electricity available in the main harbour at Avatiu but for short periods there is some at the inner (fishing boat) harbour. Pulling alongside the wharf between the main harbour and the inner harbour can be arranged -- speak to Keith Christian listed under Cruisers Friends.

Things to do Ashore


Rarotonga's largest income earner is tourism, and there are a large number of things to do ashore. Check out the information office in the centre of Avarua for the latest details, but there are a number of things on offer including:

  • Te Vara Nui over water night show.
  • Edgewater Resort and Pacific Resort also offer island feast / cultural show nights.
  • Cook Islands Whale & Wildlife Centre
  • Koka Lagoon Cruises
  • Captain Tama's lagoon cruise, at Avana (Muri Beach).
  • Fishing charters including Reel Time, Wahoo Fishing, and others (check at the fishing harbour near Avatiu port).
  • Coconut Jungle Quad Bike tours.

Grocery & Supply Stores

  • Foodland Avarua is on the main watefront road in Avarua, approx 1.5km east of Avatiu harbour.
  • The larger CITC supermarket is approximately 500m east of Avatiu harbour on the main waterfront road.
  • Prime Foods outlet in town has meats and fruit/vegetables often available at discount prices.
  • The Punanga Nui market operates next to Avatiu harbour on Saturday mornings. It is well worth visiting for fruit and vegetables, as well as the island market experience.


There are lots of places to eat in Rarotonga, all catering for some combination of the local and tourist trade. Sites such as Tripadvisor can be relied on to give reviews of them all but here are a few:

  • There are a few small eateries near the port, offering various value meals, mostly based on the local favourites of Fish and Chips, Burger and Chips, etc. Palace Takeaways (adjacent) is the closest, Sea Salt is across the road. Opinions vary as to the quality of each but both do a reasonable fish and chips, and Palace has a $3.50 burger deal on Wednesdays.
  • There are a range of small cafes, bar and grill, etc, in Avarua.
  • Bamboo Jacks, a little further past Trader Jacks on the main road does good asian meals.
  • Further around the island road there is the village of Muri which caters for the tourist trade. Places such as La Casita (mexican) and The Rickshaw (vietnamese/asian) can be relied on for good meals. There is also a food market about 4 nights per week in Muri, get there early as most of the eateries there tend to sell out by about 7:30pm
  • Kikau Hut, on the western side of the island has a well deserved reputation of having the best meals on the island.
  • Almost as good would be the Islander Hotel, just across the road from the airport, formerly known as Club Aquarius. Service here is good and friendly, with a happy hour from 4pm - 6pm.
  • Another good place for meals, including a dinner-and-show on Thursday and Friday nights, is the Staircase Bar.
  • Trader Jacks has a completely undeserved reputation as having the best pizzas on the island -- they don't, and the service is often either poor or non-existent. Better pizzas and meals are available at The Islander hotel.


  • There are various wifi hotspots in Avarua, including a couple of internet cafes
  • For those who have a 3G mobile phone or device supporting a local hotspot, Telecom Cook Islands does a reasonably good deal on prepaid 3G mobile data plans. Expect to pay around $NZ50 for 1GB of download data. SIM cards and top ups can be purchased from Teleshop at the CITC mall in Avarua.


  • Snowbird operate a laundry service in Avarua, their outlet can be hard to find as it's a couple of streets back from the main waterfront road. A load cost NZ$12 including washing, drying and folding
  • Some guest houses and similar operate their own laundry services

Motorbike & Car Rentals

There are many motorbike and car hire places dotted along the road near Avatiu and Avarua, as well as elsewhere on the island. Prices range from $50 down to $15 or less per day, depending on the vehicle or bike.

  • The two places nearest the harbour, Raro Cars and Islander Rentals, both do reasonably cheap vehicles
  • Avis in Avarua often has specials (but is further to walk to collect or drop off).
  • Polynesian Rentals, half way between the harbour and Avarua, is a bit more expensive than either of the above but the vehicles are newer and more reliable.

Garbage Disposal

  • There is a garbage bin (wire mesh frame) near the main harbour in Avatiu.
  • Elsewhere around the island rubbish can be separated into recyclables and non-recyclables and deposited in the appropriate bins.


There is a bus route that circles the island in each direction, running hourly until approximately 11pm on weeknights.


Sail Rarotonga

Keith Christian
Sail Rarotonga Ltd
P.O. Box 30, Avarua, Rarotonga
Tel:+682 74919 (Raro)

Keith has a workshop not too far from the harbour at Avatiu and can be contacted regarding repairs of all types. He also has haul out facilities -- trailer and tractor type, but vessels up to 1.8m draft and 30 tonnes can be lifted, along with a storage yard for larger or longer term repairs. Ask around at the wharf or the fishing harbour to find Keith.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



See Cook Islands.


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