There's lots to do in Rarotonga

By Jim Eagles

* Visit Highland Paradise, high on the volcanic slopes, to see where the Tinomana people of the western side lived before the missionaries persuaded them to move to the coast.

* Tour the Cook Islands Cultural Village, where you can see demonstrations of crafts, sample island food and enjoy traditional dancing.

* Go to a church service and enjoy a cup of tea with the people afterwards ... but don't be late.

* Hire a motorscooter or car and circumnavigate the island twice, once by the inner road to get a taste of how the people live, see carving shops and baby pigs, half-finished houses and noni plantations; and once by the coastal road to see all the resorts and beautiful beaches, plus the growing number of art galleries and craft shops, of which my favourite was the Beachcomber in Avarua.

* Visit Punanga Nui market, on the outskirts of Avarua, especially on Saturday morning when it is buzzing with activity.

* Forget about the glass-bottom boats and submarines, hire a snorkel and reef shoes for about $10 a day and see the lagoon life for yourself. The two best spots are probably the southeast corner, opposite Fruits of Rarotonga, and the southwest corner, in front of the Dive Centre. Even off the Edgewater resort, where I stayed, there were lots of pretty fish.

* Sample the local beers Cook Islands Lager and Vaka lager. For something different you could try the Tumunu with its wisecracking Welsh barman who once played rugby for the North Shore Club in Auckland. And if you get a chance try some bush beer.

* Attend one of the island nights for the dancing, arguably the most beautiful and sensuous in the Pacific, and the traditional banquet. Locals all told me the Edgewater's dance group was the best.

* Do the cross-island walk, from the Avatiu Valley via the volcanic spire called the Needle to Whigmore's Waterfall. It might be wise to use a guide, of whom the most famous is the blond dreadlocked Pa.

* Enjoy some of the excellent restaurants. The best meal I had was at the Windjammer - a delicious spicy octopus entree and a superb broadbill steak.

With all that on offer you'll easily understand why I was very laid-back when one of the pre-booked tours was cancelled at the last minute.

But don't try to do too much. You do need to allow a bit of time for lolling in the sun.

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