Shandelle Battersby’s tried-and-tested guide to the Cook Islands’ best cuisine.

Here at Herald Travel we like to eat. And we spend a lot of our time when we're out on assignment asking locals where they recommend you spend your limited dining time in a destination. We've just been on the tiny island of Rarotonga, where there are scores of eating options, so here are a few we visited and can recommend. You're welcome.

You can dine with your toes in the sand at Vaima, an intimate restaurant in Vaimaanga on the south side of the island, or while watching the sun go down at Waterline on the west. Vaima is owned by a couple of Scots, Dorothy and Cameron Robertson, who hail from the Isle of Arran, and who had to rebuild their restaurant after a devastating fire in 2014; while Waterline, recommended by a local for its live music and intimate atmosphere, is run by Chris and Akisi Mussell. There's indoor and deck seating at both.;
Down at Avarua Harbour, right where the fishing boats come in, you'll find a local institution, The Mooring, in a converted shipping container. On the menu are a range of delicious salads or sandwiches in fresh Turkish bread or a wrap, served casually on a large leaf-covered wooden tray and best enjoyed out in the fresh air overlooking the harbour. Try: The FOB (Fresh off the Boat) sandwich - crumbed mahi mahi fish with lime mayo ($13).


This is the onsite fine-dining restaurant of the swish Nautilus Resort at Muri, run by another Kiwi chef, Michael Fosbender. Its menu features Polynesian-influenced dishes using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Sit inside the sophisticated restaurant or outside on the patio overlooking the lagoon and infinity pool.



This restaurant, which specialises in creative, Pacific Rim cuisine, is at the Sunset Resort in Arorangi near the airport, and is run by Tony Bullivant, an expat Kiwi, who has been cooking and running eateries in the Cooks for years. The open-air restaurant is set among tropical gardens near the resort's pool, and it often features live music. Try: The smoked marlin bruschetta and the ika mata.


Eating out can be a little on the expensive side on Raro, so to give your wallet a break, check out the Muri Night Market from Tuesday-Thursday and Sundays, or the Punanga Nui Market at Avarua from Monday-Saturday, for cheap and cheerful market fodder and a great atmosphere. Or you could choose to stop at one of the many roadside food stalls for fruit, veges or coconuts.

Another option is to combine an activity with a meal. Captain Tama and Koka lagoon cruises include a barbecue lunch, and the Te Vara Nui Village and Highland Paradise night shows offer a feast as part of the ticket price.

Drink local

You'll come across a beer on the island you probably haven't seen before - and for a very good reason. James Puati and Eric Newnham started Matutu Brewing 10 years ago, after buying a set-up outgrown by Tuatara here in New Zealand.

The pair knew very little about making beer - "we knew how to drink it" - but knew what they wanted, and after a few lessons and a bit of fine-tuning, Mai Lager and Kiva Pale Ale were born.

James Puati and Eric Newnham started Matutu Brewing 10 years ago, after buying a set-up outgrown by Tuatara here in New Zealand.
James Puati and Eric Newnham started Matutu Brewing 10 years ago, after buying a set-up outgrown by Tuatara here in New Zealand.

These days, the brewery employs four people out of its premises in Tikioki to handcraft the two mainstay beers and others for special occasions, such as the Maeva Ale, a medal-winning brew created to mark last year's 50th anniversary of self-governance.

A humble sign on the road announces hour-long tours on site twice a day at 12pm and 1pm for $10, where Puati goes through the history and production process while you sample the beer. In the background is a repetitive hissing - the sound of the bottles being filled and capped by hand in a chiller out the back.

And the reason you won't see the beer on these shores? Because Matutu is made with no additives or preservatives, it must be kept chilled at all times, and only has a shelf life of up to two months.

You'll find it at most eateries and bars on the island though, so keep an eye out for its distinctive turtle-shell shaped logo.



Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Rarotonga from Auckland six times a week. One-way Economy fares start at $298.


Have we missed any great eateries in Raro? Email us at