Where to find the best spots for beachside cocktails and the freshest local produce on this popular Pacific island.

BREAKFAST

You can still get your Kiwi coffee fix at The Waffle Shack. Photo / Facebook
You can still get your Kiwi coffee fix at The Waffle Shack. Photo / Facebook

It may be hot, you may be spoilt for choice with fresh tropical juice, but if you're a typical Kiwi you'll still want to start your day with a good old flat white - and you'll find one at The Waffle Shack. Set up in the Punanga Nui Markets, it'd be rude not to make a meal of it and order a plate of waffles too. Laden with fresh paw paw, banana and coconut, it's a delicious holiday breakfast and just one of the drawcards at these local markets. Roll on out of the shack and walk off your waffles by perusing the stalls filled with beautiful handmade crafts. It's here you'll likely come across star fruit for sale too. Shaped like their namesake once sliced, they're a piquant yellow fruit that grows in abundance here. Try them on their own or sliced over vanilla icecream.

FRESH FISH TO GO

If you're a fiend for sashimi or fish at its freshest, stop in at Ocean Fresh. Located in Panama, near the airport, this is a favourite among locals for tuna, marlin, swordfish and mahi mahi. You can take food up to Rarotonga, so pack pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, buy a chunk of fresh fish en route to your resort and serve it up on your villa's veranda. It goes down a treat with a cold bottle of Matutu, the island's best local craft beer.

GARDEN OF CHEESECAKE

The famed cheesecake at Maire Nui Botanical Gardens and Cafe. Photo / Facebook
The famed cheesecake at Maire Nui Botanical Gardens and Cafe. Photo / Facebook

For a change from all that "awful" beachside scenery, you'll find green reprieve in the lush setting of Maire Nui Botanical Gardens and Cafe. Located in Titikaveka on the south coast, it's the home of Rarotonga's famous lemon meringue cheesecake. Savour this tart delight amid cool palms, hot pink tropical blooms and the odd wily rooster.

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LUNCH AT A LOCAL ICON

Trader Jack's serves smoked marlin and an array of seafood. Photo / traderjackscookislands.com
Trader Jack's serves smoked marlin and an array of seafood. Photo / traderjackscookislands.com

If you've tried smoked marlin in New Zealand, it's likely been thanks to a generous angler. While it's not available on the commercial market here, you'll find it on the menu at Trader Jack's served in a salad with local paw paw dressing. Take a table outside, overlooking the impossibly clear water, and watch local kids jumping off the wharf into the Avarua harbour. An iconic spot on the island, Trader Jack's is run by a tenacious set: since it was established in 1986 it's been battered by three cyclones and rebuilt each time.

SUNSET COCKTAILS ON THE BEACH

Watch the sunset on the beach, with a fruity cocktail in hand. Photo / Getty Images
Watch the sunset on the beach, with a fruity cocktail in hand. Photo / Getty Images

Vaima's Polynesian Bar and Restaurant is the spot for watching that hot Rarotongan sun turn the sky pink and melt into the blue. Flanked by coconut trees, Vaima's has tables right on the beach. So with your feet in the sand, palm trees overhead and a punchy fruit sipper in hand, this place is perfect for whiling away a tropical island evening.

- Rebecca Blithe