On the outskirts of Avarua lies the most prominent of the island's sacred marae sites. The pre-European ceremonial spot, consisting of stone structures, formed a koutu, or royal court, where the investiture of chiefs took place.
Various festivals take place throughout the year. These are generally celebrated with singing and dancing, often with a strange mixture of traditional ritual grafted on to the somewhat later Christian music and ceremony. The choirs of the Cook Islands are renowned.
Excursions are available. Visitors can also watch flying fish being netted at night in outrigger canoes equipped with bright lights. Aitutaki's magnificent 50 sq km (19 sq mile) lagoon is suitable for fly and bait fishing. It holds the world all-tackle record (the heaviest fish caught of a particular species) for Hump Head Maori Wrasse.
Also known as Wigmore's Waterfall, this is the only waterfall on Rarotonga and situated at Vaimaanga. A popular way for tourists to visit the falls is on one of the numerous organised pony treks.
Of Rarotonga's 13 marked trains, the most popular include the Cross Island Trek (along trails known to be ancestral war paths); Pa's Mountain Walk (through the lush interior); Te Kou Trek (with steep ascents and great views); and the Ikurangi Trek (for experienced hikers only, also providing rock climbing opportunities around the top of the mountain). Guided lagoon reef walks are possible at low tide along Rarotonga's coral fringe.
Takamoa Mission House and Palace of Makea
Built in 1842, Takamoa Mission House in Avarua is believed to be the second-oldest building in the South Pacific. The old Palace of Makea is found at Taputapuatea, also in Avarua.
Takuvaine and Avatiu Valleys
Scenic drives into the Takuvaine and Avatiu Valleys offer a panorama of lush tropical scenery. Head inland at Avatiu Harbour for a beautiful, scenic excursion, and find maximum tranquillity along The Happy Valley Road in Takuvaine.
This two storey structure made from coral and lime is situated in the village Arorangi on Rarotonga's west coast. It was built by the British and the name, Au Maru, means 'The Peace Brought by Christianity'.
Tours include inland trekking, historical tours, guided walks, sightseeing by air, and horse-drawn and motorised excursions. Kayaking tours in the lagoon are also available, as are lagoon cruises to the coral reefs in glass-bottomed boats or semi-submersible vessels. A 'cultural village tour' offers the opportunity to enjoy demonstrations in traditions such as weaving, coconut husking, fire making, and carving.
Scuba-diving and snorkelling are excellent; visibility is seldom under 30m (100ft) and scenery varied, with canyons, caves, 73 types of live coral and plentiful marine life. Impressive dive sites include the Matavera Drop-off; the Ngatangiia Swimthroughs; Koromiri Coral Garden; Mataora Wreck; Papua Canyon, and Sand River.
The humpback whale season is from July to October. In addition to observing the whales from a boat, it is possible to swim with them wearing a snorkel.