Could there be two more impossibly remote islands in the South Pacific? Rarotonga and Fiji are the desert islands of your dreams–far flung locations with lush tropical vegetation, powder-soft sandy beaches and surrounded by nothing but sea.
An extinct volcano which rises 5,000 metres from the seafloor, Rarotonga is the largest island of the 15 Cook Islands, a Polynesian nation in the South Pacific halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Inland, it’s all about densely forested hills and deep valleys, while its numerous white sand beaches are flanked by a fringing shallow reef that attracts colorful marine life.
Just over 2,000km to the west of the Cook Islands lies Fiji, a Melanesian island nation comprising more than 300 islands and 540 islets in the South Pacific. Fiji is a castaway’s dream, renowned for its diving and snorkeling, pristine beaches and charming people.
So while Rarotonga and Fiji share plenty of similarities with iconic beaches, warm waters and remote locations, there are some big differences between the two. Read on to find out more about Rarotonga vs Fiji.
THINGS TO DO IN RAROTONGA VS FIJI
With a population of just under 20,000 compared to more than 900,000 in Fiji, Rarotonga is the smaller destination of the two.
This means there’s slightly less going on when it comes to excursions, but on the plus side you’ll find it’s less built up, there are less visitors and you’ll feel as if you have the beaches to yourselves.
Dominated by the volcanic peaks, ridges and rainforest in its centre, a 32km round-the-island road links Rarotonga’s beaches, coastal lagoon and reefs making snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, swimming and kayaking really popular activities here.
Some of the best beaches to visit include Muri Beach – a hub for water sports – Titikaveka, Aroa Beach and Marine Reserve and Black Rock Beach.
On land, there are hikes through the island’s jungle-clad centre, such as the cross-island track, a rugged hiking trail that passes 650m TeRua Manga peak or ‘The Needle’, one of Rarotonga’s most famous landmarks.
Rarotonga’s laid-back capital of Avarua, on the north coast, offers bustling markets and restaurants, and a place to hire scooters and cars to explore the island. The Punanga Nui Market in Avarua is a buzzing spot to pick up some of the locally made handicrafts such as wood carvings and basket weaving.
There’s also the Te Ara Cook Islands Museum of Enterprise in Muri which houses exhibits into the culture and history of these islands, plus a gift shop stocked with products from local artists, makers and growers.
One of the most popular excursions from Rarotonga is to Aitutaki, an ‘almost atoll’ that is dotted with 21 tiny palm-fringed islets, or motu, with its beautiful lagoon being the star attraction.
To reach Aitutaki, it’s a 50-minute flight from Rarotonga International Airport on a small aircraft – an experience in itself as you fly over the turquoise waters of the reefs and lagoons below.
Once there, you’ll have a tour of the island followed by a catamaran cruise to several motu (small islets) including the equally adorably-named One Foot Island.
As the larger island or archipelago – there are 333 islands to be exact and a further 540 islets to visit – there is much more to do in Fiji vs Rarotonga.Plus Fiji’s outlying islands are all relatively close to the main island of Viti Levu which means they’re easy to get to and perfect for island hopping.
When it comes to beaches, Fiji has plenty that can rival those of Rarotonga in terms of beauty and remoteness. If you’re a fan of the US castaway reality TV show Survivor, then you may recognise some of the stunning beaches of the Mamanuca Islands, which were filmed in man of the show’s series. These islands are also home to some of the best surf breaks in the world, including Cloudbreak, off Tavarua Island.
Another chain of islands with remote beaches to rival those of Rarotonga is theYasawa Islands, northwest of Viti Levu. These unspoiled islands really do represent the true Robinson Crusoe style fantasy of a tropical island – palm-studded white-sand beaches, jungle-cloaked hills surrounded by shallow turquoise waters peppered with coral reefs.
Things to do in the Yasawa Islands include snorkeling, scuba diving excursions, kayaking, fishing, stand-up-paddle-boarding, swimming, horse-riding, mountain biking and trekking – the list of activities is endless. The marine life in the Yasawa Islands is second to none and you do snorkel with clownfish, manta rays, turtles and sharks and dive through caverns and swim-throughs.
The natural beauty of the Yasawa Islands has also earned them appearances on Hollywood movie sets and reality TV shows, in particular the awe-inspiring Sawa-i-Lau caves, a series of half-submerged limestone caverns where you can swim with manta rays and discover mesmerising coral gardens. The main attraction here are the beautiful saltwater caves, made famous by the Hollywood movie The Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields.
Many of the islands in the Yasawa Islands archipelago are home to just one resort, like the privately owned Turtle Island, perfect for honeymooners and couples seeking privacy and seclusion.
Turtle Island is a natural paradise and the overriding ‘welcome home’ ethos that greets all guests has been a tradition since 1972 when the island’s owner, the late American entrepreneur and eco-visionary Richard Evanson purchased the island and made it his home.
Now managed by his son Richard Evanson Jr and a passionate 100-strong team of local Fijians, they honor and nurture the land and local culture ensuring the resorts continues championing sustainability and the ‘welcome home’ ethos it has become famous for.
Away from its beaches, Fiji’s size means there’s plenty to do – for both couples and families. Fiji’s lush interior is packed with hiking tracks and mountain biking trails that make for a great day out exploring. On TaveuniIsland, the third largest in Fiji, you can hike through the rainforest at Bouma National Park and head to the towering Tavoro Falls, a group of three waterfalls surrounded by wildlife including many colorful species of parrot.
Fiji’s highest peak is Mount Tomanivi on Viti Levu which at 1,324 metres towers over the highest peak on the Cook Islands. The hike is not for the faint hearted, but it will be worth it with views across Fiji and the South Pacific.
RAROTONGA OR FIJI FOR COUPLES
With their remoteness, picture-perfect unspoilt beaches and year-round warmth, it’s no surprise that Rarotonga and Fiji are firm favourites with couples – especially those on honeymoon. It’s hard to think of a better destination in which to completely relax and unwind after the build up to the big day. There’s even an aptly-named Honeymoon Beach on Turtle Island Fiji.
Many of the hotels and resorts in Rarotonga or Fiji will be for couples only, with activities to suit – think private candlelit dinners for two, exclusive beach picnics and snorkeling and diving excursions for adults only.
RAROTONGA OR FIJI FOR FAMILIES
Not just destinations for couples and romance, Rarotonga and Fiji both have a very strong connection to family and the importance of spending time together. You’ll be welcomed with open arms and a friendly ‘bula’ in Fiji and the nightly entertainment will get the whole family taking part in traditional dancing.
Rarotonga and Fiji’s islands are safe playgrounds for kids, with plenty of activities to keep them from even thinking about their screens, including snorkeling, swimming and sailing. They’ll enjoy the simple pleasures of splashing about in the warm waters and being fussed over by the all-embracing warmth of the Fijians and the Cook Islanders.
Some resorts that are exclusively for couples only also welcome families during certain weeks of the year, including Turtle Island Resort and its special Family Time weeks where activities range from plenty of swimming and water activities, to crafts and games.
On Family Time at Turtle Island every child aged five and under has their own nanny, while children aged six and above have their own ‘Bula Buddy’ as a companion and playmate. This means you – the parents – can relax and know your kids are having a whale of a time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT RAROTONGA AND FIJI
In South Pacific terms Rarotonga and Fiji are practically neighbors with just over 2,000km between them, so you can expect relatively similar weather.
The best time to visit Rarotonga or Fiji is in winter and early spring, from May to October, which coincides with the dry season. During these months you’ll have that unbeatable combination of warmth and sunshine allowing you to enjoy endless water activities.
EXPLORE TURTLE ISLAND FIJI
Whether you’re traveling with your significant other or as a family, you’ll enjoy the feel of untouched paradise that is Turtle Island Resort. With 500 acres of lush forests to explore and 12 private beaches, you’ll feel as if this private island is your own.
Get in touch today to start planning your next luxury vacation to Turtle Island Resort.