Rarotonga, Cook Islands is like time traveling back to an island paradise circa 1920s. Without a single stoplight or chain store, its unadulterated Polynesian-vibe is rustic-chic with rich Maori culture still very much intact. Although Rarotonga is small (largest population of the 15 Cook Islands stands at 13,000 people), there’s niche nightlife galore, plus friendly locals who are welcoming of visitors. Home to one of world’s coolest beach bars, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot, and a Friday night party bus — those are just a few of the South Pacific-style surprises in store.
Since it’s only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day!
Nauti Bar at the Nautilus Hotel
When you’re ready to peel yourself away from the beach and go out for a dressy drink on the town, head to this bar at the Nautilus Hotel, the island’s newest luxury hotel which opened in September, for some swanky sunset cocktails. At the Nauti Bar, overlooking the incandescent blue pool and Muri beach, check out the OO6 & 5/8th martini made with fresh fruit ice cream or the Fire Dancer of rum, cognac and port. Other sweet sundowner hotel bars with epic ocean views (and happy hours!) include Beaches Bar at Manuia Resort and Pacific Resort’s toes-in-the-sand Barefoot Bar. And for the ultimate romantic rendezvous, charter a private sunset cruise with Pacific Voyagers aboard Marumaru Atua, a Polynesian ocean kayak navigated by nature, such as stars, wind and birds.
The name of this bar is very telling of the vibe here. It’s pretty much whatever goes. Head to the second floor for amazing ocean views, a Whatever! shot of up to four different spirits and an eclectic mix of pop and Polynesian tunes. It’s chill in the daytime, but at night, especially on Fridays, the scene is stellar with live music and dancing barefoot on the rooftop. Trader Jack’s, the iconic local hangout located next to Whatever!, is worth a visit too.
Ask a local which is the best distillery on the island and they’ll probably point you in the direction of Matutu Brewery, the only Cook Island beer and a worthy excursion. But, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll notice a handwritten chalkboard sign on the side of the road that reads “Banana Wine Tasting.” Up the road on the left is Koteka Winery, a.k.a. Dr. George Koteka’s house, which is lined to the roof with recycled wine bottles. Tour the one-room, mad scientist-looking distillery and sample banana vodka or wine, lychee vodka, and coconut chili liqueur.
Hop on the party bus to experience the island’s wildest night of the week. Bars stay open until midnight every night (even Saturdays), except for Friday—last call at 2 am. With 34 of your new found friends (mostly from Australia and New Zealand) aboard a bus tricked out with lights and music, you’ll stop at all of Raro’s best bars and nightclubs. The bus will pick you up/drop off at your hotel; tour is from 6 pm – 1 am and includes one cocktail.
Ever felt like checking out of the city hustle and opening a beachside bar on a far away island? This bar might be exactly as you imagined it: A joke-cracking bartender/owner, hammocks on the beach, ‘magic’ cocktails served in recycled jam jars, and a mean surf-and-turf BBQ. It’s no wonder CNN voted it #3 of the world’s 50 best beach bars.