Read all about moving to Rarotonga, Cook Islands, through the experiences of the Steiner family.  Sarah Steiner joined Apii Nikao’s Early Childhood Education class as a teacher in 2020.

Moving to Rarotonga, Cook Islands: Everything you need to know!


Employees (and family member)recruited from overseas are required to apply for a work permit with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.  This involves completing a health clearance check/certification and a police clearance check/certification which must be completed before travelling to the Cook Islands.  Click on the following link for more information:


Visitors will NOT need an entry permit if they intend to stay in the Cook Islands for less than 31 days. For more information please click on the link

Health and dental services


Cook Islanders enjoy a reasonable quality health care.  The  main hospital on Rarotonga can treat most conditions (illnesses and accidents) and when local treatment is not possible the Health Ministry has a patient referrel system with Nselected New Zealand healthcare providers. Outpatient services are available from the main hospital (Nikao) or at the Health Clinic in Tupapa.  Several private medical practitioners also provide health care.  Most outer islands have a resident doctor, nurse and a small hospital and are equipped to manage the treatment of common illnesses and health problems, more serious case are referred to Rarotonga.  There is a Public Health Section of the Ministry of Health and they conduct periodic checks of all households (‘tutaka’) to ensure environmental issues are porperly addressed by home owners.


The provision of dental services is similar to health care services.  On Rarotnga a full range of dental services are available from the  Ministry of Health’s Dental Clinic located at Tupapa or from several private dentist.  Free dental care is available in schools for school children.  In the outer islands dental services are more limited and patients may need to be referred to Rarotonga if  complications arise.


The Ministry of Health charges expatriate employees and their families consultation fees, prescription fees and hospitalisation costs at a rate separate from residents.  For those employees on direct recruitment contract, the Ministry of Education will meet the cost of A & E and hospital care.

How do I get about the islands?

The island isn’t big so most people travel to work on scooters (about $3000 for a new one). Cars (between $NZ12,000 – $NZ40,000) are better for when it starts to rain. Petrol (about $2.00 per litre)is quite expensive in the islands nut since there are no great distances to travel it shouldn’t be too bad.

What is there to do?


Public white sand beaches are located on the eastern, southern and western side of Rarotonga with ample sea life in the lagoon to keep one occupied snorkelling or enjoying the beaches.  A coral reef surrounds the whole island and acts as a breaker for the Pacific swells.  There are some spots popular with local surfers.


Rarotonga has an excellent selection of restaurants and take-away outlets. “Island nights” (loacl food and dance show at several hotels and restaurants are popular with both visitors and locals alike.


On Rarotonga a wide range of sports and activities are available – golf, sailing, cycling, athletics, canoeing, deep sea fishing, rugby (union and league), netball, triathlon, soccer, snorkelling, diving and indoor games etc. The local library has a good selection of books.  The outer islands, with less population, cannot provide the same range of activities as is available on Rarotonga.  However most sports, golg and sea fishing are available on Aitutaki.


There are a range of clothing, arts and crafts outlets on Rarotonga with a several medium to small sized supermarkets and village stores catering for your grocery needs.  The Saturday morning ‘Punanganui Market’ day is where you can buy local fresh produce to last the week; food, arts and craft stalls sell a range of products.  On the outer islands there are small village shops supplying mainly grocery items and fresh porduce when available.


There is a local TV station that is free to air on most islands. On Rarotonga “Sky” TV is available for about $60 a month. Installation costs are quite steep though. Most people rent movies from the numerous video outlets and you can get a membership usually for free. There is one Cinema, the Empire Theater on Rarotonga

Whats the weather like?

Warm. June to August are the cooler months, whilst November to March marks the warmer season, with occasional tropical showers.

The drier months from April to November have an average temperature of about 26°C, whilst the warmer more humid and damp season runs from December to March. During this season the temperature ranges between 22°C and 32°C.

What currency is used?

The denomination of currency used in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar (NZ$). Westpac, Bank of Cook Islands (BCI) and ANZ Bank in Avarua are open Monday to Friday 9:00am – 3:00pm and Saturday mornings. The exchange rate for the dollar is about $NZD1.00 – $USD0.65

Whats the culture like?

Its great. Cook Islanders excel in both the Performing and Visual Arts. During the Constitution Celebrations dance teams from most outer islands travel to Rarotonga and with teams from Rarotonga perform vibrant drum dances, hip swinging action songs, imene tukis, utes and traditional legends.

Hand-made high quality traditional costumes and harmonious and fervent singing add further dimensions to a spectacular display at the National Auditorium.

A number of local artists and carvers contribute to the country’s cultural diversity through the visual arts medium. Local art galleries hold regular displays of work by well-known artists and sculptors. Traditional tivaevae (quilt) sewing using pulsating tropical fabrics adds yet a further dimension to the culture.

Where can I stay?

A range of private houses (usually 2 to 4 bedrooms) are available for rent on Rarotonga. Weekly rental prices depend on the location and size of the house and range from $180 to $450+ per week. Most houses are rented fully furnished. Rarotonga homes have a weekly rubbish collection service – rubbish should be separated out for recycling. This service may not be provided on some outer islands

In the outer islands house rentals are substantially lower – in some cases the house may be only partially furnished.


The mountainous inland areas of Rarotonga serve as the water catchment supplying water to underground water galleries or open weirs. Water is reticulated to nearly all homes, but during the dry season low pressure at some higher level homes may not be sufficient to maintain supply. These homes often have their own catchment system. There is no water treatment plant and so water is not as clean as you may be used to.

It is strongly advised to BOIL drinking water (or purchase treated water from shops) and ensure the house has an outside water filter to catch sediment. In the outer islands water is obtained from either an underground bore (Aitutaki and Mitiaro, and this is usually brackish) or village roof catchments (Atiu, Mauke, Mangaia)