Atupa Orchid Units, on the Ara Metua just west of town, is run by a German woman named Ingrid Caffery who has been in the Cook Islands since 1970. There are nine rooms in four screened houses in a garden setting, each house with its own cooking facilities and hot water. Prices vary depending on whether you take a clean budget room with shared bath or a one/two-bedroom bungalow. It's quiet and comfortable, and central Avarua is an easy 10-minute walk away. Atupa Orchid is perfect if you want a budget place that is not overrun by young Australian backpackers.
The Are Renga Motel at Arorangi was one of the first budget motels to appear on Rarotonga. It has 20 simple thin-walled units with well-equipped kitchens. The quality varies, so ask to see another room if the first one you're shown isn't to your liking. Beware of rooms with open ventilation spaces near the ceiling, as these let in every sound from adjacent rooms. The Are Renga offers a reduced "backpacker's rate" in six shared double rooms. Airport transfers are free when you arrive, but extra when you leave.
Like Vara's Budget Accommodation at Muri Beach, Rarotonga Backpackers has both hillside and beachside sections. The newer beachside section next to The Art Studio on the Ara Tapu has one four-bed dorm, two single rooms with shared bath, six doubles, and four beachfront units with private bath. There's also a four-person beach house in another location nearby. The managers of Rarotonga Backpackers are often at the beachside unit and the hillside section tends to be abandoned most of the time. It's better to pay a few dollars more to stay at the beachside section, which is always crowded with young travelers.
Papa Rau's Guesthouse is a new place to stay on the south coast just east of Palm Grove Lodges. The five rooms with shared bath are in a wooden building. A common kitchen and lounge are provided, and internet access is available. A beautiful white sand beach is just across the road.
Maiana Guesthouse, next to the Saltwater Café, has five double rooms, three triple rooms, and one seven-bed dorm (no children under 12 please). The beach bungalow is more expensive. A common kitchen and fridge are provided. It's rather dreary but a white sandy beach is across the road.
One of the best established backpacker places is the Aremango Guesthouse, just 50 meters from Muri Beach, south of Vara's Budget Accommodation. There are nine spacious fan-cooled rooms with shared bath (children under the age of 10 are not accepted). Communal cooking facilities are available and lockable cupboards for groceries are provided.
Vara's Budget Accommodation, on the south side of the Muri Beachcomber, consists of two distinct sections. The beach complex includes several wooden buildings and a newer two-story block containing a mix of double rooms, upscale studios, and squashy dorms. Four hundred meters up the hillside are a "villa," "cottage," "apartment," and "lodge" with lots more rooms and dorms. Prices vary for a nine-bed dorm, double with shared bath, double with private bath, or double in a studio. Both sections cost the same with a surcharge payable by those staying fewer than three nights. The hillside accommodations are quieter, but Vara's is definitely for the backpacker who doesn't mind living in close quarters with lots of other backpackers. Watch where you leave your valuables if you stay in the dorm (some of your fellow travelers may be thieves). The fabulous beach draws people here, and all guests have access to laundry facilities (extra charge), communal cooking facilities (a small grocery store is nearby), and cold showers. Baggage storage is extra. Vara's office (Mon.-Sat. 0900-1500, Sat. 0900-1300, Sun. 1000-1300) is in the beach section. If you want a double room, you should definitely reserve (no credit card number is required, and ***it overbooks to compensate for no-shows, so a reservation doesn't always guarantee a room). You'll get a free transfer upon arrival, but pay a fee to go back to the airport.