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Visiting the Cook Islands: Everything You Need To Know

Visiting the Cook Islands: Everything You Need To Know

A trip to some tropical islands in the middle of the ocean is usually on the top of every traveler’s list. Overwater bungalows from Fiji, Bora Bora, or the Maldives are always being featured in various magazines constantly reminding people of their future honeymoon spots.

But there are many other less publicized tropical islands that are equally beautiful and worth your time. I dreamed of visiting Fiji since I saw the movie Blue Lagoon as a kid and my dreams came true in 2014. However, on my first trip to the island paradise I also paid a visit to the Cook Islands and was blown away. 

Why Did I Choose the Cook Islands?

When a friend showed me her photos from the Cook Islands I was hooked. The beach seemed amazing, the water was clear, and the place didn’t seem anywhere near as popular as Fiji

When I was given the choice between Fiji and the Cook Islands on my RTW flight, I decided to go for the second option.

As my friend and I only had a week and I wasn’t willing to spend a lot of money for an additional flight, we decided to stay only in Rarotonga. Because the Cook Islands aren’t as touristic as Fiji, transportation between the islands is neither easy or cheap. A flight to Rarotonga from Auckland costs approximately $350 and for a 30-minute local flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki (the most beautiful island in the archipelago) you might end up spending the same amount if not more. 

Things You Should Know about the Cook Islands

  • The Cook Islands are an independent territory of New Zealand but not a sovereign nation
  • Located just 3.5 hours by plane from Auckland, the islands are probably the most popular destination for weddings and honeymoons for Kiwis, but they also welcome hundreds of international visitors every year. 
  • You can only fly internationally to Rarotonga, the capital city and island, and if you’re willing to visit some other beautiful islands of the archipelago (and you definitely should!), you can take a local flight from there.
  • Most nationalities receive a free visa on arrival, but remember to have NZ$72 in cash to pay your departure tax or you might get stuck on the island.
  • The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand Dollar, but they produce their own version of the $2 coin which is shaped like a triangle, how cool is that! However, the triangular coins are disappearing from the islands because many tourists like to keep them as souvenirs. I’m guilty of this as well 😉
  • The circumference of Rarotonga is only 32 km (20 miles) so there are only two bus lines: clockwise and counter-clockwise.
  • If you’re flying to the Cook Islands from Auckland you gain an extra day, because you’re crossing the international date line. I flew out of New Zealand on Saturday at 10 pm and arrived in Rarotonga 3 hours later at 1:30 am on the same Saturday!
  • Food is generally quite expensive in the Cook Islands, especially dairy and vegetables because they have to be imported. Vegetarians might be a bit disappointed to see that a chicken filet costs approx. $2 while an ordinary pepper can be up to $5!

Things to Do in the Cook Islands

A lot of travelers might think that there’s not much to do at beach resort destinations but this is definitely not the case in Rarotonga. On my first day I was amazed by the beautiful surroundings and my friend and I walked around the beach and swam in the ocean. Our guesthouse was situated directly on the beach and the view from the terrace was stunning!

We weren’t really lucky with the weather as it was raining pretty much every day but it didn’t destroy the good holiday. Unfortunately, due to the rainy weather plenty of sea cucumbers decided to come on shore and it was impossible not to step on them while getting to the water. It was a bit gross, but I guess even paradise must have some small defects 😉

1. Snorkel a Coral Reef

A holiday in the Pacific islands wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a reef. We took a boat excursion to a reef which wasn’t very far away. It included all of our snorkeling kit and we were able to see a lot of fish and coral which was amazing! 

Straight after snorkeling, our boat took us to a very small island nearby where we were shown by the locals how to get the most use out of coconuts. We also got a delicious lunch with a lot of fish, coconut, and grilled bananas! 

Cook Islands

2. Visit the Aitutaki Lagoon

As I mentioned before, I skipped going to Aitutaki because I didn’t have have much time and the flights were very expensive. In hindsight, this was a bad decision!

The lagoon on Aitutaki is an incredible blue pool full of huge corals and many different aquatic species. You can easily spend the entire day out snorkeling on a boat trip and never get bored. 

Of course there are also plenty of pristine beaches and palm trees on the island to make it even closer to paradise so make sure to spend a few days here.

3. Go Hiking

The next day we organized a hiking trip to the center of the island. The middle of the island is full of inactive volcanoes and gorgeous waterfalls so you can imagine it has some incredible hiking trails. 

Unfortunately, we could only reach one waterfall as it wasn’t safe to hike all the way up to a volcano because of the rain. 

4. Shop at the Local Markets

Visiting a local market or two is a great way to mix with the locals, do some people watching and get a sense of what the local culture is actually like. 

That said, you can’t miss a visit to the Punanga Nui Market in Avarua on a Saturday morning! Not only will you get the chance to buy some local produce but there are often cultural performances put on by the local children on the main stage from around 10 am!

5. Visit the Cook Islands Library and Museum

If you want to learn a little about the history and culture of the Cook Island people, head to the adorable Cook Islands Library and Museum.

Entrance costs just $5 and the whole thing is run and maintained by volunteers. While you can’t expect the same amount of detail as you would in a larger city museum, the people are super friendly and always happy to answer your questions.

6. Join in with Local Activities like Mini-Golf

Rarotonga offers a lot of local activities such as mini-golf (for some reasons the locals love mini-golf), which was a lot of fun. When it started to rain we were served awesome fish burgers and cheap drinks and then danced around with the locals for a fun afternoon.   


7. Have Lunch in Maire Nui Gardens

Hidden on the south coast of Rarotonga is the beautifully manicured Maire Nui Gardens. Here you have 7 acres of ponds and plants to explore as well as a cute little cafe where you can enjoy a delicious lunch. 

The gardens are open everyday from 9am-5pm but make sure to check their website for closures as it is a popular spot for weddings and other private events! 

8. Learn at the Cook Islands Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre

If you are unlucky with the weather like us, spend a day indoors at the Cook Islands Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre

This interactive learning center is home to a number of native animals such as turtles and coconut crabs. It also teaches about how the Cook Islands were formed and the importance of conservation efforts for the ocean. 

9. Relax on Black Rock Beach

As you can imagine, Black Rock Beach is a beautiful white sand beach with a lot of large black rocks. These volcanic remnants act as great diving platforms for anyone who wants to try some cliff jumping into the lagoon. 

The beach itself is also one of the best places to swim on the island as it is in the sun all day long. 

10. Drink Coconuts

Fun fact, the Cook Islanders are champions in international coconut picking competitions. Yep, skilled islanders can climb the palm, grab the coconut, and descend back down in less than 15 seconds!

That being said, make sure to set aside plenty of time to sit back, relax and enjoy a coconut or two!


Where to Stay in the Cook Islands

There are two main destinations for travelers when it comes to visiting the Cook Islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki. I only went to Rarotonga but if you visit I highly recommend setting aside a few days to visit both. 

Here are my recommended hotels for both islands:

Cook Islands Vs Fiji or Maldives

Choosing between the Cook Islands or more popular destinations like Fiji or the Maldives all depends on what you’re looking for. 

If you’re looking for a quiet honeymoon destination with almost no tourists then the Cook Islands are for you, but if you’re going solo and want to party then choose Fiji!

The Maldives or Bora Bora is a completely different option for those wanting a luxury serene environment. I went solo and I still had a great time though!

Kara Parachoniak

Thursday 10th of October 2019

We skipped Rarotonga and flew straight to Aitutaki and it was the most incredible island. We stayed at Etu Moana for two weeks but Pacific Resort would be a similar caliber but more commercialized if that is possible on such a remote island. You definitely missed out not going to Aitutaki and need to try to get there someday!:) Best, Kara

Dolnośląski Podróżnik

Monday 20th of July 2015

Ciepłe plaże, dobre jedzenie i wyśmienita zabawa... Zazdroszczę... Cóż więcej do szczęścia trzeba? :P

łukasz kędzierski - podróże i fotografia

Sunday 19th of July 2015

You don't have to encourage me to visit Cook Islands. I'd love to visit it but for now it is so far away and pretty expensive to get there :(


Sunday 19th of July 2015

If you get a RTW ticket in a promo that comes as a free stop ;) Direct flights are ridiculously expensive :(

Natalia I Zapiski ze świata

Saturday 18th of July 2015

I love my tarrace view but yours was totally amazing! :)


Friday 17th of July 2015

Triangle-coins! I've heard about this place and i was exploring it on Google Earth :)

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