The Cook Islands are perfect for relaxation, but there’s plenty of activities to keep energetic travellers busy. Rarotonga is an excellent place for hiking, and Aitutaki’s backcountry roads and deserted beaches are good for exploring. ‘Atiu, Ma’uke, Mitiaro and Mangaia have many trails winding through the makatea. History enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the historic marae on most of the islands. Many of these traditional religious meeting grounds are still used today for formal ceremonies, such as the investiture of a new ariki or mataiapo.
The sheltered lagoons and beaches on Rarotonga and Aitutaki are great for swimming and snorkelling. Diving is also excellent, with good visibility and lots of marine life, from sea turtles and tropical fish to reef sharks and eagle rays. You can hire snorkelling gear on Aitutaki and Rarotonga, as well as kayaks, sailboards and other water-sports equipment.
Raro has just a handful of resident surfers, but there are serious waves outside Rarotonga’s perimeter reef and a budding community of bodyboard riders.
Kite surfing, paddle-boarding and small-boat sailing are popular in Rarotonga’s Muri Lagoon. Glass-bottomed boats also operate from Muri Beach, and there are several lagoon-cruise operators in Aitutaki. Deep-sea fishing boats can be chartered on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and bonefishing on Aitutaki lagoon is growing in popularity. From July to October, whale-watching trips are available on Rarotonga.
The Cook Islands has some extraordinary caves to explore including Anatakitaki and Rima Rau on ‘Atiu, Motuanga on Ma’uke, Vai Nauri on Mitiaro, and Te Rua Rere on Mangaia.
Festivals & Events
Dancer of the Year (April) Dance displays are held throughout April, culminating in the Dancer of the Year competition.
Gospel Day (July) The arrival of the gospel to the Cook Islands is celebrated with nuku (religious plays), held on 20 July on ‘Atiu, 21 July on Mitiaro, 25 July on Rarotonga, and elsewhere on 26 October.
Constitution Celebration (Te Maire Nui; August) Celebrating the 1965 declaration of independence, this is the Cook Islands’ major annual festival.
Tiare (Floral) Festival Week (August) Celebrated with floral-float parades and the Miss Tiare beauty pageant.
Vaka Eiva (November) This week-long canoe festival celebrates the great Maori migration from Rarotonga to New Zealand. There are many race events and celebrations of Cooks culture.
The following price ranges refer to the cost of a main meal.
$ less than NZ$15
$$$ more than NZ$30
Circle-island tours on Rarotonga offer a good introduction to the island’s history, geography and traditional culture. Guided tours are also offered on Aitutaki, ‘Atiu, Ma’uke and Mangaia.
Rarotongan travel agencies can organise single-island or multi-island package tours. Day trips from Rarotonga to Aitutaki are available.
Officially, visitors are required to have booked accommodation before arriving in the Cook Islands, although you can usually arrange a hotel when you arrive at the airport. However, many places to stay on Rarotonga are booked up in advance, so it pays to plan ahead.
Rarotonga’s accommodation includes hostels, motel-style units, self-contained bungalows and expensive top-end resorts. All the major Southern Group islands have organised accommodation. Even for couples, renting a house can be a good way to cut costs.
Manihiki and Penrhyn are the only Northern Group islands with simple accommodation.
For a dorm bed, budget travellers can expect to pay around NZ$30.
Sleeping Price Ranges
The following price ranges refer to the cost of a double room in high season.
$ less than NZ$125
$$$ more than NZ$250