The Cook Islands rank among the most beautiful islands in the world. Surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters, palm-fringed beaches and volcanic peaks, its natural beauty inspires. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the two main islands; the perfect destinations for swimming, snorkelling, diving, and hiking.
Fifteen islands complete the archipelago. With French Polynesia to the east and Samoa to the west, the Cook Islands are influenced by its South Pacific neighbours. But it’s the influence of New Zealand over this archipelago that may surprise you the most. Discover Maori culture and traditions in the heart of the Cook Islands, from medicines to sacred religious ceremonies, prepare to fall in love with these islands.
If you’re looking for a place to begin, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out more about the Cook Islands and the top 5 things to do.
1. Aitutaki Lagoon
It’s secluded. It’s a hassle to get to. It’s surrounded by absolutely nothing. It’s the sweetest escape. Just one 45-minute flight from Rarotonga, and you’ve landed in a tropical paradise.
Aitutaki is a picture-perfect lagoon with more than 15 white sand motus (islets) scattered across it like confetti. Here, everything looks like a dream, especially Maina, one of the islets southwest of the lagoon, which is home to a beautiful sandbar known as Honeymoon Island. Snorkel, dive, and kayak your way around these motus and fill your eyes with Aititutaki’s blue and turquoise horizon.
2. Te Vara Nui Village Tour & Cultural Show
What’s Maori bush medicine? Find out on the Te Vara Nui Village tour and show in Rarotonga, where you’ll learn about the Cook Islands, its Polynesian heritage and Maori culture. The excursion begins with a two-hour guided tour of the village, where you’ll be immersed in traditional island life. You’ll learn about legends, like Tongaiti, one of the voyaging warriors who discovered Rarotonga, and the navigational techniques used.
You’ll find out how traditional Maori medicines are prepared, and see how local artisans and craftspeople weave, carve, and cook traditional foods before visiting a Marae, a sacred enclosure for religious ceremonies. Immerse yourself in the history, traditions and beliefs of the Cook Islands on this educational and entertaining tour of Te Vara Nui Village.
3. Cross-Island Hike to Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Take a hike! Rarotonga’s most popular walk is a 3-4 hour hike from the north to the south coasts, and the perfect way to see the island’s lush tropical setting up close. You’ll trek through natural scenery and dense forestry, past Te Rua Manga (the Needle), to the south coast’s Wigmore’s Waterfall and lagoon, where by now, you’ll likely be muddy and sweaty, but your reward is being surrounded with some of the most beautiful views of the Cook Islands you can’t see from the beach
It’s a challenging hike that can be done with or without a guide, and while guided tours are recommended, they’re not mandatory. Experienced hikers may feel comfortable enough to follow the orange track markers. Be sure to do north-to-south and not south-to-north, as the chances of taking a wrong turn are much greater.
4. Aroa Marine Reserve
The Aroa Marine Reserve is an underwater wonderland. Sheltered by the outlying reef on Rarotonga’s west coast, this lagoon is off-limits to motorized boats, and the perfect spot for diving and snorkelling.
Prepare to be amazed as schools of colourful parrotfish, heavenly angelfish, mysterious Moorish idols, bright butterfly fish, and smart wrasses swim past you. Spend the day with Aroa’s majestic marine life, and then watch the sky turn a vibrant orange on the beach as the sun sets.
5. Arutanga, Aitutaki
Arutanga is the main settlement on the island of Aitutaki. It’s a small, sleepy town lined with wild hibiscus flowers and mango trees. Here, you’ll get a taste of island life in one of the most remote areas of the world.
You’ll find a quiet harbour, a few craft stores, and one of the town’s main attractions, the Cook Islands Christian Church. Built in 1828, it’s the oldest church in the Cook Islands. Take a stroll through Arutanga and enjoy life at an island’s pace.
From small-town islands to world-class beaches, the Cook Islands are an exceptional beach holiday destination with so much more for the intrepid traveller. Find out more about Cook Islands holidays from our Expert Travellers.