Cook Islands Holiday Planning Guide
Scattered across a 2,200,000 sq km (849,425 sq mi) zone in the vast Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, the Cook Islands are about as remote a holiday destination as you will find. With their pristine white-sand beaches, tranquil azure lagoons, lush tropical jungles, and teeming coral reefs, the 15 islands seem plucked from a picture postcard of paradise. Relaxation comes first and foremost, for locals as much as tourists, and you will find the laid-back lifestyle of the Cook Islanders as infectious as their warm smiles. As tempting (and fulfilling) as it might be to spend your entire Cook Island vacation swinging lazily in a hammock strung between shady palm trees, plenty of adventures await exploring the idyllic scenery overland, on the waves, and undersea.
Places to Visit in the Cook Islands
Islands of the Cook IslandsRarotonga
: With its transparent sea, clean white beaches, and hilly landscape, Rarotonga offers plenty of Cook Islands vacation ideas, such as hiking, cycling, snorkeling, fishing, and even kite surfing for the most adventurous.Aitutaki
: The so-called "Honeymoon Island" sets the scene for a romantic Cook Islands holiday, thanks to its central turquoise lagoon surrounded by small, secluded beaches. This less-crowded island also gives you the chance to discover the local customs and culture.Mauke
: With a population of around 300, Mauke offers plenty of space to hike and explore in a peaceful, remote setting, complete with a volcanic plateau, underground caves with lakes, and a coral reef that extends for almost 1,000 m (3,300 ft).
Cities in the Cook IslandsAvarua
: Although the national capital, Avarua feels very much like a small, laid-back town, with two harbors, a market, and a smattering of cultural attractions. Hosting the national airport and interisland commuter ships, it also serves as a good base for further sightseeing on the Cook Islands.
Popular Cook Islands Tourist AttractionsTe Vara Nui Village
: The cradle of the local history and tradition, Te Vara Nui Village provides an engaging, interactive experience of the Cook Islands' customs.Aitutaki Lagoon
: Fairly remote and almost untouched, Aitutaki Lagoon is a must-see on your Cook Islands vacation, with relaxation on soft white sands and a clear pool filled with exotic marine life.One Foot Island
: Best known for its extraordinary snorkeling opportunities, One Foot Island also offers a place to kick back and enjoy the sun, soft sand, and turquoise waters.Muri Lagoon
: One of the top Cook Islands attractions, Muri Lagoon boasts a number of water sports and activities, plus an abundant underwater world among colorful corals.Papua ( Wigmore's) Waterfall
: During the wet season (when it's not used to supply the town with water), this cascade tumbles down a cliff into a pool below, where you can swim a few circles to cool off.Cocoputt
: Adjusted for players of all ages and skills, this 18-hole course represents one of the best in the area, plus a restaurant on site.Raro Mountain Safari Tour
: A perennial favorite for an active Cook Islands holiday, this 4x4 tour includes knowledgeable and reliable guides recounting stories of ancient villages and customs, plus views of the lush rainforest and waterfalls.Titikaveka Beach
: Just next to a crystal clear lagoon that is home to a variety of colorful fish, Titikaveka Beach makes an ideal place for some light water activities, relaxation, and mesmerizing sunsets.Punanga Nui
: Browse a wide range of products from local vendors at this lively open-air market, including organically grown fruits and vegetables, seafood, jewelry, and art.Maire Nui Botanical Gardens
: Maire Nui Botanical Gardens boast a large number of different plant species, from colorful flowers to tall trees, and the opportunity to do some bird-watching while having a drink at the onsite coffee shop.
Planning a Cook Islands Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in the Cook Islands with Kids
When you go on a Cook Islands vacation with kids, plan your destinations to focus on age-appropriate water activities, as well as cultural and natural explorations. As the liveliest of the islands, Rarotonga
offers a wide variety of activities for children of all ages. Babies and toddlers can join you in the warm, shallow, transparent lagoons, while teenagers will find swimming, snorkeling, and diving interesting and challenging enough. Round out your itinerary with stops at some of the entertaining and educational old villages, where friendly locals can show you the traditional customs, or teach you a bit about the culture and history. The popular district of Arorangi
offers organized tours that let kids explore the nature and the underwater world teeming with unusual, colorful species of fish and corals.
Things to Do in the Cook Islands with Kids
Whichever places you include in your Cook Islands itinerary, most of them will have a good choice for fun and memorable family activities, including the youngest visitors. Probably the one with the most options will be Rarotonga, due to its size and population. Staying in one of its family-oriented resorts offers the kids a chance to try a large number of different slides and games, divided by age. For insight into the regional marine life, visit Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife Centre
and Aroa Marine Reserve
, breeding grounds and protected areas for some of the endangered endemic species. At Black Rock Beach and Nikao Social Centre
visitors of all ages can learn about the local history and interesting legends. If you go to Arorangi
, don't miss Adventure Cook Islands
, where you can go on a customized excursion to discover the natural world, or take a few drum and dance classes.
Tips for a Family Vacation in the Cook Islands
For a safe and memorable Cook Islands vacation, consider staying at one of the better-known hotels and resorts on Rarotonga or one of the other larger islands, offering plenty of amenities and fun activities. If you're traveling with a baby or a small child, look for a place to stay that can meet your needs in terms of facilities, including rental strollers, or enough space to keep your own. Also, due to the remoteness of some of the islands, make sure to plan excursions earlier, with an adequate vehicle. Since the roads can get bumpy, and you'll most likely hop on a boat at some point, have motion-sickness medicine at the ready.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in the Cook Islands
Cuisine of the Cook Islands
The far-flung Cook Islands grow most of their food locally on plantations and smaller farms, as reflected in the fruit- and vegetable-heavy cuisine. The climate fosters large amounts of tropical fruit, especially bananas and coconut, which feature prominently in a large number of dishes, accompanied by flavors such as ginger, basil, garlic, and lime. Most of the restaurants and food vendors serve up traditional, coconut-based specialties, such as rukau (cooked taro leaves with onion and coconut) and poke (a dessert with banana and coconut milk or papaya). Seafood-lovers on holiday on the Cook Islands have plenty of fresh dishes to sample--particularly locally caught octopus, clams, and fish. Cook Islanders also enjoy fresh juices, beer, and, of course, a good cup of coffee.
Shopping in the Cook Islands
Due to the country's relative lack of development, shopping while on vacation on the Cook Islands is a bit different from elsewhere. You'll likely stumble upon small, open-air markets in all the towns, whose people sell fresh food and plants, as well as intricately detailed handicrafts, such as jewelry and souvenirs. One of the world's top producers of black pearls, the Cook Islands sell these precious minerals in every market or little shop--choose from loose pearls or those incorporated in necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Several places throughout Rarotonga sell homemade oils and perfumes with different scents from the local fruits and flowers. For more general shopping, Arutanga boasts a large shopping center where you'll find whatever you need--from clothes and gadgets to local specialties.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the Cook Islands
Interesting Facts About the Cook Islands
● Fifteen smaller islands make up the Cook Islands, and cover an area of 236 sq km (91 sq mi).
● The country got its name in the 19th century in honor of the man who first "discovered" it, James Cook, a famous explorer and captain in the British Royal Navy.
● The Cook Islands rank second in the world for production of black pearls.
Things You Should NOT Do in the Cook Islands
Due to its relatively late discovery, the Cook Islands still have a large number of rituals and beliefs that are a part of a centuries-old tradition. It goes without saying that it is impolite to stare, point, or laugh should you see a person wearing traditional dress, or performing some of the ritual dances. Since the country remains quite underdeveloped, some locals might not have the most modern gadgets--temper your expectations and have patience. Politely accept any small gifts offered to you on your Cook Islands holiday, such as food or a piece of jewelry, since the gesture shows respect.
Holidays & Festivals in the Cook Islands
As a largely Christian nation, the Cook Islands observe Christmas and Easter as national holidays, marked with religious services and family gatherings. In addition, the locals often organize different festivals where they reenact history or perform religious rituals, such as Gospel Days, celebrating the Christianization of the country on October 26. If your trip to the Cook Islands falls in early August, try to catch Te Maeva Nui (August 4)--a celebration of self rule accompanied by arts and crafts exhibits, dance performances, and national costumes. Another memorable festival is Vaka Eiva, a canoe race around Rarotonga that usually happens in the middle of November. Beyond that, the islands frequently host smaller events throughout the year, such as fishing competitions in small coastal towns.
Useful Cook Islands Travel Tips
Common Greetings in the Cook Islands
Although boasting a rather unique culture, Cook Islanders will not be offended with a simple handshake or even a hug as a form of greeting. Since the official language is Cook Islands Maori, consider learning a couple of phrases--the locals will appreciate the effort. Should you happen to start a conversation during your Cook Islands sightseeing, feel free to incorporate some basic words such as "kia ora ana" (hello), "kia manuia" (goodbye), "pe'ea koe?" (how are you?), and "meitaki ma'ata" (thank you). That said, most islanders speak English, so you shouldn't have too many communication issues.
Climate of the Cook Islands
The moderate to tropical climate of the Cook Islands has little variation, generally remaining warm and humid. Temperatures average from 25-29 C (77-84.2 F) throughout the year, except for February, when they lower to 18-23 C (64.4-73.4 F). Due to this consistency in climate, you can plan your Cook Islands trip whenever works best, without worrying about the weather. Rain showers do occur, though they're generally brief and quickly give way to sunshine again. Thanks to the humidity, frequent rains, and higher temperatures, an abundance of fruits and vegetables thrive here, in addition to the lush forests and greenery all over the islands.
Transportation in the Cook Islands
Rarotonga offers the best forms of transportation on the Cook Islands, with easily accessible city buses and taxis. The island has only two bus lines, one running clockwise, and the other counterclockwise. You can ask the driver to stop anytime, and anywhere. As far as the other islands are concerned, you should be able to explore them easily on foot, or by renting a bicycle. Locals also buzz around on bikes, and will happily provide directions. For wider tours of the Cook Islands, you can rent a boat, or ask someone to take you on theirs.
Tipping in the Cook Islands
Tipping is not customary on the Cook Islands, nor do those providing services expect it. That said, if you're particularly satisfied with your server or barista in a restaurant or coffee shop, you can always tip them as much as you'd like. Likewise, some visitors add tips for taxi drivers, tour guides, or simply the friendly locals who happen to help with directions, so feel free to do so during your Cook Islands holiday.