Cook Islands Travel Guide
The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands scattered over an area of about 2 million square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are little snippets of paradise that invite you to come and get away from it all, to soak in the sun and thousands of years of Polynesian history and culture. Rarotonga is the largest and most visited island, completely surrounded by a reef which means beautiful white beaches and tropical turquoise waters, while imposing mountain peaks and dense rain forest make for some fantastic scenery. However, I would definitely advice you to visit a few islands while you are there sine once you leave the main island, you have miles of beaches virtually to yourself.
Accommodation - You can expect to pay around $20 USD per night for a dorm room and from $30 USD for a private room. Hotels start at $50 USD for singles and doubles, with prices for a private bungalow beginning around $120 USD.
Food – Lunch and casual meals cost between $4-15 USD at most of the local haunts. Restaurant meals will begin around $20 USD for fine dining. Western style cuisine can cost up to $25 USD for the main.
Transportation – For taxis, expect to pay $2 USD per kilometer, as rates are government controlled. Bus tickets are around $2.50 USD regardless of distance traveled. For inter-island travel, there is very little scheduled boat and ferry service. People generally stay on the main island. If they need to get around, there are frequent flights by Air Rarotonga.
Activities - Organized activities are a bit pricey on the islands, but hikes or walks around the mountainous interior are free options. In some cases, a guide will really bring the islands to life. A favorite is a half day, four-wheel tour for about $50 USD. A tour and dinner show package at Te Vara Nui Village will cost $119 USD. Bike or canoe rentals are also a great way to experience the scenery of the island for just about $15 USD per day.
Money Saving Tips
Bike the islands – A great alternative to expensive taxis and cost around $15 USD for a day’s rental.
Eat the local food – A full plate of local food will only cost around $4 USD if you stick to the small, traditional eateries instead of eating at the resorts and main tourist areas.
Top Things to See and Do in the Cook Islands
Muri Beach – This popular beach is situated on the southeast corner of Rarotonga and is protected by a lagoon. A kayak or canoe can be hired here for about $15 USD for a day. There is good snorkeling too.
Aitutaki Day Cruise – The southern island of Aitutaki boasts the world’s largest coral lagoons, inhabited by huge clams and multicolored tropical fish.
Scuba Diving – The dive sites on the Cook Islands are considered perfect for beginner divers because the sites are close to the shore and the currents aren’t too strong.
Te Vara Nui Village – Te Vara Nui Village is the cultural center where you can learn about the history of the native population. Ura Po is a popular thing to do. It is a dining and island night show on floating and fixed stages set in botanical gardens surrounded by waterfalls.
Hiking – There are several excellent hikes around the main island of Rarotonga. The most popular trails include Papua Waterfall, Avana Valley and Raemaru Lookout. Each take around 2 hours to complete. Pa’s mountain treks offer quite strenuous three-hour hikes across Rarotonga, passing Te Rua Manga at 413 meters with great views toward the coast.
Tinomana Palace – The palace is a two-story formation of coral and lime. It is located in Arorangi village and was constructed by the British. The name means ‘The Peace Brought by Christianity’.
Traditional Dance Shows – These dances are based on traditional island stories passed down through the generations. There are many places here where you can combine a dinner and dance show. It’s a little touristy, but still festive and entertaining.
Fishing – The Cook Islands offer exceptional opportunities for deep sea game fishing. The currents, reefs and submarine topography foster ideal conditions for wahoo, barracuda, dolphin fish, yellowfin and skipjack tuna, sailfish, marlin and mahi mahi.
Go Kayaking – Kayaking is an easy, fun, and relaxed way to explore the lagoon around Rarotonga island. The best place for kayaking on Rarotonga is around Muri Beach and the southeast coast near four uninhabited islands.
Aitutaki Marine Research Center – This small research center is often working on some form of marine restoration and has green sea turtles which visitors are able to pick up.
Punanga Nui Market – This market in town is filled with many locally made crafts, produce, baked goods, musicians, and people.
Arai-Te-Tonga Koutu-nui-Ariki – Not far from town lay the ruins of an ancient royal court. This particular area is where tribal feasts were held. There is a 10-foot platform and large stone pillars, though most of the area is overgrown.
Papua Waterfall – This waterfall is at the end of a beautiful hike and has a natural pool to swim in.
Brush up on your Marine Biology – The Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife museum is a tiny place, but offers lots of interesting displays of fossils and skeletons. It’s a good option for a stormy day, or if you just need to get out of the sun.
Snorkel the Maitai Wreck – In 1916, a boat carrying a load of Model T Fords sunk off the coast of Roratonga. The wreck is only four or five meters underwater, and clear visibility makes it great for snorkeling.