About Cook Islands, Pacific

Panoramic  aerial landscape view of in Rarotonga Cook Islands

— Cook Islands —

Pacific Resort Rarotonga

How to get there

Cook Island holidays are popular among scuba divers, especially since the protective reef surrounding the islands houses all kinds of coral and marine life, including rarely seen marine turtle and humpback whales.

The Cook Islands were named after Captain Cook, who discovered them in 1770. Formed by volcano activity, all 15 islands have a total land area of 240 square kilometres that are home to flora and fauna, such as land and sea bird varieties and diverse native ferns and flowers.

 

They fall into two distinct groups. The Southern Group comprises nine islands including the capital, Avarua in Rarotonga (only 6 hours from Sydney) is where the majority of the population resides. Six of the nine islands are accessible by regular air services.

The more remote Northern Group has six islands, three of which, Manihiki, Penrhyn and Pukupuka, are accessible by air.

International

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all fly to Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Air Tahiti, operated by Air Rarotonga, has 1 flight a week from Tahiti.

Domestic

Domestic flights are operated by Air Rarotonga with daily flights to Aitutaki and scheduled flights to AtiuMangaiaMaukeMitiaro and other islands.

Air Rarotonga also offer a Rarotonga Scenic Flight, an Aitutaki Day Tour and a Mauke Two Night Excursion.

 

Rarotonga

Rarotonga Polynesia Cook Island tropical paradise aerial view
Rarotonga Polynesia Cook Islands tropical paradise aerial view panorama landscape at sunset

Rarotonga is a hive of activity and its circular shape is dominated by high mountain peaks from which lush rain forests cascade to the palm-fringed shore. All visitors are welcomed at the Rarotonga International Airport with the warm local greeting Kia Orana (Greetings, may you live on) and a fragrant flower garland or ei.

Avarua is the main town on Rarotonga and has a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants located around the island. From Rarotonga you can visit the Sister Islands such as Aitutaki, famous for its spectacular white sand beaches and azure lagoons, only a 40-minute flight away on Air Rarotonga, with several flights daily.

Atiu, northeast of Rarotonga, offers untouched beaches and coral reefs riddled with caves. Mangaia is surrounded by a narrow fringing reef backed by the formidable cliffs of makatea (raised coral) that reach heights of up to 60 metres. Mauke has caves located in the cliffs of the coral reef and Mitiaro offers subterranean pools and freshwater lakes that are full of itiki (freshwater eels), a local delicacy.

Also Read: Aitutaki, the second most visited island in the Cook Islands group, is geologically part volcanic and part atoll.

Getting around Rarotonga

cooksbus

Rarotonga is only 32 kilometres in circumference and one main road encircles the entire island, making it fairly easy to get around. Cook’s Buses, the local bus service, offers great public transport operating around Rarotonga in both directions, on regular day and evening schedules. The clockwise or anti-clockwise bus will pick you up and set you down anywhere on request.

Vehicles are driven on the left hand side of the road. By law Safety helmets must be worn by all visitors for both drivers and passengers. Drivers of all types of vehicles are required to have either a current international license or a Cook Islands driver’s license which can be obtained from the Police station in downtown Avarua.

The People

ARUTANGA, AITUTAKI, COOK ISLAND – SEPTEMBER 30, 2018: Girl with a white wreath of flowers. With selective focus.
ARUTANGA, AITUTAKI, COOK ISLAND – SEPTEMBER 30, 2018

Cook Islanders are of Polynesian descent, and are called Cook Island Maori. They are culturally and linguistically similar to Tahitians and New Zealand Maori and are an open, friendly people, happy to share their lifestyle.

Nature

Wigmore’s waterfall also known as Papau waterfall on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands host a diverse range of flora and fauna. Marine turtles can be found in some of the outer islands and humpback whales can be sighted from July through to October. A protective reef encircles the islands. The lagoons play host to a variety of vivid and interesting coral and marine life. The Cook Islands has an interesting range of geological structures, from the high volcanic peaks of Rarotonga (653 metres) to the raised coral structure of Mangaia and Atiu and the coral atoll structures of the Northern Group.ccur every five years.

Sight Seeing

Christian Church of the Cook Islands in Avarua, Rarotonga.
Christian Church of the Cook Islands in Avarua, Rarotonga

The six Cook Islands Christian Church around Rarotonga are magnificent landmarks built of coral and lime and well worth a visit, particularly on Sunday. Most people attend church and the air is vibrant with their beautiful singing called imene tuki. The ruins of the old Sunday School, built by the missionaries, that have been renovated and are now the Beachcomber Pearl and Art Gallery. In the harbour, remnants of the wreck of the SS Maitai that was sunk in 1916 remain and its main engine still protrudes from the reef.

You can trek through the Takuvaine/Avatiu valleys to see tropical vegetation or visit the Marae ‘Arai te Tonga’, a stone structure forming the royal court of the reigning ariki (high chief).

Where to stay

Most of the Cook Islands’ hotels and other accommodation options are located on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, where you can choose from five-star hotels, luxury villas, resorts, bungalows to mid-range hotels and backpacker hostels. Advance booking is highly recommended.

Rarotonga has a wide and varied selection of accommodation from first-class hotels and resorts, luxury villas and self-catering individual bungalows to backpacker facilities.

Aitutaki has a varied selection of accommodation, similar in quality to Rarotonga. Atiu has a varied but smaller selection of backpacker to mid-range accommodation available. Only basic needs are met on the islands of Mauke, Mitiaro (which recently launched a new homestay operation) and Mangaia.

For pared down simplicity, visit the islands of Mauke, Mangaia and Mitiaro where most accommodation facilities are not more than two storeys high, due to legislation that prohibits buildings from being higher than the tallest coconut tree. No camping is allowed.

Visiting more than Rarotonga

All major inhabited islands are accessible by air. There are more than three daily flights from Rarotonga to Aitutaki. Flights to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro are scheduled many times a week. Atiu is recognised as the third island to visit in the Cook Islands behind Aitutaki and three times a week there is a convenient triangle air route around the three islands of RarotongaAitutaki and Atiu. Air Rarotonga and Air New Zealand also have a code share agreement that allows you to book an international flight direct to and from Aitutaki that can be combined with the triangle route to reduce even more travel time.

In Mauke, you can explore the jungle covered limestone rocks to find the famous Maire plant and organic tropical garden lush with fruit. Discover Mitiaro and its village home-stay and live with a local family in a traditional thatched roof hut. Mitiaro is ringed with beach coves and underground swimming caves with natural healing properties. Mangaia is dominated with raised limestone coral and has numerous caves that stretch into giant underground caverns. At 18 million plus years it is believed to be one of the oldest in the Pacific.

Food and entertainment

Cook Islander man serves coconut and papaya fruit on a tray in Rarotonga, Cook Island
Cook Islander man serves coconut and papaya fruit on a tray in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Nightspots and bars will, on occasion, have live entertainment. A highlight of the Cook Islands is the Polynesian feast, umukai, prepared in the traditional style with foods such as ika mata (marinated fish with coconut sauce), eke (octopus), taro (tuba vegetable), rukau (cooked taro leaves similar to spinach), and kumara (sweet potato). An umukai is usually part of an island night show featured at major hotels. The delectable buffet and traditional dancing is all part of the culture of the Cook Islands and you can also experience this at the Highland Paradise and Te Vara Nui cultural attractions.

Wining and dining in Rarotonga is a treat with many excellent restaurants offering local and international cuisine in some very romantic locations.

Also Read:  Cook island food: 8 dishes you have to try when you get here!

Activities and shopping guide

There are a variety of activities on offer to suit any traveller. Relaxing lagoon cruises are available on two of the world’s most beautiful lagoons, Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga and the world famous Aitutaki Lagoon. Popular pastimes include sailing, windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling and scuba diving. Boats are available for charter for deep-sea and game fishing. Shops are open 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to noon on Saturdays. On Saturday mornings the popular local market place, Punanga Nui, in downtown Avarua offers a range of tropical delicacies and local craft items.

Climate and clothing

Warm and sunny all year round. Rainy season is December to March. Average summer temperature is 26°C. Casual brief swimwear should be kept for beaches or poolside. Nude and topless sunbathing is unacceptable.

Tourist Info

Currency

The NZ dollar, supplemented by local coinage (not negotiable outside the Cook Islands). The dollar coin bearing the symbol of the traditional god, Tangaroa, is popular with coin collectors, as is the $3 note. There are ATMs located on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. EFTPOS is available. Tipping is not customary but is appreciated.

Entry Requirements

To obtain a visa for entry into the Cooks Islands, you must have a passport with at least six months validity remaining. You should also produce proof of sufficient funds, an onward/return ticket and proof of suitable accommodation. Other visa requirements also vary, so do check before making your travel plans.

Weather & Climate

Rarotonga is warm and sunny all year, with occasional trade winds. The average summer temperature is 26ºC from November to April. Prepare for some afternoon rainfall if you travel to the islands during this period. Cyclone season is from November to March, although major ones only occur every five years.

The Best Places to Dive in the Cook Island

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Welcome to The Paradise of The Cook Islands

Cook Island’s Cuisine

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Where to Stay

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