One hears the words “Cook Islands” and immediately thinks of clear turquoise waters, volcanic peaks, palm-fringed beaches and a feeling of being cast away into another world. These 15 islands lay between the French Polynesia and Samoa, oozing warm and welcoming hospitality. It proves difficult to choose what the best things are to do here, as those looking for adventure will find it on the most remote of these islands while others will head straight towards the islands of Raratonga and Aitutaki, the two most popular islands. Whether you are looking to shop for local perfumes, snorkel in clear lagoons or hike in the luscious scenery, the Cook Islands offers it all. Here are our 7 favorite things to see and do in the Cook Islands.
7. Visit Aitutaki Lagoon
Aitutaki’s most love attraction is its large picture perfect lagoon with perfectly clear water that shines a brilliant turquoise color. There are 21 islands that dot the outer edge of the lagoon, which can be visited on cruises or by taking a guided tour. Kayaking is really the way to enjoy these tiny islets though, allowing you to get up close and personal to them. Maina is the small island in the southwest corner of the lagoon that is home to a beautiful sandbar often referred to as “Honeymoon Island”. It is here where snorkel enthusiasts should head as the waters are teeming with colorful fish.
6. Walk the Cross Island Hike
This is one of the best ways to explore Rarotonga’s lush scenery and although the hike does take about 4 hours, it is completely worth it. The hike starts off in the dense forest from the north coast and winds its way up to the base of “the Needle”, a steel bald rock which points straight up into the air. Climbing the needle is only for the serious rock climbers and other hikers can enjoy the beautiful views over the coast. The trail then continues past Wigmore Falls which are beautiful after a heavy rainfall with a pool at their base. The trail takes hikers all the way to the opposite end of the island providing incredible scenery throughout.
5. Take a Brewery Tour
Matutu is the Cook Island’s only locally-brewed beer and it is well worth taking a brewery tour with co-owner Eric Newnham. Newnham explains the step-by-step process of making the beers, as well as explains what goes into the effort of creating all the incredible flavors. The tours are cheap and include plenty of tastings along the way. This small micro-brewery produces about 60,000 liters of beer each year and is always in hot demand. Operating for about eight years, the brewery produces a lager and pale ale regularly, as well as a number of seasonal brews. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to run a brewery in the Cook Islands, now is your chance to find out.
4. Visit Avarua
Situated on the north coast of Rarotonga, Avarua is the capital of the Cook Islands and thus for that reason and many others, deserves a visit. This charming small town offers visitors a variety of shops, restaurants and a handful of tourist attractions. Don’t miss checking out Cook Islands Christian Church which dates back to 1853 and is made out of coral. Some of the islands most famous people are buried in its graveyard including the first prime minister of the Cook Islands. The Punanga Nui Outdoor Market is also housed on the town’s waterfront, and here you can find mountains of mangoes, passionfruit and pineapple, as well as clothes and crafts. Also worth checking out is the Perfume Factory just south of town where perfumes and colognes are made with aromatic local flowers.
3. Go Caving on Mangaia
The most popular activity on Mangaia is spelunking, or caving as many refer to it as. There are a number of caves found all over this island and just happen to be breathtakingly beautiful and dramatic, featuring fascinating stalactite formations. One of the best caves to tour on the island is Te Rua Rere, a burial cave that was discovered in the 1930’s. You actually have to jump down the opening in order to reach this cave and prepare to haul yourself over numerous tree roots before reaching the opening. This dramatic cave features a narrow walkway but high ceilings and is adorned with huge crystalline, white stalactites and impressive stalagmites. Inside other burial caves you will find deep freshwater pools. It is recommended that you’re in good shape, and not afraid of the dark if you are planning on exploring these awesome caves.
2. Snorkel in the Aroa Marine Reserve
This protected sanctuary is home to a healthy and diverse marine life and is sheltered by the outlying reef, thus making it the perfect place to strap on a snorkel and hit the water. Boating and fishing are not allowed in the lagoon making it a quiet, calm place to snorkel, kayak, or swim. The reserve boasts some of the clearest water in the world and sea creatures are a plenty including angelfish, Moorish idols, parrot fish and more. This is also a great place to try night snorkeling, an experience unlike any other. A whole new set of sea creatures emerge after the sun has set and you take to the waters with your torch, and discover that these creatures are just as curious about you as you are about them.
1. Attend a Cultural Show
Without a doubt attending a cultural show on the Cook Islands is a must do. Although there are a few to choose from, the best of the best is Te Vara Nui Village. It is here where you will meet local Maori people who will share their stories, knowledge and heritage with you during the Cultural Village Tour. The tour will have you learning about traditional medicines, navigational techniques and craftspeople will be teaching you about weaving and how they make their own dance costumes. After an informative and fun tour, visitors can experience the over-water night show and buffet dinner. Set in the luscious rock waterfall garden, dancers and performers will showcase a beautiful legend story. A delicious Island/Western fusion buffet will accompany the performance, prepared by local and international chefs, rounding out one of the Cook Island’s most perfect experiences.