7 Things to See and Do in the Cook Islands

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.

Aitutaki Lagoon cook islands

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.

Rarotonga cross island hike

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.

beer pints

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.

Avarua Church cook islands

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.

Photo by: Pinterest
Photo by: Pinterest

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.

Photo by: Sanctuary Rarotonga
Photo by: Sanctuary Rarotonga

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.

Photo by: Te Vara Nui Village
Photo by: Te Vara Nui Village

Top 10 Tropical Islands You Have to Visit

There is something about a tropical Island that can turn even the most stressed out, overworked person into a relaxed and rejuvenated individual. Unlike taking a rushed weekend trip to a crowded beach nearby and staying in a chain hotel, the lure of a small resort surrounded by palm trees and clear blue water is a dream many people have. The Islands and beautiful beaches in Asia are some of the very best in the world and offer visitors everything from small secluded resorts on white sand beaches to social tourist hot spots with a party atmosphere. No matter what, you’ll be able to find an island that caters to your needs giving you a great experience with prices that will make your friends jealous. Quit dreaming and start planning that trip of a lifetime cause we’ve compiled an easy list of recommendations for the best tropical islands in Asia!

10. Tioman Island, Malaysia

Located in the South China Sea, a 40 minute flight from the capital of Kuala Lumpur, this 29,000 acre island offers coral reefs and clear water. Here you have the option of a simple hotel located in a seaside village or a resort on a secluded beach. Spend your time on the island jungle trekking seeing the exotic wildlife like monitor lizards and monkeys or visiting one of the many waterfalls. You can check out one of the villages and get to know the locals, do some duty free shopping or spend some time on the 18-hole golf course. Of course you are never far away from the beaches. Whether you like scuba diving, snorkeling or just reclining in a beach chair with a cool drink, the beaches are only a few steps away. Unlike some of the more crowded destinations, Tioman Island can be your relaxing trip of a lifetime.

Tioman Island

9. Panglao Island, Philippines

Unlike the more famous island of Boracay, Panglao Island is less crowded and less of a party atmosphere. Located off the Southwestern tip of Bohol connected by a bridge, the island is a great place for families and couples to relax and enjoy the laid back island life. Boats line up on the beach daily for island hopping and dolphin watching excursions. Nature preserves, cave tours and the UNESCO listed Chocolate Hills are easy day tours. Another great place to visit is the Philippine Tarsier Foundation where 331 acres have been set aside for the research and protection of the Philippine Tarsier, one of the smallest mammals in the world. Ecotourism, world heritage sites and beautiful white sand beaches make this Island one of our top picks and one you should definitely visit.

Panglao Island, Philippines

8. Akajima Island, Japan

An Island belonging to the Kerama Islands group in Okinawa, Aka Island can be reached by a one hour high speed ferry from the capital of Okinawa. Popular with Japanese tourists you won’t find many foreigners here. Visit the beautiful Nishibama Beach a one km stretch of white beach on the northeast coast, enjoy humpback whale watching, snorkeling and diving. Aka Island is popular with marine biologists due to the diversity of sea life and coral reefs. While most tourists visit on a day trip there are a few hotels and hostels where you can stay and relax for a few days. A small island, it is easily explored on foot. You might even catch a glimpse of the famed Kerala deer which swim between the islands. If you are looking for a quiet place to enjoy nature and get away from the crowds, Aka Island is a good choice.

Photo by: Jordy Meow via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Jordy Meow via Wikimedia Commons

7. Efate, Vanuatu

Efate has been the site of three international versions of the popular “Survivor” television show. Efate is Vanuatu’s third largest island and the most populous. With Eco tours, adventure activities such as jungle zip lines, scuba and snorkeling, markets and nightlife, it is no wonder Efate is a popular destination. For a glimpse of what ancestral islanders lived like, a visit to the Ekasup cultural village is a must. Learn firsthand from the village chief and his warriors about how it was when cannibalism was the order of the day. Visit the tranquil Mele Cascades waterfalls, take a volcano tour by air or enjoy one of the island’s beaches. There are also several fishing charters available if you’re looking to land the big one. There are several day tours available, water parks and various water sport activities to make your trip more memorable. Accommodations range from luxurious resorts and spas to budget hotels.

Efate, Vanuatu

6. Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, named after famed British explorer Captain James Cook, who visited the islands in 1773. Rarotonga has everything you would expect to find on a tropical island. Crystal clear blue lagoons, little traffic except for an island bus and some scooters, bone white beaches and coral reefs. Inland you will find a rugged tropical landscape teeming with wildlife and terraces where bananas, coconuts and pineapples are planted. The island is known for its beautiful white coral and limestone churches. If you happen to visit one for Sunday services don’t be surprised if you are invited to stay after for refreshments. A market day happens every Saturday where you can sample local food and buy some souvenirs. There is also a golf course, fishing expeditions and numerous diving sites to enjoy. With no streetlights, friendly people and beautiful beaches you may not ever want to leave.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

5. The Maldives, South Asia

A tropical nation, the Maldives is made up of 26 coral atolls. Located in the Indian Ocean. You can take your pick of resort islands, private islands, city hotels or a cozy guest house. Scuba diving, golf and island hopping await you on what could be the trip of a lifetime. Enjoy dolphin and whale watching, take a day trip to one of the uninhabited islands for a private getaway, enjoy local food or spend the day shopping. For divers, a wreck dive at the site of the Maldives Victory, is a definite must do. A 60 meter long cargo wreck lying 20-30 meters deep is where you can explore the cargo holds and check out the sea life. Accommodations range from budget friendly, cottages perched on stilts over the water and super luxurious resorts. Spend your days diving, exploring the city of Male or relaxing on the beach. When nighttime comes, head out to one of the resort bars or take a walk on the beach,but beware the crabs tend to enjoy the beaches at night also.

Maldives

4. Ambergris Caye, Belize

The largest island in Belize can be reached by plane or ferry. Besides having some fantastic beaches, Ambergris is home to the Belize Barrier Reef which is the second largest reef in the world second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. While diving, snorkeling and fishing are some of the main attractions you should also visit the Marco Gonzalez Maya site. There are over 19 sites on the island, but none had ever been preserved until 2009 when efforts to begin preservation started. The site is now a national reserve that has a visitor area along with continuing excavations. Relax on the beaches, dive the reefs or just sit and enjoy the atmosphere at one of the many beach bars on the island at the end of the day.

Ambergris Caye, Belize Cayes

3. Tahiti, French Polynesia

What would a list of the best tropical islands be without including Tahiti? The largest island in French Polynesia, Tahiti is another island on one of Captain James Cook’s travels. Tahiti also known as the “Queen of the Pacific” has been visited at one time or another by Spanish explorers, British explorers to include Captain Bligh and the HMS Bounty, French explorers, the Viceroy of Peru, whalers from Australia and missionaries from all over. They must have known something, and that is, Tahiti is a beautiful place. You can enjoy professional surfing competitions, several festivals throughout the year or if you’re brave enough – get a traditional Polynesian tattoo. You’ll have to spend time at one of the nature parks, enjoy the watersports, take a boat tour, visit some of the historical sites or just enjoy the beaches, Tahiti can be a dream vacation.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

2. Koh Lipe, Thailand

Thailand used to be a place where you could find secluded beaches and islands with little or no tourists. Recent movies, travel blogs and press have made Thailand more popular than ever. There is one place that you can still get away from the majority of the tourists and enjoy a tranquil tropical paradise. Koh Lipe is an island located on the southern part of the Thai Andaman Sea accessible by boat from either Bangkok or Malaysia. There are several beaches and nearby uninhabited islands reachable by long boat. Rent a long boat for a day trip and go island hopping where you can lounge on a deserted beach or go snorkeling on Sunrise Beach and get up close to schools of fish. Come watch the sunset on the beach or visit one of the island bars but don’t tell anyone, Koh Lipe is our secret.

Koh Lipe, Thailand

1. Bali, Indonesia

Bali is an island and province in Indonesia, also the country’s largest tourist destination. Bali offers coral reefs and dive sites, surfing, vibrant nightlife and activities for singles, couples and families. The majority of the population is Hindu and there are several temples worth visiting. Goa Lawah Temple or the Bat Cave as it is known as a popular destination along with Tanah Lot temple which sits on a rock and is completely surrounded by water during high tide. Go white water rafting, visit the waterpark or one of the nature reserves, go hiking, learn to scuba dive, surf or just enjoy the hospitality of the Balinese people. Bali is a large island with lots to see and do so if you plan to visit give yourself time to really experience and enjoy the island, and no, we won’t call your boss for you and tell him you won’t be back to work on time.

Bali, Indonesia