Cook Islands Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To The Cook Islands Should Know
- The internet is expensive. Due to the Cook Islands being located in the middle of the ocean, getting online isn't cheap. Either stay offline during your visit or fork out NZD 50 for one gigabyte. Another option would be to buy chunks of minutes: 30 minutes for NZD 6 or 90 minutes for NZD 12.
- Getting around by bus isn't cheap either. Unlike its neighbouring island nations, a bus trip is going to put a small dent in your budget. Single rides cost NZD 5 while returns are NZD 8. You'll also need to fork out NZD 2 per bag.
- The currency in the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar. You may occasionally be given your change in Cook Islands scents and dollars. If that does happen, make sure to spend them all as they can't be exchanged anywhere else in the world.
- Tipping is not customary in the Cook Islands. In fact, it can be seen as offensive. This is because the Polynesians view it as receiving something for nothing and believe they owe you something in return.
- The official language in the Cook Islands is Cook Islands Maori. However, due to tourism, most locals speak English, and you shouldn't have much of a language barrier to overcome.
Best Time To Visit The Cook Islands
While the Cook Islands are a year-round destination, the best time to visit is during the drier months. From June to August, temperatures are a comfortable 25°C, and the humidity is low. But it is the island's high season, and you can expect high flight prices and steep hotel rates.
If you want to shave off a couple of dollars, try to book your holiday in the shoulder months. From April to May and September to October, you'll still get the same great weather, but with fewer crowds and better prices.
While there isn't so much of an off-season for the Cook Islands, the rainy season does see a slum in tourism numbers. From December to March, hurricanes and rainstorms are common. Luckily, the outbursts are short and won't keep you inside the whole day. Plus, if you handle the less than perfect weather you'll be rewarded with low hotel rates and cheap flights.
The one thing you will need to keep in mind though is the holiday season. Christmas and New Year see an influx of locals returning from abroad as well as holidaymakers. Make sure you book your flights and accommodation well in advance to avoid the price spikes.
Cook Islands Destinations
Located on the island of Rarotonga, Avarua is the capital of the Cook Islands. It's home to the island's only international airport and is where most travellers enter the country.
One of the town's most interesting landmarks is a shipwreck. Situated in its waters is the SS Maitai that crashed into the offshore reef in 1916.
Other highlights include the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society. It houses a collection of rare books on the Pacific islands and has displays on the cultural history of the Cook Islands.
During the evenings you can attend the buzzing Punanga Nui Outdoor Market. You'll find mountains of fresh fruit, fragrant flowers, crafts and hand-made clothes.
Arutanga is the main settlement on Aitutaki. While it's not a full-blown metropolis, it's one of the most-visited destinations in the Cook Islands.
Its main attraction is an 1828 Christian Church. It's the oldest on the islands and is revered for its beautiful glass windows and wooden accents.
Atiu is the third largest and third most visited destination in the Cook Islands. With only about 50 visitors each week, it's a haven for travellers that want to escape the crowds and experience an island with a more traditional edge.
Atiu may be half the size of Rarotonga, but it's home to more bird species than any of the other islands, including some of the world's rarest.
It's also the Cook's eco-capital with plenty of environmentally-friendly hotels and the best eco-tours in the country. Plus there are over 28 untouched beaches to explore and while they are small, you'll have them all to yourself.
Top Attractions in The Cook Islands
Muri Lagoon is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island of Rarotonga. Its crystal clear water is full of tropical fish and a beautiful coral reef. It's an ideal destination for travellers who want to spend their day lounging on the beach and snorkelling through the lagoon.
If you want something a bit more active, there's a range of watersports to choose from. You can either bring your own equipment or rent what you need from the nearby shops.
And once you're done soaking up your dose of vitamin D, there are a few nearby restaurants to visit for lunch or dinner.
Cross Island Walk
If you want to spend an afternoon exploring Rarotonga's natural beauty, go on the Cross Island Walk. It will take you through some of the island's most dramatic scenery, stretching from the north coast to the south via Wigmore's Falls.
The hike takes about four hours to complete, and you'll need to pack plenty of drinking water and mosquito repellent. The Cross Island Walk is particularly beautiful after a rainstorm when the cascades are full, and the vegetation is green and lush.
While the walk is possible to do by yourself, it is recommended to hire a guide. If you want to do it independently, start the hike from the north to avoid getting lost and follow the orange track markers carefully.
Titikaveka Beach is one of the best snorkelling spots on Rarotonga. The beach is near a lagoon that's full of fish and beautiful blue starfish. In fact, the waters here are often so clear that you don't even need a snorkel to gaze at its colourful inhabitants.
Besides the marine life, the beach is great for kayaking. And if you want to see the lagoon at its best, plan your visit for sunset. You'll get amazing photos and watch the day end in a spectacular fashion.
The nearby village is also worth a stop. It's home to the coral stone Cook Islands Christian Church that was built in 1841.
Aroa Beach and Marine Reserve
Located on an outlying reef on Rarotonga island, Aroa is a top diving and snorkelling destination. It's a natural breeding ground for a plethora of fish including sea bream, octopi, clams, moray eels and butterfly eels.
The lagoon is closed off to motorised boats, making it ideal for snorkelling with small children. You can either bring your own gear or sign up for tours at the dive centre. Just be careful not to step on any of the coral while snorkelling.
Kayaking is also another popular activity here, thanks to the calm waters. Once you've had your fill of exploring the depths of the ocean, unwind on the pristine beach.
Maungatapu is the highest point on the island of Aitutaki. It's the only bit of hiking you can do in the region and takes about 30 minutes to summit.
Once at the top, you'll have spectacular panoramic views over the blue lagoon and lush landscape.
To find the start of the hike, go to Paradise Cove. There is a sign here that marks the beginning of the trailhead. You can also get free maps anywhere on Aitutaki.
Just make sure you pack enough water, insect repellent and come prepared with a fully charged camera.
Major International Airports in The Cook Islands
- Rarotonga International Airport