Lush tropical islands surrounded by the cerulean South Pacific, I can’t think of anywhere closer to paradise than the Cook Islands. These quiet achievers were formed through volcanic activity and have all the natural beauty of their better-known Polynesian cousins like Tahiti and Hawaii, minus the hordes of other tourists. Here is a little taste of what this laidback archipelago has to offer with these fun things to do in the Cook Islands. For more sunny vacation inspiration, see these tropical islands.
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Awesome things to do in the Cook Islands
1. Get accommodated in a boutique resort
There aren’t the tourist numbers to sustain the usual big chains and mega-resorts on the main island of Rarotonga. Instead, you’ll find beach-side boutique properties with plenty of character and friendly staff. We honeymooned at Manuia Beach Resort and I can’t recommend it enough – but don’t take my word for it, check out the latest reviews on Tripadvisor.
2. Take a day trip to Aitutaki
If you can’t afford to stay on the outer island of Aitutaki, make way in your budget for a day trip. A small plane will take you out there to snorkel in its pristine lagoon, walk the white sand beaches and visit the “set” of Survivor (USA) Season 13.
3. Hike Rarotonga’s Cross Island Track
This 3-4 hour hike isn’t for the faint-hearted but is well worth the views from 413m (1355ft) Te Rua Manga (The Needle). The track traverses Rarotonga North-South and can be very steep in places. The Pacific Ocean views from the top are spectacular.
4. Learn to make an ‘ei katu (flower garland)
An ‘ei katu is a traditional Cook Islands flower garland made from fresh flowers, foliage and shells. An ‘ei is generally worn on the head, neck or hips and adorns both men and women. They are used on occasions such as weddings, funerals and special ceremonies.
5. Find yourself a deserted beach
You will be amazed at how quiet the Islands are. Even the capital and most populated of the 15 Islands, Rarotonga, is home to roughly only 10,600 permanent residents. So it’s pretty easy to find a quiet, if not deserted beach to soak up the scenery in blissful solitude.
6. Try a local beer
Matutu are a local Cook Island brewery that make Kiva, a pale ale and Mai, a lager.
7. Watch a sunset or ten
We experienced spectacular sunsets every day of our Cook Islands trip. Time your evening cocktail or dinner for a little art by nature in South Pacific skies.
8. Eat your weight in Ika Mata
Seriously, if you like ceviche you are going to love this dish. I wrote more about it over in this Foreign Cuisine Finder post.
9. Witness a traditional dance
The Cook Islands were settled by Polynesian settlers from Tahiti in the sixth century. Dance remains an important part of the Islands’ culture and is performed by males and females from a young age. Though choreography ranges throughout the islands, the overall style can be compared to a Hawaiian hula or Tahitian tamuré.
My husband rightfully describes Rarotonga as “a sleepy country town on a tropical island”. It only gets more chill as you travel out to the fringes of the archipelago. Here, “la dolce vita” is described as being “on island time” – fully embrace the philosophy while you are there.
How to get to the Cook Islands
Accessing the captivating Cook Island atolls can be slightly awkward depending on your place of origin, but they are always well worth the journey! There are four airlines with routes to the main island, Rarotonga: Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Air Tahiti. You will find direct flights departing the following cities: Auckland, Sydney and LA. To reach the other islands in the archipelago, you will need to take a connecting flight with Air Rarotonga. Rest assured, if you stay put on Rarotonga you will not be disappointed.
Best time to visit the Cook Islands
There really is no bad time to visit the Cook Islands, but some may be more optimal than others depending on what you want to get out of your trip. There are three key factors to consider when deciding the best time to visit: climate, tourist peaks and activities.
First, let’s address climate. The Cook Islands are tropical islands, therefore temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year and rainfall is the biggest differentiator between seasons. January-February are the warmest months with average maximum temperatures of about 29°C ~ 84°F. While in July through August, highs are closer to 25°C ~ 77°F and you may experience cool breezes. December-April is the rainy season, with regular, short bursts of rain.
Second, we’ll discuss the tourist season which has an influence on cost. During the Southern Hemisphere winter, June-August, the Cook Islands sees its annual peak tourism from Australia and New Zealand which means you will also see higher prices for flights and accommodation during this period. December and January can also be busy as people vacation over the festive season, or return home (many Cook Islanders live in New Zealand).
Lastly, the types of activities you want to do in the Cook Islands may impact your timing. For example, whale watching season runs July-October, and kite surfing season falls in May-October. Check the Cook Islands Official Travel website for festival and event dates.
If you are looking for a more off-the-beaten-track version of Hawaii, Tahiti or Fiji, the Cook Islands is worth the extra travel time.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,