About Cook Islands, Pacific

— Cook Islands —

The Cook Islands lie in the centre of the Polynesian triangle and are now easily reached from Australia with direct service from Sydney (6 hours) or via Auckland with Air New Zealand and Jetstar. From Rarotonga, Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights to Hawaii while Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti offer flights to Tahiti.

The group is made up of 15 islands, scattered over two million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. They fall into two distinct groups. The Southern Group comprises nine islands including the capital, Avarua in Rarotonga, where the majority of the population resides. Domestic travel to the outer islands is provided by Air Rarotonga and 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 (chartered flights only).

Capital and major centres
Vibrant and lively, Rarotonga is a hive of activity, and its circular shape is dominated by high mountain peaks from which lush rainforests 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.

The People
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.

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.

The sights
The six CICC Churches 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, 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
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 choice 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 has a homestay operation) and Mangaia.

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 Rarotonga, Aitutaki 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.

Getting around
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 licence or a Cook Islands driver’s licence which can be obtained from the Police station in downtown Avarua.

Food and entertainment
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 are 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.


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 marketplace, 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 oC. Casual brief swimwear should be kept for beaches or poolside. Nude and topless sunbathing are unacceptable.

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.

Culture of Cook Islands

The Best Places to Dive in the Cook Island

Welcome to The Paradise of The Cook Islands

Visit The World's Most Beautiful Lagoon

Cook Island’s Cuisine

Where to Stay

The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium
Experience Rarotonga’s best snorkelling at the Cook Islands’ iconic resort. Immerse yourself in paradise at this renowned signature resort set right on Rarotonga’s best white sandy beach, where the crystal ... View More »
cook islands rarotonga palm grove patio
Palm Grove
Palm Grove is located in Vaimaanga on Rarotonga’s enchanting south coast. The property has 22 individual bungalows scattered over five acres of landscaped beachfront and lush tropical gardens. Bungalows are ava... View More »
Pacific Resort Hotel Group
The world’s best kept secret, the Cook Islands are the gem of the South Pacific, where the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean meets white sand beaches and lush tropical mountain peaks. Calling this tropical paradis... View More »
Lagoon Breeze Villas
Discover a tropical sanctuary on the south-west coast of Rarotonga, across from the white sands and pristine water of the Aroa Lagoon and Marine Reserve. The beautiful white sandy beach, turquoise lagoon, an abu... View More »
Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel
Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel is located on Rarotonga’s stunning southern coast, directly overlooking the idyllic Titikaveka Beach. Here, the 10-kilometre stretch of soft white sand offers the ultimate in relaxa... View More »
Moana Sands Lagoon Resort
Discover your own slice of paradise, where glorious mountain peaks and pristine white sand beaches await. Located on the southern end of world-famous Muri Lagoon, Moana Sands Lagoon Resort welcomes guests aged 18... View More »
Sanctuary Rarotonga – On The Beach Adult Only
Where the ocean meets the sky, here you have found Sanctuary. Immerse yourself in paradise at Rarotonga’s absolute beachfront, adults-only resort. Step from your suite onto the white sands of Aroa Beach, swim i... View More »
Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort Adults Only
“No artist’s palette could ever conceive of a more perfect, more luminescent turquoise than that of the lagoon of Aitutaki, arguably the most beautiful in the world,” wrote Steve Davey in Unforgettable Places ... View More »
Crown Beach Resort & Spa
Set amidst five acres of lush tropical gardens punctuated by streams and waterfalls, Crown Beach Resort & Spa promises luxury and romance for those seeking a private, heavenly escape. Built in harmony with nature... View More »
Pacific Resort Rarotonga
The island paradise of Rarotonga is legendary for its beauty. Its mountainous peaks are ringed by beautiful beaches and stunning crystal clear lagoons. The most beautiful of these is in Muri, and it is here that Pac... View More »
Sunset Resort
Situated on Rarotonga’s sought-after ‘sunset’ coast, the Sunset Resort is located beachfront on a white sand beach next to the stunning ‘bluer than blue’ lagoon, and is set amidst palm trees and lush tropi... View More »
Ocean Escape Resort & Spa
Introducing Rarotonga’s newest oceanfront, boutique eco-resort featuring 12 modern apartment-style villas, offering a luxurious adults-only (16+) escape. Each villa has a loft style, king-size bedroom on the up... View More »
Muri Beach Resort
Discover paradise at Muri Beach Resort, where tranquil comfort meets the pristine beauty of Rarotonga’s Muri Lagoon. Nestled on the white sands of Muri Beach, the resort offers a captivating blend of tradition... View More »
Muri Beach Club Hotel
Muri Beach Club Hotel is a boutique, adults-only hotel superbly positioned on the prime part of Muri Beach. With all the trimmings of larger hotels, it boasts one of Rarotonga’s largest pools, a Day Spa offerin... View More »
Nautilus Resort
Escape to paradise at Nautilus Resort, where the pace of life slows down, and the beauty of Rarotonga unfolds around you. Nautilus Resort’s 17 premium villas, seamlessly blending traditional Polynesian and mode... View More »
Sokala Villas
In a stunning absolute beachfront location, discover a romantic getaway on the northern shore of Rarotonga’s famous Muri Lagoon. Tropical island getaway Popular with honeymooners, couples and individuals seeki... View More »
Moana Sands Beachfront Villas & Apartments
Discover the most idyllic tropical setting at Moana Sands Beachfront Villas & Apartments. Moana Sands Beachfront Villas & Apartments are just a short and scenic drive from the airport, in the village of V... View More »