Easy, breezy tropical beaches, a laid-back, welcoming culture and rich history make the Cook Islands a sweet pick for an adventurous getaway. Fifteen islands cover a vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, with Rarotonga as the main hub.
Unwind with the rhythm of the turquoise sea tides and refuel with delicious authentic food grown and caught nearby. Relaxing island time envelopes you the moment you step off the plane. There’s a myriad of activities and sights to enjoy in Rarotonga or you can venture further afield to the outer islands if you seek more pristine serenity.
Here are our Top 5 Must-Do’s in the Cook Islands.
Explore the reef with Ariimoana Walkabouts – Rarotonga
Get up close and personal with the intriguing creatures that inhabit the inner reef. Local guide Kura Happ started her eco tour company to share her love and knowledge of the reef with visitors. “We go on the reef at low tide, the safest time, and talk about all the marine creatures we find like octopus, sea urchins, the corals, and share stories about how the locals used to live by fishing in the reefs. All those stories my grandparents used to share with me. My papa was a fisherman. I was raised on the beach!” Tours last about three hours.
Sail on the traditional waka Marumaru Atua – Rarotonga
Polynesian peoples have a storied history of voyaging throughout the Pacific on traditional waka vessels. The ancestors of the Maori ventured forth from Avana Harbor on Rarotonga in wakas long ago to find the Land of the Long White Cloud. Marumaru Atua, a recently restored traditional double hulled waka canoe, is moored in that same sacred harbor. Well, when she isn’t sailing on extended voyages throughout the Pacific. With luck, the gleaming wooden and fiberglass ship will be there when you are. Check the crew’s facebook page for availability, public tours are offered on Saturdays.
Relish local flavors at the Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market – Rarotonga
For the freshest fruits, vegetables and mouth-watering prepared foods, wake up early on Saturday and head to the Punanga Nui Market. Farmers and food artisans display their vibrant local produce (starfruit, papaya, soursop) and edible delicacies just a few minutes’ walk from the town center. The earliest birds get the succulent grilled maroro (flying fish) doused in coconut milk alongside steamed manioca.
Hike across Rarotonga to Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Volcanic spires covered in lush vegetation pierce the surreal tropical blue sky above Rarotonga. The island’s mountains offer a range of excellent hikes for all experience levels. If you’re ready for a rugged four hour tramp to a stunning rock formation with horizon to horizon views, then the Cross Island Te Rua Manga hike awaits. You’ll navigate dense forests that open onto ridgeline paths. Wear sturdy shoes, beware of slippery conditions after a rain. It’s recommended to start from the north coast side—it’s easier to find your way.
Visit the pristine lagoon of Aitutaki
Hop on a short flight from Rarotonga to visit the crystal clear turquoise waters of Aitutaki. While it’s the second most visited island in the Cook Islands after Rarotonga, it’s a world away with it’s serene tropical magic. 15 motus or islets dot the surreal sunlit lagoon. Relax on a sparkling white sand beach or dip into the technicolor underwater world with your snorkel.
Intrigued and want to visit? View our upcoming Future Leaders Academy courses in the Cook Islands here.