9 Things to Do in the Cook Islands
Featured destinations: Cook Islands, Rarotonga
Published 05 July 2016
White sandy beaches, azure waters, colourful coral reefs and unspoilt lagoons; the pristine Cook Islands are often dubbed paradise on earth. And it is easy to see why: with just 15 tiny droplets of land dotted across miles of cerulean waters, this is the perfect destination to truly escape from it all. What’s more, there happens to be plenty to do besides lying on golden sands for weeks on end (though we won’t blame you if you struggle to tear yourself away from those dazzling beaches). Here’s our pick of how to make the most of your very own utopia.
Relax in Rarotonga
Encircled by glimmering coral reef and home to a sapphire-blue lagoon, the largest of the Cook Islands is an emerald gem. Its 20-mile circumference drops off into calm blue waters and tropical reefs. Hike into the lush green rainforest, explore the beautiful lagoons, or cycle around the island. If diving isn’t for you, hope aboard a glass-bottomed boat and marvel at the kaleidoscopic marine life below as you glide gently over teal waters.
The capital city of the Cook Islands, Avarua is an intoxicatingly heady blend of authentic Polynesian culture, natural wonders and chilled-out vibes. Fronting a picturesque bay on Rarotonga’s north coast, the Cook Islands’ only proper town is home to The Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve, the serene Peace Garden and acres of lush jungle. You’ll also find The Tamarind House Restaurant here, which is ensconced in postcard-perfect surroundings. The tempura prawns and grilled swordfish are our favourite dishes.
Set sail on an Aitutaki Day Cruise
Dubbed ‘Honeymoon Island’, the Cook Islands’ Aitutaki atoll is a short flight from Rarotonga – and if you only have a short time on the island, a day cruise is the perfect way to take in the exquisite beauty. After a tour of the mainland, you’ll be invited to board the Vaka Titi-Ai-Tonga and begin your cruise across the shimmering blue lagoon. Spot rare birds and drink in the incredible landscape from one of many tiny islets, before arriving at the deserted One Foot Island – which happens to also be the home of one of the world’s smallest registered post offices. Feast on a delicious spread of grilled meats and fresh salads, before returning to the mainland, where fire twirlers and hip-swaying dancers will entertain you into the night.
Snorkel at Muri Beach
Among the most famous stretches of sand in all of the Cook Islands, Muri Beach is an aquatic playground. The gently-sloping sugar sands take you straight out into the clear waters of the lagoon where swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and paddle boarding are just a handful of the activities you can try your hand at. Take an evening stroll along the sweeping cove, or walk around the water’s edge while soaking up the last of the day’s heat.
Grab a burger from Vili’s Takeaway
Feeling peckish after all that snorkelling? Sink your teeth into a delicious burger at Vili’s Takeaway. These tasty treats are rightly dubbed the best burgers on Rarotonga. Our favourite is the Tamatoa burger; the secret sauce is something else. The Muri burger, topped with pineapple and bacon, is also not to be missed. What’s even better is that they are super cheap – meaning you’ll be hard-pushed not to go back for more.
Learn the culture at Te Vara Nui Village
Delve into the rich culture of this sensational destination at Te Vara Nui Village, where local Maori people will share stories of their heritage during the Cultural Village Tour. After working up an appetite, take a seat in the lush rock waterfall garden and feast on a scrumptious buffet while singers and dancers stage an over-water spectacle by torchlight.
Shop at Punanga Nui Market
Trading six days a week in Avarua ever since it was established in 1992, this island shopping experience is not to be missed. The sprawling market offers a mouth-watering selection of fresh fish and produce, as well as crafts, clothes, music and tropical flowers. Why not start the day with a cup of steaming coffee, while perusing the hundreds of stalls selling traditional arts and crafts. Ensure you don’t miss the fresh food tents, where you’ll find local delicacies including chicken with taro, ika mata and coconut-infused dishes - plus wines made from bananas and passionfruit.
Swim in Wigmore’s Waterfall (Papua Waterfall)
Located at Vaimaanga, the only waterfall on Rarotonga is the perfect place to escape the midday heat and enjoy a refreshing dip. Make an afternoon of it and follow one of the many pony treks which wind through steamy forests and past lush tropical scenery. Watch out for whether there has been a lot of rainfall around the time of your visit though; this waterfall is all the more spectacular following heavy downpours.
Sip a Matutu Mai lager on the south coast
Nestled near a sandy beach, Vaima Polynesian Bar and Restaurant is one of Rarotonga’s most popular eateries. The chic dining room features local artwork; or why not enjoy your meal on the beachfront terrace? Indulge in a seafood curry and sip an authentic Matutu Mai lager as the sun sinks over paradise.