A vacation in the Cook Islands is a vacation in tropical paradise. The Cook Islands consists of 15 small islands in the South Pacific. Rarotonga, where you will most likely stay, is the largest island and the capital. It’s surrounded by a reef, making the sandy beaches white and calm waters a tropical turquoise color. You’ll also find lush dense rainforests and mountain peaks on this island.
Unlike many Caribbean islands, the ‘Cooks’ remains unspoiled. Many of the islands are uninhabited making this destination one of the few paradises in the world to remain relatively ‘undiscovered’. It’s a great place to relax, hike, swim, snorkel, and really just ‘get away from it all’. Here is what you might expect when you travel to the Cook Islands.
Coming from the US, you’ll likely fly out of Los Angeles (LAX) on an Air New Zealand red eye. Maybe you’ll watch some New Zealand sitcoms, read, or catch up on your sleep. Air New Zealand is a notoriously fun airline and most people have a pleasant experience with the staff and crew. You’ll arrive in Rarotonga around 6am and your tropical paradise awaits!
Where to stay in Rarotonga
Still relatively untouched by “Western Culture” you won’t find common franchise properties anywhere on the island. The locals are quite proud of this fact and even through you won’t recognize the name of your hotel, you will have great service and a wonderful experience. Your About New Zealand Destination Specialist will find you the best deal on the perfect Rarotonga accommodation for you.
At this point, you’ll want a way to get around the island. Most people rent a car or a scooter. To rent one of these, you will have to buy a Rarotonga driver’s license. It’s a fairly easy process, you just have to have a current driver’s license and pay about $20. For the scooter rental, you either have to have a motorcycle license or take a test for an additional $5 to show you can handle the motorbike.
There is also a bus that goes around the island (about 20 miles) and takes about an hour to circle the entire thing. The buses are labeled “Clockwise” and “Anti-Clockwise” so it’s pretty easy to get around without the rental.
You can also rent a bike.
Insider Tip: Scooter rental is the way to go. It’s a great experience and adds to the uniqueness of the vacation. Just be careful! Scooters aren’t toys but often seem like it while you’re on vacation. “Scooter Scars” (as the locals call them) are common due to many tourists’ lackadaisical attitudes.
Stuff to do in Rarotonga
There is an abundance of well-priced tours and adventures in The Cook Islands to keep you entertained. Ask your About New Zealand Destination Specialist to find you the best deals that fit in with your idea of fun.
Options include boat tours to surrounding islands, snorkeling around the reefs, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, hiking, lagoon cruises, sunset sailboat rides, horseback riding, safaris into the jungle, and more.
We highly recommend visiting Te Vara Nui Village where you can enjoy a delicious dinner and night show featuring the traditional hip shaking Polynesian dancing. Yes, just like in Hawaii!
Likely, you’ll have a lot of free time to relax on the beach. Most resorts we work with are walking distance from the beach but we also recommend checking out Muri Beach. The water is blue, warm and inviting. The sand is golden white and soft. It’s easy to rent kayaks, catamarans and windsurfers here. The best part about this beach is that it’s swimming or canoeing distance from the smaller islands of Koromiri. These smaller islands are nearly uninhabited and pretty amazing to see.
If you enjoy a good hike, be sure to hike out to Papua Waterfall. There you will find a natural pool where you can take a swim after your long hike!
Another spot to check out for snorkelers is the Maitai Wreck. The Maitai was on her way from San Francisco to Wellington when she wrecked on South Reef, Avarue, Raratonga on Christmas Day in 1916. Pretty amazing history! You can dive there too, but the wreck is only about 16 feet underwater, so it’s great for snorkelers.
Last tip! Don’t leave Rarotonga without checking out a black pearl shop. The black pearl is a great Cook Islands souvenir. Every time you see it, you’ll be reminded of the time you spent in a true tropical paradise with a small-town community feel to it. You’ll remember the sandy beaches, the Polynesian culture, the amazing marine life, the reef, the forests, the lush tropic plants, and the delicious tropical fruit.
The people, the atmosphere, the sights and the experience all make a Cook Islands vacation a truly magical adventure.