The vibrant markets and nightlife, beach restaurants, award-winning resorts and raw beauty all set the Cook Islands apart, but it is their culture and people that really distinguish this beautiful part of world, only a matter of hours from Sydney. Welcome to our Cook Islands travel guide.
The Cook Islands inhabit over 15,000 people across 15 gorgeous islands, which are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean equal in size of India. You’ll find endless blue lagoons perfect for snorkelling and swimming and the white sand beaches to escape to are in abundance.
The Cook Islands are so compact in size you won’t have any trouble navigating your way around – it takes just 45 minutes to drive around the largest island, Rarotonga.
At just 32 kilometres in circumference and with one, looping main road connecting all its white sand beaches, pastel blue lagoons and knife-like volcanic peaks, Rarotonga is like a purpose-built playground for families to go wild in for a week or two. And whether you’re climbing mountain trails, exploring colourful ocean depths or slowing things down to enjoy traditional dishes at a local home, the island lets you set your own pace.
Enjoy a spectacular Rarotonga sunset with a freshly made cocktail at any of the countless beach bars in Arorangi, or set sail on a sunset cruise aboard a yacht around Rarotonga. If you like to be spoiled, try a specialised treatment on Rarotonga and Aitutaki at some of the most awarded day spas in the South Pacific, then eat a fresh seafood dinner with your feet in the sand at one of Rarotonga’s most iconic restaurants, Vaima Restaurant & Bar.
Known for their endless supply of fresh fish such as Mahi Mahi and tuna and locally grown fruit and vegetables, it’s easy to find deliciously locally made meals. A regional favourite on the Cooks is Ika Mata: marinated raw tuna in lime and coconut juice, accompanied with taro (locally grown root vegetable). The locals still prepare meals the traditional way, in an earth oven or ‘umu’ which gives the meat and vegetable the most exquisite smoky flavour.
There are accommodation options for every type of traveller in this part of the world. Sleep in a hut on an uninhabited island in Aitutaki’s world-famous lagoon or venture over to one of the four uninhabited motus (islet) in Rarotonga’s Muri Lagoon for the day.
The Cook Islands are also a good spot for adrenaline junkies. Embark on a caving adventure through labyrinthine chambers in Atiu, go fly fishing for the elusive bonefish in Aitutaki’s famous lagoon, or surf the wild waves across the shallow reefs of Rarotonga for some of the best tube rides in the Pacific (experienced surfers only). Join local tour guide Pa for a cross island hike right across Rarotonga, finishing with a refreshing swim under Wigmores waterfall, or you could even join the kite surfing revolution that is ‘Manureva’ taking place annually on Honeymoon Island (Aitutaki) between August and September.
Mangaia is the Cook Islands’ second largest island but is home to just 500 people, many of whom still rely solely on the sea and farming for food.
You won’t find the lagoons of Rarotonga and Aitutaki here, instead walk carefully across the coral to find calm swimming holes within the barrier reef.
When on Mangai, be sure to explore the awe-inspiriting caves on the island and take a fishing tour with a local. Don’t worry if you don’t like fishing, the journey from Mangaia’s tiny harbour – complete with pre-trip prayer – provides a fascinating insight into Polynesian culture.