Beach chairs sat on a beach with sun glaring through beach umbrella

Cook IslandsTravel Guide

The Cook Islands is an island paradise in the South Pacific, encompassing 15 unique and equally beautiful islands. With as much space as Western Europe, but only 15,000 residents, the Cook Islands gives you that rare and wonderful feeling of being distanced from the world. Escape the thralls of every-day life with bright blue water, refreshing lagoons, true South Pacific culture and diverse tropical wilderness. With so much to do during the day, from deep sea fishing to mountain biking, and at night, from romantic dinners on the water’s edge to wild partying, there’s always a new adventure to be found. Yet you needn’t lift a little toe if all you want is to relax on the soft white beaches with a cocktail in hand. The picturesque surrounds, ever-changing days and of course the friendly locals make the Cook Islands feel like a home you never want to leave.

Explore Cook Islands

Where to stay in Cook Islands?

If you’ve been dreaming of an island escape, leave your worries at home and book a Cook Islands hideaway. Whatever your taste in accommodation might be, the Cook Islands has the ideal place for you to lose yourself in paradise; from hostels, self-contained villas and holiday homes, to guest houses and 5-star hotels and resorts.Rarotonga and Aitutaki have an extensive range of award-winning accommodation that’s perfect for honeymooners and families alike. Budget-savvy travellers will love finding that cheaper accommodation options, such as homestays and holiday homes, don’t lose much splendour. In fact, they provide a completely unique and cultural experience.For an even more secluded holiday, you can venture over to the smaller islands of Atiu, Mangaia and Mitiaro to vacation in villas and friendly homestays.

Believe us when we say, this is just the start. Book your accommodation today!

  • Kite surfer in background surfing clear waters in the Cook Islands
    • Food market with pastries on sale and a blackboard outlining the food available
    • Close up of mountain peak coming through a forest canopy
  • Kite surfer in background surfing clear waters in the Cook Islands
    Kite surfer in background surfing clear waters in the Cook Islands
    Kite surfer in background surfing clear waters in the Cook Islands
  • Food market with pastries on sale and a blackboard outlining the food available
    Food market with pastries on sale and a blackboard outlining the food available
    Food market with pastries on sale and a blackboard outlining the food available
  • Close up of mountain peak coming through a forest canopy
    Close up of mountain peak coming through a forest canopy
    Close up of mountain peak coming through a forest canopy

Things to do in Cook Islands

Whether you’re someone who likes to keep an itinerary or a free spirit who wants to throw away all plans while on your Cook Islands escape, you won’t be disappointed by this diverse country. The various islands host an array of attractions that suit all styles of travel, from adventurous and high-octane, to relaxed and cultural.

Open every Saturday almost as soon as the sun has risen, the Punanga Nui Market is one of the best places to discover the vibrant culture of the Cook Islands. As you browse through the stalls you’re guided by the sound and sight of drummers and dancers performing on the streets. The market sells a variety of local treasures, from black pearls and sarongs to fresh fruits and produce.

The Cross Island Trek with Maunga Tours is a walking tour through the interiors of Rarotonga with a fun and informative twist. Bruce’s extensive knowledge of the area’s history and love of old stories gives the tours a unique appeal as each trek is different from the other. Although there’s no climbing involved (unless you choose to climb The Needle) and most of the path is not strenuous, there are moments when you need to be able to navigate rugged terrain. The Cooks is a treasure trove of nature and you get to see a lot of the fauna and flora during the walk.

The award-winning cultural attraction, Highland Paradise, takes you to a settlement where Cook Islanders used to live. Known as ‘the lost village’, Highland Paradise includes tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays that show historical sites and entertain with re-enactments of crucial moments in Cook Islands history. If you attend a cultural night, you’re treated to expert guides, a tapu lifting, warrior welcome and a feast cooked in a traditional underground oven (umu). Entertainment is provided all throughout the night, from dancing and music to spectacular stage shows.

Few activities let you know how seaworthy you are better than a voyage out beyond the reef on a traditional sailing canoe (vaka). The Vaka Marumaru Atua is a large sailing canoe built using the same methods of ancient Cook Islanders. It can transport groups out into deep water, where you may need to brace for the occasional big wave. The cruises last about three hours and provide glamorous views of Rarotonga. If you want to increase the excitement, ask about the occasional night journey on the Marumaru Atua from Rarotonga across to Aitutaki.

The Cook Islands has seen a recent rise in the popularity of kitesurfing, thanks to regular weather that is tailor-made for the sport. There are multiple companies that facilitate kitesurfing with lessons, professional equipment, and boat transfers. The steady winds that blow across Aitutaki Lagoon and Muri Lagoon provide the perfect conditions for kitesurfing, whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

Join Butch, the local authority on fly fishing, in casting a line out and snagging a big bonefish in the splendid water of Aitutaki Lagoon. Imagine being knee deep in the water, reeling in a fighter while you're surrounded by picturesque tropical nature. Fishing adventures can last a half or full day and are available year-round. Along with bonefish, you may also encounter queenfish, snapper and barracuda. Butch’s knowledge and experience will help you become a fly-fishing pro, so you can catch the big ones.

Consisting of seven acres of gardens, the Maire Nui Gardens boasts beautiful tropical gardens and lily ponds to explore at a leisurely pace. You can take a relaxed stroll through the gardens, encountering hundreds of tropical plants and native birds. You’ll even stumble upon a café tucked in the lush gardens, perfect for a chilled break surrounded by the island’s stunning nature.

The island of Mangaia, one of the least populated in the Cook Islands, is steeped in rich history. A lot of this history resides in the intricate cave systems that exist on the island. The adventurous souls will enjoy stepping into these caves including Te Puta, a small cave where a recluse lived and which provides stunning views of the island’s plateaus. Some of the caves seem endless, stretching as far as three kilometres with a labyrinth of twists and turns. If you’re brave enough to venture through them, you may come across the human remains of past island residents.

Surfing off the island of Rarotonga is an epic event thanks to the shallow reefs. However, these reefs also provide some of the best tube rides in the Pacific. Known for being short and punchy, each ride gives you a quick dose of adrenaline as you cruise centimetres above the reef along crystal clear water. The most reliable surf breaks can be found off Avana Harbour, Rutaki and off Club Raro. Due to the hazardous combination of the shallow water and the sharp coral in the reef, surfing in Rarotonga is only recommended for experienced surfers.

Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

Flights to Cook Islands

Cook Islands food and drink

Food is often a highlight on any given day in this tropical paradise known as the Cook Islands. Despite its small population, there are more than 100 cafes, bars and restaurants on Rarotonga alone. The fresh international and local cuisines provided manage to draw an ‘Mmmm’ from even the fussiest of foodies.The large variety of restaurants means you can find something new and unique to eat every day. From dining in a restored colonial house on the edge of a lagoon, to staring out across at the offshore islands from a table on an open deck, each dining experience delivers a new appreciation for the island way of life.For a cultural evening, join the Progressive Dinner in Rarotonga. You’re taken through three homes of local residents who are experienced cooks and know how to get the best flavours out of the Cook Islands’ ingredients. Traditional food such as kumera (sweet potato) and rukua (taro) is served up, and you even get to see the old style of cooking food in an umu (earth oven).Regardless of where you’re eating, a visit to the Cook Islands isn’t complete without tasting the delicious national dish of Ika Mata: fresh tuna marinated in coconut milk, onion, tomato and chilli.

This beachfront restaurant serves up fresh seafood and local and international dishes, while lavishing you in a romantic island atmosphere. You can sit at decorated tables on the sand enjoying the water stretched out before you. Featuring several themed nights during the week, you can enjoy a variety of meals and live entertainment.

Trader Jacks at Avarua Harbour is well-known for its great vibes, cold beer, and fresh seafood menu. Often featuring live music in the evenings, visitors can dine in the restaurant or chill out at Vaka Bar next door. If you are feeling adventurous, try their famous sashimi pizza.

If you don’t want to decide on just one type of sashimi for dinner or you’d prefer to give your taste buds a tour through the South Pacific's many flavours, the The Islander Hotel’s restaurant and Hula Bar can accommodate with its sashimi three ways main course. If raw fish is not for you then try a variety of other Polynesian and western dishes on the menu. And for those looking for a party, The Hula Bar offers all day happy hour and is a great spot to mix and mingle with the locals. The restaurant's location, right across the street from the airport, provides excellent spot to hang out and soak up the last of your holiday before boarding your flight home. Simply check in, drop your bags, head over to The Islander Hotel, and make sure you are back to the airport in time for a quick security check and boarding.

Situated on the famous Popoara Beach, The Boat Shed has a rustic appeal with its wooden structure and antique decorations. The diverse menu lets you select from a range of tasty meals including seafood and Asian dishes. If you’re dining during whale season, you may be treated to a whale show just off the reef in front of the restaurant.

Housed in a restored colonial house and set on sprawling manicured lawns that stretch down to the beach, Tamarind House is easily one of the best establishments to taste the flavours of the Cooks. The menu is often changing things up with new dishes from both local and international influences. If you’re ever dining at the Tamarind House, it’s worthwhile trying the fresh tuna nicoise salad or the taro leaf and roast pumpkin lasagne. After dinner, you can take a moonlit stroll through the gardens or along the beach.

Close to Muri at the Avana Wharf, you can find The Moorings Fish Cafe, which delivers a truly casual atmosphere along with delicious fresh fish dishes including their famous FOB (fresh off the boat) Fish Sandwich. You can choose to eat at one of the picnic tables overlooking the lagoon or purchase takeaway and enjoy the fresh seafood down by the water. This little establishment is great for a change of pace from the other notable dining options.

Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

Cook Islands through your eyes

Where to shop in Cook Islands?

One Cook Islands activity worth peeling yourself off the sun-lounger for is shopping. We’re not talking mega malls with million-watt flouro lights, we’re talking friendly local markets, art galleries, craft shops and where to find those beautiful black pearls that the Cook Islands do so well!

The largest, most popular market in the Cook Islands is the Punanga Nui Markets in Avarua, within the main town of Rarotonga. These markets operate on a Saturday morning and any local will tell you: get there early. The markets themselves are a wonderful and authentic Cook Islands experience, where you have the chance to meet local artisans and talk to them about their work. At the markets you’ll find handmade jewellery, arts and crafts, clothing, hats made of coconut frond and much more. There’s free entertainment, food stalls selling fresh local produce and snacks, as well as organic coffee brewing all morning. At 10am there is live music and dancing on the main stage, so don’t sleep in too long!

There are so many special mementos you could pick up in the Cook Islands, but if you want to come home with something true to the region, you can’t go past a pareu (colourful fabric printed in a variety of colours and patterns like a sarong); cultured black pearls; and hand-stitched quilts known as tivaevae, which are highly valued amongst Cook Islanders.

Hot tip: Market stalls are cash only so don’t forget to bring New Zealand dollars or Cook Islands coins.

You can find the small-but-perfect black pearls all over the South Pacific, but the quality of the pearls in the Cook Islands is very high. The best place to buy black pearls in the Cook Islands is on Rarotonga, in the Avarua district, where there are many jewellery stores selling exquisite black pearl jewellery. Shops sell black pearls individually too, so if you want to have your pearls made into jewellery once you arrive home, you can do so.

Looking for a safe and simple way to bring your money when you travel? Our Travel Money Card has you covered!

When is the best time to travel to Cook Islands?

The Cooks Islands are located just below the equator, in the South Pacific, and enjoy a tropical climate. Summers are hot, humid and often stormy (called ‘rainy season’ for a reason!), while winters are sunny and warm. That said, the best time to visit the Cook Islands is pretty much any time of year. Even in rainy season, from January to March, the downpours are sudden and often followed by blazing sun once the clouds clear. Plus, all that rain makes for some epic waterfall action.

If you’re talking weather alone, July and August are the best months to visit the Cook Islands.

However, it’s never just about the weather. Perfect conditions also mean an abundance of visitors and you may find that the winter months of June through August are just too busy.

Our pick for the best time to travel in Cook Islands is during what’s known as ‘shoulder season’ either side of winter. April – May and September – October give you an idyllic combination of dry skies and warm weather. The water is clear and the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki are a little quieter than in the winter months.

Don't miss out. Book your flight today!

How to get around Cook Islands

Each island in the Cook Islands is very compact, so it’s easy to get around regardless of what mode of transport you choose. Whether you opt for a leisurely bicycle ride, scooters, a hire car or a simple walk, you’re never too far from your destination.

Rarotonga is the only island with buses. It provides an efficient bus service that runs around the island in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. Depending on what route you wish to take, you’ll need to time your departure for on the hour or every half-hour. The buses tend to stop outside hotels and other main areas, but you need to remember to flag the driver down (wave your hand). Buses are more frequent during the day and you can't catch the anti-clockwise route after 4:30pm or on Sundays. A single journey costs about $5 AUD and 10-ride tickets can also be purchased.

Another great way to explore Rarotonga and Aitutaki is by renting a car and heading out onto the open road. You can find a range of quality vehicles such as jeeps, convertibles, 4WDs and stock-standard cars from reliable hire companies. Hire a vehicle from Go Cook Islands Car Rentals, Avis Cook Islands, Island Car & Bike Hire and Polynesian Rental Cars if you’re on Rarotonga, or from Popoara Rentals if you’re on Aitutaki. Vehicles usually cost at least $60 per day.

Go back to the good old days and trek around the islands by putting one foot in front of the other. Most of the smaller islands don’t have any hire facilities, so this is often your only option. The Cook Islands is also one of the safest places to hitchhike in regards to meeting friendly people, but be prepared for the typical absence of seatbelts in local’s cars or riding in the back of a truck.

Most people choose to travel between islands via Air Rarotonga, a speedy and convenient airline that runs regular flights to Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mauke, Mangaia and Mitiaro. The airline services other islands as well, but these flights are less frequent and subject to weather. Usually, the earlier you book your flight the cheaper the ticket will be. Package deals can be purchased, which allow you to visit multiple islands with one ticket.

Scooters can be hired on Rarotonga and Aitutaki and are an excellent means of transportation because of their popularity on the Cook Islands and their excellent fuel efficiency. If you’ve already ridden a scooter, you’ll have no trouble navigating your way around, but if it’s your first time, you should get acquainted with the vehicle before venturing too far. You will also need to have a full motorbike licence from your home country or obtain one at the police station in Rarotonga. There are no traffic lights in Rarotonga and the country’s laid-back style is reflected in the road rules. Scooters can be hired from Polynesian Bike Hire, Adventure Cook Islands and Island Car & Bike Hire on Rarotonga, and from Popoara Rentals on Aitutaki. The cost of a scooter ranges from $15 to $30 per day.

Despite some of the roads being quite narrow, cycling is an enjoyable way of exploring the islands, because most of the traffic moves slowly. Rarotonga is probably the best island for cycling as the flat roads along the coast can be easily handled at a leisurely pace. Get your bicycle from Adventure Cook Islands for about $10 per day or try an e-bike for $49 per day with Tik-e Tours.

Jumping aboard an inter-island cargo ship is one of only two options of reaching the other islands. If you’re catching a ship, be prepared for irregular schedules and long delays between each one. It takes about one day to reach any of the islands from Rarotonga and there are limited cabins on the ships. A single trip will cost about $65 or you can purchase a round-trip ticket that includes visits to Rarotonga, Mangaia, Ma-uke, Mitiaro and Atiu for $260.

Let us help you organise your own wheels for exploring. Hire a car today.

What are the best beaches in Cook Islands?

Call it a humble brag, but there really are so many beautiful beaches in the Cook Islands, it’s difficult to know where to start. The fine white sand is legendary, and with so many protected coves and lagoons, that postcard-perfect turquoise water is... well, everywhere. Here’s our pick of the best.

On the south-eastern side of Rarotonga lies Muri Beach. It’s protected by the small Koromiri Island just offshore, giving the beach calm, safe waters. The gentle waves also make this a hub for water sports, and anything from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding is popular here. The shallows are also ideal for snorkelling and if you’re looking for lagoon cruises, Muri Lagoon is the place to do it. Alongside the beach are cafes, restaurants and bars, and if you stay until the sun goes down, you’ll be able to explore the vibrant Muri night markets. Just follow the aroma of the barbecue and the sound of live music...

Also on the western side of the island is Black Rock Beach, a culturally and historically significant place for the people of the Cook Islands. As the name suggests, the beach is characterised by huge black basalt rocks jutting out of the white sand and is where, according to tradition, the spirits of the dead make their way to the afterlife. The beach is dramatic in its beauty, with clear turquoise water. It’s also a good spot for swimming, with rock pools to explore, but be mindful of occasional strong currents. Facing west, Black Rock Beach is perfect for catching the sunset.

Another stunning beach and snorkelling hot spot is on the south-western side of Rarotonga at Aroa Beach. This area is part of a marine reserve, and you’ll find gorgeous coral and colourful tropical fish quite close to shore. The shallow waters make this a great spot to snorkel with children, although keep an eye on the current. Flippers are a good idea.

Think swaying palm trees, white sand and sparkling clear water and you have Titikaveka Beach. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Cook Islands—let alone the South Pacific—and a dream location for relaxing, swimming, snorkelling or simply dozing off in a hammock between the trees.


Cook Islands Frequently asked questions

When you're packing for a trip to the Cook Islands, don't forget the essentials like your visa, passport, chargers, camera, sunblock, some NZD and the correct power adaptor. From there, we recommend packing a towel, plenty of bathing suits, insect repellent, a hat, reef shoes and flip flops, some walking shoes and a great book to relax and read by the water.  

The Cook Islands boasts 15 islands just waiting for you to explore. With that in mind, adventure travellers and families tend to opt for the south and west coasts of Rarotonga, while couples and solo travellers opt for the west to enjoy golden sunsets and colourful snorkelling through underwater landscapes.   

Our latest info can be found in our Help Centre here 

Like any tropical climate, the Cook Islands offers two main seasons – hot and dry, and hot with a little bit of rain (their wet season). The drier weather tends to stick around between April and November, though you can enjoy sunny days, warm waters and lush tropical vibes all year round. 

Prepare to embrace the tropical vibes and island way of life when holidaying in Raratonga. Spend days soaking up the serenity on picturesque beaches, lazing in a hammock by the pool, snorkelling and exploring an underwater oasis, trying your hand at water sports and getting to know the friendly locals.  

Flight Centre's team of Travel Experts have nailed the art of relaxing and embracing island time, so they are the perfect people to ask about your Cook Islands escape. We've worked hard to curate the best Cook Islands holiday packages on the market, and can work to create a package suited to your needs. From luxury resorts to family-friendly holidays and diving expeditions, check out our range of Cook Islands holiday packages in store or online today.  

The current requirements for travelling to Cook Islands

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