Things to Do in The Cook Islands
The Cook Islands offer a choice of things to do from scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and sea kayaking to hiking, game fishing and whale watching – perfect for active couples on a romantic honeymoon or beach holiday.
Hiking – The main island of Rarotonga offers more than a dozen marked trails, including: the popular Cross Island Trek that takes you along paths once used by ancestral warriors; Pa’s Mountain Walk through tropical rainforest to Raemaru Lookout and Papua Waterfall; and the Ikurangi Trek with the added opportunity for rock climbing.
Nature lovers can take a guided walk through the Takitumu Conservation Area to admire local flora and fauna including rare orchids and the endangered Kakerori bird.
On Aitutaki Island, hike up to the summit of Mount Maugnapu (124m) for great views over the lagoon. Or ask a local guide to take you on a guided walk around the rainforest.
On Atiu Island, use local roads to explore inland or circumnavigate the coast for romantic walks.
Scuba diving – The Cook Islands offer some of the best diving in the South Pacific. Water temperature averages 25˚C in July and 30˚C in December with visibility up to 30m. Dive through canyons and caves, past varieties of live coral to see colourful reef fish, as well as sharks, manta rays and barracudas.
Some of the best dive sites in the Cook Islands include the Matavera drop-off, the Ngatangiia swim-throughs, Koromiri Coral Garden, the Mataora shipwreck (deliberately sunk in December 1990) and Papua Canyon (known for its eagle ray population). Dive centres on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki islands offer a wide range of PADI scuba diving and refresher courses.
Snorkelling – Experience excellent snorkelling at any of the raui (marine protected areas) scattered around the Cook Islands. Titikaveka Lagoon on the southeast side of Rarotonga offers one of the best spots to view colourful tropical fish and giant clams. While on Aikutaki Lagoon, it’s easy to snorkel right off the beach as well as around the tiny atolls on the rim of the lagoon, which are easily reached on a day cruise.
Kayaking – The sheltered waters of Aitutaki Lagoon and the lagoon surrounding Rarotonga (especially off Muri Beach and the south-east coast) offer excellent conditions for kayaking. Sea kayaks are generally available from most resorts.
Surfing – While not known for its great surf breaks, Rarotonga Island offers some good spots: try Avana on the east coast, Rutaki Passage on the south coast and Club Raro on the north coast. Waves typically average less than 1m to 3m all year round, depending on wind and swell directions.
It’s best to bring your own surfboard as there are no rentals here. Alternatively, Nikki’s Surf Shop in Avarua sells second-hand boards and will buy them back (depending on condition) when you leave.
Game fishing – The main reef off Rarotonga Island is especially renowned for game fishing while experienced crews can offer local knowledge needed to fish other spots as well as proving lessons for beginners. Hook up a charter for mahi mahi (all year), marlin (all year but best from November to February), yellow fin tuna (all year but best from May to September), wahoo and barracuda (best from July to November).
Whale watching – July and October are the best times to watch humpback whales migrate through the Cook Islands. The best spots on Rarotonga can be found at Black Rock along the west coast or Paradise Inn on the north coast. Other great viewing areas include Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro islands, where the fringing reef is close to the coast.
To learn more about whales, visit the Whale Outreach Organisation for the Pacific, at Avarua on Rarotonga.
Shopping – Black pearls cultivated on the Cook Islands of Manihiki and Penryn are highly prized, as are the more common but equally beautiful golden and white pearls. A black pearl may cost as little as five dollars up to several thousand dollars depending on colour, size, shape and lustre.
Other best buys include hand-sewn appliquéd items called tivaevae and carvings of Tangaroa, the god of the sea.