Insights & Stories

Explore the Cook Islands: Top 5 Things to Do and See

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July 31st, 2023

Cook Island Cook Island

With the summer travel season upon us, there’s no better time to visit the Cook Islands. Located south of Hawaii, between Samoa and French Polynesia, this island country is home to white sand beaches, lush mountains, and colorful coral reefs. The Cook Islands may not have stop lights or any buildings taller than a coconut tree, yet there are plenty of luxury accommodations available with all the modern conveniences of home. Featuring 15 main islands spread across more than 850,000 square miles in the South Pacific, the Cook Islands offer plenty to experience. Plus, with weekly flights on Hawaiian Airlines between Honolulu and Rarotonga beginning this May, it’s easier than ever to explore the Cook Islands.

From fishing and diving to going on a hike or cruise, you may be surprised at the many ways to enjoy this tropical retreat. Not sure where to begin? Here’s a quick guide to five attractions that no traveler should miss when spending time in the Cook Islands.

  • Muri Beach is among the most scenic destinations on Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, and is a veritable playground of aquatic activities. With shallow water along the beach and gentle waves off the coast, Muri is perfect for both relaxing activities, such as snorkeling and paddle boarding, as well as more intense water sports, such as kayaking, kitesurfing, and sailing. Aptly nicknamed the “Jewel of Rarotonga," this tranquil stretch of sand and sea is a gold coast for visitors and locals alike.
  • In the town of Avarua in northern Rarotonga, the Cook Islands Library and Museum has been preserving the area’s history and culture since the early 1950s. Learn the history of the Cook Islands, from the first Pacific Islanders who settled there more than a thousand years ago to the arrival of European explorers in the 1700s to the transition to self-government in 1965. Exhibits include ancient Polynesian musical instruments, cookware, and carved weapons as well as local photography and artwork, which includes a tivaivai, or traditional Cook Island quilt. And don’t miss the colorful mural that adorns the museum exterior.
  • After Rarotonga, Aitutaki is the second most-visited Cook Island, largely for its sprawling sunlit lagoon—which is perfect for honeymooners. You can unwind on a beach under a coconut palm on one of 15 islets or go swimming in the clear waters throughout this turquoise lagoon. For those seeking more excitement, go windsurfing or try your hand at fishing for elusive, silvery bonefish that can reach over 10 pounds. Want a little bit of everything? Enjoy a Vaka lagoon cruise, which offers options like a fresh fish barbecue, sunbathing, snorkeling, and learning how to weave coconut leaves.
  • Located in Aitutaki Lagoon, Tapuaetai (or “One Foot Island," named because the island resembles a large left foot when seen from above), is a popular Cook Island hotspot for its white powder beaches and mesmerizing turquoise waters. In 2023, One Foot Island was ranked as the 5th best beach in the world by Banana Boat and was awarded “Australasia’s Leading Beach" at the World Travel Awards in 2008. This bucket list beach is accessible by boat and even offers its own passport stamp (in the shape of a foot, of course).
  • No trip to the Cook Islands is complete without enjoying an Island Night experience, where cultural practitioners adorned in colorful apparel share local history and traditions through dance, music, and song. These lively performances are accompanied by buffet meals featuring popular Cook Island dishes, such as ika mata (marinated fish ceviche), and rori (sea cucumber) cooked in garlic and butter. Popular island nights include the Over Water Night Show at Te Vara Nui Village on the island of Ara Tapu, and the Sunset Show & Feast at Highland Paradise Cultural Centre on Rarotonga.

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