5 Must-Do Activities while in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands felt like some kind of dream. With turquoise blue water, white sandy beaches, and rolling green mountains, I had to pinch myself that this was reality.
To be honest, before Bryce and I booked our trip to New Zealand, I had no idea where the Cook Islands were located. We stumbled across this little paradise because it allowed Bryce and I to fly to New Zealand more directly and cheaper, (including our 9-day stop on the Island), versus the other 24-hour travel options. Once I looked up photos of The Cook Islands, I knew I wanted to go here!
A little geography about the Cook Islands…
The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific, directly south of Hawaii (in the same time zone) and East of Australia. It is actually made up of 15 different Islands over a vast area with the largest island, called Rarotonga, only 32km in circumference (it takes only 30 minutes to drive around the entire Island). Rarotonga is the only Island in the Cook Islands that Bryce and I visited as traveling to any of the other islands was either crazy expensive ($214 for a 20-minute one-way flight to Aitutaki), only accessibly by large cargo ships, or uninhabited.
Though Rarotonga is a small Island, there is a TON of things that you can do to keep yourself busy! Bryce and I are sharing with you the Top 5 Activities we did as well as some tips/tricks to help you save some money if you ever decide to visit this tropical paradise (P.S they have flights from Edmonton with a layover in Los Angeles).
#1 Getting your Cook Islands Scooter License
This is a MUST DO for anyone that comes to the Cook Islands for two reasons. The first reason is you will need this scooter to get around the Island. The buses come every half hour, which isn’t too bad, but they are super expensive ($5 per person for a one-way trip and that can add up!) and will limit your experience of the Island. The second reason is you will get an official Cook Islands license that you can take home with you, which is pretty sweet! Click here to read about my experience getting a scooter license in the Cook Islands.
#2 Check out an Island Night Show
If you have ever been to Hawaii, you may have gone to a Luau. They have similar shows in the Cook Islands that showcases the Cooks Islanders cultural dances and stories which is different from Hawaii and other Polynesian cultures. It is a must do as these Night Shows typically include a delicious buffet dinner as well.
They have a variety of show options that you can choose from ranging in price from $15 (just the dance performance) to $124 NZD (includes a village tour, show, and dinner). Based on the reviews we read, the cheaper shows aren’t really worth it and doesn’t provide you with the full proper experience.
Bryce and I decided to visit the Tu Vara Nui Village Island Night Show + Village Tour which was $124 NZD per person (yes, the most expensive). But I can honestly say that it was worth every penny. I highly recommend this package because it included a 2-hour village tour - which was fantastic - a full buffet dinner filled with both local and global dishes, and a very entertaining and interactive 1-hour show!
I learned way more about the Cook Islands here on this tour than at the museum we went to. During the tour, they took us around to different huts and at each one we learned about the history of the Cook Islands, we were shown the different medicinal plants and fruits/veggies still used in healing and cooking today, taught the evolution of the cultural dresses (and how each Polynesian Island is different), and were shown all the different uses of a coconut and the coconut tree. It was fascinating and the tour guides were so informative and fantastic story tellers.
Then it was time for dinner which included a huge buffet filled with a variety of European, American, and local Cook Island dishes. The food was fantastic and it was really cool to try different local dishes such as spicy papaya salad, Rukau (a type of salad that uses mashed taro leaves mixed with onions and coconut milk), fresh fish, lamb and more! They also had plenty of European dishes (even fresh sushi) to keep your taste buds happy.
Before dessert was the 1-hour night show! The dancers performed on a man-made Island over the water, a truly beautiful setting. And holy smokes can those girls shake their hips! And the men moved so fast, up and down and all around the stage. It was very entertaining, especially when they brought out the fire! Whoo! After their on-stage performance, they came up to all of us watching on the side and taught the ladies how to move their hips and the men to “shake” their knees. The night finished with dessert and a lot of laughter.
It was a wonderful evening and a Cook Island Must-Do!
#3 Kayak/Snorkel at Muri Beach
In all honesty, all of the beaches on the Cook Islands are beautiful, but Muri beach is unique because there are 3 Islands not far away in the distance that you can go and explore. It is also one of the safest places to swim because these islands break up any under currents that may pull you out to the ocean (which is a fear of mine!).
You can easily just bring a towel and hangout at the beach, but if you love the water, make sure you get out and play. The water is incredibly warm (average of 24 degrees celsius), pretty shallow in spots, and you don’t have to worry about seaweed grabbing at your legs.
Bryce and I decided to rent a double-person kayak and explore the Islands. The first Island we went to was just stunning! On one side, you could see Muri Beach with all of the resorts, but on the other side of the Island looked out straight to the Ocean. It was serene and so beautiful! We hung out here for a bit, admiring the clear and bright blue water before heading to the second Island. The second Island is smaller and more rocky, so we opted with staying in our boat and kayaking the perimeter of the Island. As we approached the Island, the water calmed down quite a bit and we could see schools of fish swimming beneath us of all colors. This is one of the best spots to snorkel at Muri Beach!
Due to time, we weren’t able to make it to the third Island. I guess we will just have to come back one day. ;)
TIP: Rent your double person kayak from Pacific Resort Rarotonga located right on the beach, especially if it is quiet. We booked our double person kayak for $20 for 2-hours, half the price of other places on Muri Beach. And they included free snorkel gear which was a bonus!
#4 Visit the Saturday Market in Avarua
For a fun morning out, make sure to visit the Punanga Nui Market on Saturdays in Avarua - the largest town on the Island. This market is huge (for an island this size) and includes a variety of vendors ranging from little restaurant kiosks to people selling fresh fruits/veggies, to where you can find a variety of gifts and local souvenirs. The market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. - Noon and is bustling with people and free entertainment.
Since Bryce and I are backpacking, we are limited on space in our bag. Even though we didn’t buy any souvenirs, it was still a lot of fun to walk around, buy some fresh veggies for dinner, and grab a smoothie to snack on!
#5 Go on a Hike (Weather Dependent)
Photo from Cosmopolitian Travels.
This is one thing on the list that Bryce and I actually did not do, but that I wanted to do so badly! There is a famous hike on the Island called The Needle that looks absolutely amazing. A jagged lone rock jets up from the landscape, and you can actually hike to it’s peak. It isn’t a hike for the faint of heart, as it is very steep, you need to use ropes to climb, there are cliff drops, and if the rocks are slippery it can be very dangerous.
Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit (mainly at night) while we were in the Cook Islands and we were advised from locals that the hike would be slippery and dangerous. I didn’t want to risk getting hurt at all, especially so early on into our trip, so Bryce and I skipped this activity. But if you are feeling adventurous and are a confident hiker, this would be an awesome activity to do! This is a cross-island hike, so I suggest parking your vehicle at the finish point and grab the local bus ($5 per person) to take you to the start of the hike on the other side of the Island. Totally worth it!
Bryce and I had an absolutely wonderful time visiting the Cook Islands. If you are looking for a proper, relaxing beach holiday located in paradise, this is the Island for you!
Do you have any questions about the Cook Islands? Let me know in the comments below or scroll down to view a few more photos from our little beach holiday.
Sending warm hugs and good vibes to everyone at home!
Brittany & Bryce