My full guide to the Cook Islands is coming soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of the main things we got up to during our trip to the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki…
Things to do in Aitutaki
A guided boat tour around the lagoon is the must do on Aitutaki and for excellent reason. Ours was far and away the highlight of our whole trip!
After a good while spent researching the various options available, I settled on the Kia Orana Seven Wonders cruise. I only have wonderful things to say about our experience: our captain was lovely and extremely reliable (see cautionary tale below) and we got to see the most remarkable scenery both from the boat and landing on various motus and sand bars.
A cautionary tale: I would 100% ensure you wear a life jacket when snorkelling out in the lagoon. Unfortunately it was pretty windy when we went out, so Ben and I plus another guy in our group ended up getting swept away by the currents before we even realised it was happening. Trying to swim back to shallow waters suddenly became almost impossible – Ben and I managed it together but I’m still not sure how. The other man wasn’t so lucky and our guide had to rescue him. It actually got really scary.
It’s a testament to how excellent the rest of the tour was, and how excellent our guide was, that I still have really positive memories of the tour even with the scary snorkelling incident!
Maunga Pu Summit
I am a self-confessed weakling, so generally I don’t like walking in the heat. That said, the views you get from the Maunga Pu lookout at the top of Aitutaki are well worth the short uphill walk (see above photo). The lagoon looks great from just about anywhere on the island, but this elevated and panoramic view is especially enjoyable.
Speaking of walks, I’ve heard good things about the Cross Island Walk on Rarotonga, too. We fully intended to do it but in the end we decided against it due to tiredness!
Things to do in Rarotonga
Maire Nui Botanical Gardens
The gardens are small and rather unkempt, but contain some beautiful tropical plants. This was also one of the few places on Rarotonga that felt truly serene to me, making it all the more pleasant to wander around and take in all the unusual textures and colours.
Punanga Nui Market
This Saturday morning market gets super busy, but is a good option if you’re on the hunt for souvenirs or fresh produce. For me, it was a the perfect opportunity to grab local specialities like nu (coconut water straight out of its coconut) and poke (a banana and coconut cream dish).
Cook Islands National Museum
The museum’s collection is very small, so I’d only recommend it if you’re especially interested in history. Sadly there was no photography allowed, but it’s basically a single hall with the walls lined with flags on one side, engravings and photos on the other. The objects on display vary from the practical (baskets, paddles, pearl-shell fish hooks) to more ceremonial and decorative items (costume, drums and fine weapons).
Available on both Aitutaki and Rarotonga
These food-and-entertainment events are put on by several hotels across Rarotonga and Aitutaki. We tried to book onto one during our stay on Aitutaki but there wasn’t availability at the one we wanted with short notice.
Fortunately we were more successful in Rarotonga, where we attended the one at the Highland Paradise Cultural Centre. The experience was a good one, in large part down to the charisma of the chief (I believe he was called a chief), who led the room in describing Rarotongan customs and introducing the traditional dances.
Humpback Whale Watching – any island
The whales pass through between July and October. Sadly we didn’t manage to see any, but in case you want to be on the look out this page has tons of great information about how to whale watch responsibly in the Cook Islands.
As this FAQ page notes with regards to Aitutaki, though: “There aren’t huge numbers, they only come close to the reef intermittently, and thus there are no tours specifically for whale watching. But if you are outside the reef, fishing, diving, or snorkeling, there is a good chance you will see one.”
We largely cooked for ourselves on Aitutaki, but when we did venture out sadly the vegetarian fare we found wasn’t the healthiest – veggie pizza or chips, fried eggs and a side salad was the sum total of our attempts! If you’re an omnivore, and especially if you eat fish, then you’ll likely find the range much better than we did.
By contrast, Rarotonga had some excellent restaurants. My two favourites were:
- The New Place Cafe in Avarua – great array of vegetarian options and the most heavenly pumpkin scones (above)
- Le Rendez-Vous Cafe & Bistro out near the airport – we had a good lunch here, and the desserts (brownies and crepes, in particular) were so good we returned the next day for more
There are snorkelling areas directly off the coast of Aitutaki’s main island and off Rarotonga. The above photo is from the lagoon just opposite Fruits of Rarotonga, which I’ve heard is a good snorkelling spot. I’m afraid I can’t vouch for that myself as we only went out snorkelling on our own once (in Aitutaki) and we didn’t see very much at all!
We were happy sticking with snorkels, but if scuba is more your thing that’s an option too. PADI has a great guide to diving in the Cook Islands. If you’re looking to go with a dive provider, a cursory look online suggests that Dive Aitutaki is the main one in Aitutaki, while Rarotonga has The Dive Centre and Pacific Divers.
Over to you
Do the Cook Islands appeal to you as a destination? If you’ve been, what were your favourite things to do?
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