Top 10 Things To Do In The Cook Islands

Drifting out there in the infinite South Pacific Ocean, The Cook Islands are the kind of holiday destination you’ve always dreamed about… that is if you love tropical islands. Named after the great Captain Cook, the man who discovered countless exotic islands in this remote part of the world, the Cook Islands are an ideal holiday playground. I spent nearly a month in these islands while backpacking across the South Pacific Islands. Here’s my list of the top things to do in the Cook Islands.

10. Explore The Caves Of Atiu

Atiu is slightly more challenging to get to, further adding to this island’s authentic feel. Aside from the laid-back island vibe, it’s nature that draws visitors to Atiu. One of the best islands in the South Pacific for birdwatching, it is Atiu’s limestone caves that are by far the island’s top celebrities.

Atiu cave cook islands by Biberl

9. Immerse Yourself In Island Life

As a local MC in Rarotonga once said “The show will begin 5-10 Cook Island minutes from now”. You simply need to visit the islands to understand just how little meaning the concept of time has. Start your morning with a walk on the beach, chit-chat with the ladies at the local market, and practice your math in counting the millions of stars at night. So delete the word ‘stress’ from the dictionary and enjoy life in the extra slow lane for just a few precious days.

Driving through giant banyan tree in Aitutaki Cook Islands

Children of the Cook Islands in Rarotonga school

Child riding back of motorbike in Rarotonga Cook Islands

8. Enjoy The Culinary Scene

Considering the fact you’re on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific, the food scene in Rarotonga is super impressive. You’ll find it challenging to determine who makes it onto your culinary calendar… such a tough life, isn’t it? Don’t miss out on the lunch sandwiches at the Mooring Fish Cafe, and the romantic beachside dinners at the Tamarind House – to name just a few.

Mooring Fish Cafe Rarotonga Cook Islands

Ikamata cook islands dish

Tamarind House fine dining Rarotonga Cook Islands

7. Do A Bit Of Saturday Shopping

From black pearls to ukuleles, the Cook Islands is a great place to spend some cash. If you just happen to spend a Saturday in Rarotonga, head to the Punanga Nui Market in the morning hours (but not too early, you’re on vacation after all). While you’re waiting for the live entertainment to begin, grab some food and a fresh tropical smoothie, as you have a look at what’s on sale today. It’s one of the best markets in the South Pacific and usually wraps up around noon.  

Punanga Nui Market Rarotonga Cook Islands - stalls

Punanga Nui Market Rarotonga Cook Islands - things to buy

Punanga Nui Market Rarotonga Cook Islands smoothie

6. Attend Sunday Church Service

You don’t have to be a believer or an active worshiper to enjoy Sunday church service in the Cook Islands. If you don’t know your way around town, just follow locals wearing their Sunday finest white suits, dresses, and flower-adorned hats. There’s plenty of beautiful singing a capella style, tons of smiles, and a strong sense of community that makes you wonder if everything in paradise is really as perfect as it looks. Both the Arutanga CICC in Aitutaki and the Avarua CICC in Rarotonga are places to be on a Sunday morning. Here are some sights and sounds from Sunday church service in the Cook Islands.

Church in Rarotonga Cook Islands Avarua Catholic Church greeting

Avarua Catholic Church CICC Rarotonga - women sunday hats

Church in Rarotonga Cook Islands Avarua Catholic Church closeup of woman

5. Hike In Search Of Panoramic Views

Whether climbing the highest point in Aitutaki or crossing Rarotonga from north to south on the Cross Island Track, hiking in the Cook Islands gives you the chance to get away from it all (and get a bit of exercise done). While some trails are clearly marked, finding the trailhead on others is ‘part of the fun’.

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View of Aitutaki Lagoon from Mount Maungapu Cook Islands
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4. Dive In Pristine Waters

Scuba diving in the Cook Islands is among the very best in the South Pacific. With excellent dive sites to be explored around Aitutaki and Rarotonga, expect close encounters with reef sharks, sea turtles, and scary-looking moray eel. The visibility is fantastic and the coral garden is in full bloom.

Diving in Rarotonga Cook Islands sea turtles

Diving in Rarotonga Cook Islands hard coral blue sea

Diving in Rarotonga Cook Islands white tip reef sharks playing

Diving in Rarotonga Cook Islands tropical fish

3. Do Nothing On The Beach

Ever wondered if that perfect-looking beach you saw in travel magazines really existed? The answer to that is you’ll have to find out for yourself! Just kidding. Yes, magnificent tropical beaches do await visitors to the Cook Islands. And the even better news is that there are plenty of them, so you can easily find your own spot for the day. Whether out on the lagoon motus (islets) or just in front of your beachfront villa – you’re never too far from that paradise you’ve always envisioned.

Akaiami Island Aitutaki lagoon Cook Islands

Titikaveka tropical beach Rarotonga Cook Islands

Titikaveka tropical beach Rarotonga Cook Islands sand dune

2. Experience The Magic Of Island Night

It’s a well-known fact that all Cook Islanders can sing, dance, and play with fire. All three skills are combined with a delicious buffet dinner in the legendary island nights. Proudly showcasing their exotic Cook Island Maori culture, do not miss the opportunity to attend an island night show. In Aitutaki, the Tamanu Beach Resort throws the best show on the island, while in Rarotonga, the Te Vara Nui Village puts on a show that would definitely play to a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas.

Island Night in Aitutaki Tamanu Beach Polynesian fire show 3

Island night te vara nui Rarotonga Cook Islands

Island Night te vara nui Rarotonga Cook Islands polynesian dance

1. Spend The Day In The Aitutaki Lagoon

One of those magical days that will vividly live in your mind forever, climb aboard the modern catamaran of The Vaka Cruise, and set sail to the dreamy uninhabited islets (motu) that dot the Aitutaki Lagoon. I’ve visited 21 islands in the South Pacific and explored quite a few lagoons, but nothing gets close to those stereotypical flashes of paradise that you’ll see on this day. The water is so intensely blue, the white sand blinds you as if you’re staring at the sun and the palm trees… well, they curve at just the perfect angle!

One Foot Island Aitutaki lagoon Cook Islands boat

One Foot Island Aitutaki lagoon Cook Islands

One foot island aitutaki lagoon cook islands best tropical beach

Ready To Visit?

There you have it! The top things to do in The Cook Islands. Of course, there’s plenty more to see and do in the Cook Islands, and to help you prepare for this dream holiday – start your planning with The Cook Islands Travel Guide. It’s got loads of useful planning information and in-depth guides to Rarotonga and Aitutaki.