Out and About in the Cook Islands

Deserted beach. Image courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism.

By Rachel Pinder

The Cook Islands is a great place to take the family for some summer sunshine, with friendly people, a warm climate and beautiful tropical scenery. We’ve put together a few activities to help you plan your Rarotonga adventure.

Just a few hours flight from New Zealand, the Cook Islands are a favourite destination for Kiwis on holiday. This friendly island nation contains some of the Pacific’s most beautiful scenery, from bush-clad volcanic peaks to white sandy beaches and coral atolls. Visitors by air land on the mountainous main island of Rarotonga, just outside the capital of Avarua. With its colourful fishing boats bobbing in the harbour, Avarua has all the holiday services you’ll need including a post office, banks, shops, supermarkets, great cafes and restaurants, and some lively night spots.

Beyond the main town, Rarotonga’s bush-clad interior rises to the dramatic peak of Te Rua Manga, The Needle, with its breathtaking views over the island. You can tackle The Needle on a guided walk, but there are plenty more leisurely activities to pass away the time, from snorkelling and bushwalking to a relaxing cruise on the lagoon.

Rarotonga beach. Image courtesy of Joanne Buck.

  • Hire a scooter and go exploring
    The scooter is the most popular mode of transport on Rarotonga and the perfect way to explore on ‘island time’. Just follow the coastal road (32km) which circles the island, or head inland to the Ara Metua coral road to see some of the island’s lush plantations. You can hire cars, bikes, scootcars and 4WD vehicles at reasonable rates as well.
  • Cruise Rarotonga’s beautiful lagoon
    Relax aboard a sunset cruise, visit a black pearl farm, enjoy a fresh fish barbecue lunch or get up close and personal with the corals and marine life on a glass-bottom boat tour. You can book with Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruises, phone 682 27 350, or with the Big Kahuna Reef-Sub, phone 682 55 138.
  • Go snorkelling or kayaking
    The Aquasportz Centre next to the sailing club at Muri Lagoon offers snorkelling and kayaking rentals for visitors. There are silicon masks, snorkels, fins and reef shoes, or hire a kayak and explore the tiny islets scattered around the lagoon.
  • Take a guided walk through Takitumu Conservation Area
    This gentle walk through lush tropical forest allows you to see the endangered Rarotonga Flycatcher (kakerori), and to find out about traditional uses of flora and fauna. You can book on phone 683 29 906 or contact by email.
  • Discover the island’s history on a 4WD Safari
    4WD tours take you along the island’s old Ara Metua Road to see ancient maraes and historic sites, plus you’ll get to prepare an umu (underground earth oven) for a traditional feast. You can book with Tangaroa 4x4 Adventures, phone 682 22 200 or contact by email.
  • Take a day trip to Aituaki
    Day trips to this magical coral atoll depart daily except Sunday. The island’s stunning lagoon (45km around) is famous for its crystal clear turquoise waters and white sand beaches. An all-day trip includes hotel transfers and airfares, a tour and a lagoon cruise with a delicious barbecue lunch. You can book with Air Rarotonga, phone 682 22 888 or visit their website.

Diver under water. Image courtesy of the Dive Centre.

Fact file:

  • The climate is warm and sunny all year round, with the dry season (April to November) the ideal time to visit.
  • Take informal, lightweight clothing, plus a sweater or light jacket for cooler evenings. Avoid wearing brief clothing out of the resorts.
  • Take some reef shoes for exploring the reefs at low tide, plus a good book, and some cards or games for the kids in case of a rainy day.
  • There are no snakes, wild animal or poisonous insects on Rarotonga, but you will need insect repellant for bushwalking and excursions.
  • Sunday is a day of rest and many shops and services are closed. Remember to do your shopping the day before.
  • If you’re planning to drive, you’ll need to present your licence at the Police Station in downtown Avarua to get a local licence ($10).
  • The Tourism Cook Islands Bureau and Visitor Information Centre can be found on Avarua’s Main Road, next to the Banana Court. Public buses depart from Cooks Corner in Avarua, and circle the coastal road in both directions.
Getting there
The Cooks are easy to reach and get around by air.
  • Air New Zealand operates several weekly scheduled flights from New Zealand.
  • Virgin Australia operates twice weekly services out of Auckland.
  • Air Rarotonga the domestic airline, operates regular scheduled flights to Aitutaki and the outer islands.
Rarotonga sunset. Image courtesy of Joanne Buck.