Cook Islands - Love a Little Paradise
The Cook Islands is a nation in the South Pacific, with political links to New Zealand. Its 15 islands are scattered over a vast area. The largest island, Rarotonga, is home to rugged mountains and Avarua, the national capital. To the north, Aitutaki Island has a vast lagoon encircled by coral reefs and small, sandy islets. The country is renowned for its many snorkeling and scuba-diving sites.
WELCOME TO THE BEAUTIFUL COOK ISLANDS
Soon after landing in Rarotonga you can be kayaking on the crystal clear lagoon, sipping on your first cocktail or relaxing poolside at your beautiful resort. No matter where you are or what you want to do, the islands are yours to enjoy at your leisure.
If you’ve never visited Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands before, read on and discover what so many of our regular visitors already know. We are a laid back destination and people, where everything is easy and there is a sense of freedom everywhere you go.
Dining & Nightlife in Cook Islands
The more you explore the Cook Islands, the more local authentic cuisine you’ll discover, ranging from simple fresh fish enjoyed with your feet in the sand to high-class restaurants and everything in between. You could eat every meal in a different place. Then, when the sun sets and you’ve had your fill of our delicious cuisine, the real party begins!
Love Fresh Food?
The multitude of cafes and restaurants around the island just have to be experienced, the food is so good. From a casual fish sandwich to a complete gourmet meal, there’s something for everyone.
When the sun goes down, the party heats up. We boast the best nightlife of all the islands in the South Pacific. Mix with friendly locals in open-air bars, many on the beach soaked in cool island vibes and spectacular vistas. Grab a drink and enjoy the show, whether local live music or a stunning sunset over the water. When you want to go large, head to one of our pumping nightclubs, or join a nightlife tour where the bus to the party, is the party. Above all while our nightlife is exciting and exotic, it’s extremely safe. Free from stranger danger, everyone here is welcomed as family.
Explore Cook Islands by Land & Water
EXPLORE BY LAND
The spectacular natural beauty of a little paradise is more than just stunning beaches. Breathtaking jungle-clad mountains of the interior cascade to the sea, like Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. Step back in time to find a paradise refreshingly undeveloped. Lush green vegetation everywhere, warm locals in simple yet colourful houses and no building taller than a coconut tree, it’s a true Polynesian experience.
More Than Just Perfect Beaches
From tropical jungle to mountain peaks to manicured gardens with cafés, exploring inland is so easy.
Take a Guided Tour
Adventure seekers will love getting off the beaten track with a variety of inland adventure tours: from buggies, quad bikes and 4WD to eco cycle tours with storytelling from local guides. For those with energy to spare, there are even combat games, golf and mini-golf courses to enjoy.
Cycling the Cook Islands
Choose from guided mountain bike treks through challenging terrain or simply hire some wheels (even e-bikes) and discover at your own speed. Cycling is a great way to experience the freedom of the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is only 32km around which is perfect for grabbing a bike or e-bike to discover your way. If you’re staying on any of our sister islands, cycling is also a great way to get around and explore.
Hiking on Rarotonga
Take a break from the beach and enjoy exploring inland. A must do for hikers is the ‘Cross Island’ or Raemaru treks on Rarotonga. Hike with friends, or take a guided tour where you will learn about local medicinal plants, flora and fauna.
Rent a Vehicle and Explore
Rent a motor scooter or a car and explore our little paradise at your own pace. Only 32 kms around, it takes just 45 minutes to circle Rarotonga by scooter or car. Or for a more laidback island tour, delight in the simple joy of jumping on a local bus and getting a light-hearted commentary of the sites whizzing past from the driver.
EXPLORE BY WATER
Enjoy warm tropical temperatures, crystal clear waters and an abundance of aquatic life just below the surface. Beautiful beaches and safe protected lagoons make swimming and snorkelling so popular, with water activities to suit everyone. Try lagoon sailing, kayak or canoe paddling, stand up paddle boarding, kitesurfing, scuba diving, snorkelling, sea scootering, surfing or body boarding. Adventure further with glass bottom lagoon cruises with BBQ lunch, ocean cruises and deep sea fishing.
No Crowded Beaches
In our little paradise, the beach is wherever you are. The best part of finding a long stretch of white sand and blue lagoon, is having it all to yourself.
SUP, Snorkel or Sea Scooter
Explore the live coral reef all around the island by snorkelling right off the beach, joining a sea scooter tour or jumping on a SUP. Perfect conditions offer both impressive visibility and warm water all year round.
Explore an abundance of tropical fish and corals with incredible visibility of up to 195 feet (60 metres) in our warm waters. There are operators that go to several dive spots, which are just a quick boat ride past the reef. If you’ve never been diving you can take the opportunity to get PADI certified in the Cook Islands.
Fishing in a Little Paradise
From tossing a line in the shallows or venturing into the deep blue, all year round is a good time to try your luck.
Water Safety Tips With Our Aunties
Please watch this safety video. There are a range of fantastic water activities to enjoy in a little paradise. Water safety is serious business to our Aunties, please ensure you are safe in the water too!
Weddings & Honeymoons in Cook Islands
Your big day in a little paradise is what dreams are made of. Our local wedding planners, celebrants, stylists, photographers, musicians, caterers, hairdressers and makeup artists are well experienced in delighting the most discerning brides and grooms from around the world. There are so many ways for your group to celebrate: it’s called a bridal party after all.
Ceremonies and Receptions
There are endless picturesque locations on either the main island of Rarotonga or the smaller island of Aitutaki. You can marry barefoot on a secluded beach at sunset, standing in a heart-shape of shells, in a whitewashed coral church with a spine-tingling gospel choir, on a private islet under a tropical flower arch, or beside the infinity pool of a luxury resort.
Making It Legal
You will need to apply for your licence in person in Rarotonga to Registrar of Marriages at least day working days prior to your wedding. You’ll also need to take your passport and birth certificate with you when applying for the Marriage licence, also known as the ‘Notice of Intended Marriage’. Marriages in the Cook Islands are legally binding and recognised worldwide. You must be 21 years of ago to be married in the Cook Islands, for more information please visit the Ministry of Justice website.
A Cook Islands wedding can be your own tropical festival. There’s so much for your group to do together, from mud-soaked buggy jungle day tours to fancy island nights, lagoon sunrise SUP yoga to twilight disco-light paddleboarding cruises, from lounging on your own beach to dancing the night away to string bands in open-air bars with the locals.
After the big day, relax, chill out and set your clock to island time as you let its natural beauty work its magic. The dictionary definition of a romantic setting, experience a honeymoon beyond your wildest dreams, on islands amongst the most beautiful and breathtaking on earth.
History & People of Cook Islands
Uncover more about our people and our history.
As modern Pacific people, high-spirited Cook Islanders are a cosmopolitan blend of western influence and ancient Polynesian heritage. Like any true blooded Maori, we enjoy pomp, splendour and big ceremonies with traditional customs and much feasting. Hospitality, smiles and a warm welcome come naturally.
The natural, unspoilt beauty and charm of our landscape is matched by the friendliness of our people who think nothing of offering a lift, striking up a conversation or inviting visitors on a night out. Part of our culture, our outgoing spirit means we love engaging with travellers and sharing our little paradise lifestyle. People may come for the warmth of our sun, but remember the warmth of the locals forever.
The inherent traits of genuine care for others and love of family are apparent, no matter the island background. The bond of family is vital and extended family is an integral part of life. Children often live with grandparents and nephews and nieces live with aunts and uncles. Adoption of family members is widely encouraged.
We are also the great entertainers of the Pacific, the best dancers and drummers in Polynesia. Festivals are an important part of life, with fierce competition between the islands to produce the most outstanding performers.
Great Polynesian Migration
Cook Islanders are true Polynesians connecting directly back to the finest seafarers of the Pacific. Sophisticated navigation took them fearlessly in search of new lands. Their bravery, skill and sheer strength far outpace legendary adventurers from Portugal or Spain, the Dutch or the English. From 1500 BC Polynesian islands were gradually populated by Maori ancestors who landed in their Vakas (magnificent giant double-hulled canoes) guided by the stars and their famous power of navigation. The very centre of Polynesia, the Cook Islands stretch out in a scattering of 2 million square kilometers. Polynesians arrived in Rarotonga around 800 AD, sailing from Tupua’i, now French Polynesia.
The Maori migrations to New Zealand began from Rarotonga as early as the 5th century AD. Closely linked in culture and language to the Maori in New Zealand, the Maohi of French Polynesia, the Rapanui of Easter Island and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii – about 87% of Cook Islanders are Polynesian Cook Island Maori.
Captain James Cook
After stopovers from Spanish explorers Alvaro de Mendana sighting Pukapuka in 1595, and Pedro Fernandez de Quiros sighting Rakahanga in 1606, Captain James Cook sighted Manuae in 1773, then subsequently Palmerston, Takutea, Mangaia and Atiu, where Lieutenant Gore landed in 1777. The redoubtable Captain William Bligh first sighted Aitutaki in 1789 and soon after, following the very bloody Mutiny on the Bounty, the buccaneer Fletcher Christian, having seconded Captain Bligh’s very own boat, sailed into Rarotonga.
The influence of the first Christian missionaries in 1821 was immediate. Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society and his missionaries did their best to stem what they considered the carnal desires of the inhabitants, but was in fact the cultural heritage of the Cook Islanders. No singing, dancing or drumming was allowed. Their arrival altered the traditional way of life, yet somehow the Cook Islanders have managed to beautifully preserve their proud Polynesian heritage and blend it with their Christian faith. Aitutaki was the first island of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity so in 1823 a limestone coral rock church was built in Arutanga and is the oldest church in the Cook Islands. The stunning acoustics of CICC Church make for a moving experience – visitors are wowed by the beautiful sound of hymn singing surrounded by a superbly designed interior. The influence of the missionaries has been of benefit to all, with the beautiful white churches, the acapella singing on Sundays and the traditional muumuu coming from them.
Originally named the Hervey Isles after a British lord, the Russians named them the Cook Islands in honour of the famous captain in 1823. In 1888 they became a part of the British Dominion, due to fears France may seize the islands first.
In 1901 New Zealand decided to annex the country despite opposition from the traditional chiefs. Many of the islands were independently ruled by local chiefs with no federal statutory law to decide such things. However it remained a protectorate until 1965, when as a self-governing state under New Zealand’s auspices, Sir Albert Henry was elected Prime Minister. Today the country is essentially independent or self-governing in free association with New Zealand, which oversees defence.
A treaty was signed in June 1980 with the United States in which all claim to the islands of Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Manihiki and Rakahanga was relinquished by the Americans. A treaty with France delimited the boundary between the Cooks and French Polynesia in 1990.
Signs of historic & cultural significance on Rarotonga
Explore Rarotonga on your own time and in your own way, by visiting sites of cultural and historical significance. Learn the history of the Cook Islands Christian Churches (CICC) scattered around the island. Their origins with the London Missionary Society, and the important com- munity figures that helped to grow the Christian faith on Rarotonga.
Discover the story of Tuoro, infamously known as Black Rock and the cultural significance behind this site. Its ties to the Cook Islands people and the land of their ances- tors, Avaiki.
Self-discover these sites and many more to learn the history and culture of Rarotonga and its people.
Spa & Wellness in Cook Islands
The natural beauty of our little paradise is the perfect environment to connect with oneself, escaping the city for some tropical peace and tranquillity. Early morning yoga classes are led by qualified local instructors in lush settings with stunning vistas. A bucket-list experience is a SUP paddleboard yoga session on the crystal blue waters of the lagoon.
Why not indulge in a spa treatment at one of the many spas and salons around the island? Massage, body wraps and scrubs, facials and beachside treatments are just some of the indulgences on offer. Several spas use Rito Cook Islands products made locally in Rarotonga.
There is nothing better than finding balance…well maybe it’s a bit better on a stand up paddleboard! KiteSUP and Ariki Adventures offer SUP Yoga in Muri Beach for all fitness levels. Beautiful beaches and safe, clear lagoons makes stand up paddle boarding the perfect way to enjoy a day on the water.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Perfect for the vast turquoise playground of the Cook Islands, paddle boarding and the lagoon go together like bikinis and sunshine. A great way to cruise and explore, there’s so much to see. Stand up paddling is a great way to spot giant trevally, vibrant blue parrot fish, eagle rays, turtles and everything in between.
Sports and Fitness
For those looking to keep fit while on holiday, the Cook Islands offers a variety of places to workout. Boxing, CrossFit, Total Barre, Pilates and even local dance (Ura) are all available to visitors. Cook Islanders love their sport, especially rugby, rugby league, netball, soccer and cricket. Each major code has a set season during the year and you can enjoy the inter-village games held on Saturday afternoons at the host village sports ground. We have squash, tennis and beach volleyball courts, lawn bowls and nine-hole golf courses in both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Naturally, a little paradise boasts two miniature golf courses as well.
The Rarotonga Game Fishing Club welcomes all visitors and has a well-patronised bar. For keeping fit, guests are welcome to train at the CrossFit box in Arorangi or gyms opposite the airport and in Kent Hall, Titikaveka. Various fitness classes are found around the island, including the lunchtime ura dance class in the Staircase gym in town, filled with locals and visitors alike.