Cook Islands Overview
Welcome to the Cook Islands, a country comprised of fifteen islands scattered throughout the South Pacific, all with a distinct vibe. This tropical oasis is all secluded blue lagoons, secluded beaches, dramatic waterfalls and tropical mountains. Discover the deep Polynesian roots of the islands’ inhabitants and taste the sweet nectar of native tropical fruits.
The islands are more affordable than Fiji, and more secluded than Tahiti. Surrounded by palms and colorful flowers stirring in the warm breeze, soft sand beneath you and perfect blue as far as the eye can see, there’s little evidence of anyone else, save for singing birds…if there was a beach near the Garden of Eden, it probably looked like this.
One of the best ways for North American couples to honeymoon in the Cook Islands is with convenient weekly flights from California on Air New Zealand, leaving every Sunday. Once you’re there you’ll find a cluster of little paradises in the Pacific with a total population of just around 20,000. The people are incredibly friendly, and yet each island has its own unique and special qualities.
But it’s not just the dream-like beaches and lagoons that couples can explore. The islands have caves, villages, cloud forests, rocky peaks, surreal reefs and artisan markets. The island of Rarotonga is home to the international airport and the capital city of Avarua, home to the most restaurants and nightlife in the Cook Islands. The local restaurants and cafes serve fresh local seafood and simple native cuisine, all served with the kind of warmth that radiates naturally when you’re living on islands like these.
Couples can start the morning sipping coffee in an open-air tropical cafe, then spend the day fishing, shopping, hiking to see the awe-inspiring scenery or just relaxing and romancing on a remote beach. By night you can dine by the water and shake your hips to the beat of Polynesian drummers. When you honeymoon in the Cook Islands, time stands still…later, you’ll need photos to be sure it was more than just a perfect dream.
- BEACHES GALORE: Most honeymooners flock to Cook Islands for the breathtaking beaches. Rarotonga, the most populated island, has an array of beaches to visit, all within a 20-mile radius. Known for its deep turquoise waters, Titikaveka Beach is great for swimmers and snorkelers.
The island of Rarotonga also has cascading waterfalls that are most spectacular after rainfall. Most resorts on the island are situated next to Muri, a beach with stunning views of nearby islands.The more secluded island of Aitutaki has a famous lagoon, perfect for scuba diving. You’ll find a wide variety of colorful reef fish and sea turtles in the crystal clear waters.
- JUNGLE HOPPING: Rarotonga is a small island characterized by lush tropical jungles, waterfalls, sacred sites and stunning rock formations. For the best views of the island, tour the Cross Island Walk. On this four-hour Rarotonga trek, you’ll explore thrilling virgin terrain from forests to mountains. Join an organized local tour to get the most out of the experience and learn from a true local islander about everything from the ancient history of the islands to the native medicinal plants.
- A LOVER'S MARKET: Take a Saturday morning to browse the weekly open-air market in Avarua, the capital of the Cooks. Locals gather to shop, taste and socialize, so you can get a taste of authentic Cook Island cuisine and culture. It's a perfect place for couples to get a sense for the authentic local vibe, especially if you arrive early (6-7 am, if you can handle it!)
Find souvenirs like black pearls and handmade sarongs. Try foods at the long line of stalls serving up everything from curried eke (octopus in a coconut curry) to poke, a baked fruit pudding. You can also indulge in more traditional fare such as crepes, smoothies and locally grown coffee.
Oh, and make sure you buy some fresh fruit! You’ve never tasted passion fruit, guava or mangos so sweet. While the food is amazing, the cultural aspect is the heart of the market. Locals perform songs and dance accompanied by beating island drums.
- SOAK IT ALL IN: Immerse yourselves in the Cook Islands' culture with “Te Vera Nui,” a special event that’s less like a tour and more like a full-fledged cultural experience. In the afternoon, tour the village. Then come sundown, feast on a festive dinner and show with a big buffet, hula dancers and performances drawn from the Maori history of the Cook Islands. Learn about the Maori beliefs and superstitions as you’re led through huts of the village. Try “Drums of our Forefathers” for an exceptional cultural performance showcasing the local blend of Christian and native traditions, all atop a Rarotonga hillside with incredible views of the sea, jungle and lagoon.
Tips and Advice
- GETTING THERE: The Cook Islands are accessible from Rarotonga International Airport via Los Angeles, Sydney and Fiji. The islands of Rartonga and Aitutaki are also popular pit stops for cruises operating out of Tahiti.
- GETTING AROUND: The best way to island hop is by plane, available through Air Rarotonga. For daily transportation on the islands, rental cars and scooters are the best option. If you show your driver’s license from your country, you can have a license to drive in the islands for less than 20 NZD. Taxis are another option but rates aren’t fixed. You should negotiate before beginning the trip. While there are public bus routes, they are not recommended for tourists who don’t know their way around the islands.
- TIME ZONE: The Cook Islands are in UTC -10, or CKT (Cook Islands Time). This means the Cooks are ten hours behind UTC.
- AREA CODE: The country code is 682.
- WEATHER: Cook Island has an oceanic tropical climate. The two seasons are rainy (December-March) and dry (April-November). Temperatures in the northern islands tend to be higher. The best time for beach bums to visit the islands are April, May and September through October.
- ELECTRICITY: The voltage of Cook Island is 240V/50Hz.
- LANGUAGE: The official languages of Cook Island are English and Maori.
- CURRENCY: The official currency is the New Zealand dollar. Major currencies can be exchanged at Rarotonga International Airport, but ask your hotels about other options in case you can get a better rate. Just make sure you bring cash with you - airports don't necessarily have ATMs, and those that do will charge higher fees than in your home town.
HELPFUL HONEYMOON HINTS
- LIGHTS OUT: Most of the smaller islands turn off the electricity overnight, so make sure all your electronic devices are charged. Bring a flashlight with batteries just in case. The two major islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, keep the lights on all night.
- SAFETY FIRST: The emergency number for the islands is 999.
- MIND YOUR MANNERS: The people of the Cook Islands tend to be are deeply religious, so most businesses are closed on Sundays with the exception of a few bars and shops. If you want to visit a church, plan to stay for the entire service. As you would anywhere, respect the locals and they'll beam with that legendary South Pacific warmth.
- PROPER ATTIRE: Beachwear should be left on the beach. Topless and nude sunbathing are prohibited. Women should cover their shoulders when visiting a place of worship.