Visitors Guide A
In the Cook Islands you will find accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. It is sometimes wise (and can be much better value) to book accommodation with an airfare before arriving in the Cooks as part of an overall package, especially for travellers from Australia. For travellers from New Zealand it may be better to use Air New Zealand’s Pacific Express fares and book accommodation separately. For American travellers however it may be better to take advantage of low airfares and book the accommodation separately. If you are looking for romantic or up-market accommodation, we can assist . For budget and independent travellers we suggest you pick up David Stanley’s Moon Handbooks Tahiti including The Cook Islands. Apart from the general information, David travels incognito and has accurate accounts and prices on accommodation options..
On Rarotonga (the main island) going clockwise from the airport:
- Club Raro
- Kii Kii Motel
- Avana Marina Condominiums
- Aroko Bungalows
- Kura Kabanas
- Sokala Villas
- Muri Beach Club Hotel
- Pacific Resort
- Te Vakaria Villas
- Muri Beachcomber
- Muri Beach Resort
- Rumours of Romance
- Te Manava
- Raina Lagoon Villas
- The Little Polynesian
- Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel
- Takitumu Villas
- Sea Change
- Palm Grove
- The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa
- Lagoon Breeze Villas
- Puaikura Reef Lodges
- Aroas Beach Side Inn
- Castaway Beach Villas
- Coral Sands
- Magic Reef
- Manuia Beach Resort
- Crown Beach Resort
- Edgewater Resort
- Sunset Resort
- Cooks Oasis
- Aquarius – Airport
- Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa
- Paradise Cove
- Are Tamanu Beach Hotel
- Pacific Resort
- Rino’s Beach Bungalows
- Maina Sunset Motel
- Aitutaki Lodges
For accommodation options on Atiu, see Atiu.
There is no AIDS in the Cook Islands – and let’s keep it that way! Surely everyone knows that a thin layer of rubber may be the only thing between them and serious complications. There are no 24 hour pharmacies in the islands and a lack of vending machines so please plan ahead. As Condoman proclaims in a popular comic strip, “Don’t be shame, be game, protect yourself!” and the Australian ad campaign – “if it’s not on, it’s not on.”
There’s only one local commuter airline here and that, along with the cost of doing business in The Cook Islands, means fares are on the high side. You can fly from Rarotonga to Aitutaki several times a day, to Atiu daily (except Sunday), to Mauke, Mitiaro and Mangaia several times a week and to Manihiki and Penrhyn weekly. The baggage allowance is 16 kilos (10kg to Manihiki and Penrhyn)
The Cooks are well serviced by Air New Zealand with flights direct to Rarotonga from Auckland on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Virgin Australia flies to the Cooks from Australia and New Zealand. Apart from the direct flight from Sydney, Australian travellers need to connect via Auckland. Air New Zealand also flies from Los Angeles.
The International Airport was recently renovated completely and visitors now arrive in a shiny new arrivals hall. Some things don’t change and you will probably be greeted by ukulele strumming Jake Numanga who has been greeting and seeing off flights for over 20 years. The Customs folk are pretty friendly for officials in uniform, which is good because the airport itself is pretty dreary. There’s a duty free shop on the right as you arrive (before Customs) and the ANZ has an ATM to the left as you leave the terminal. There’s also a Westpac branch. Most resorts will have coaches to meet guests, backpackers will find representatives to the left after clearing customs. Rental car companies have offices outside the terminal and a taxi into Avarua costs around $25. There are lockers and Raro Tours will hold luggage ($6 per day per bag). This can be handy if you are travelling to the outer islands although your Rarotongan accommodation will probably store luggage for you.
The runway on Aitutaki is enormous thanks to the US during World War Two. It is way out of proportion with the Air Rarotongan Saab aircraft and the quaint arrivals hut sporting the sign ‘Aitutaki International Airport’ is worth a photo.
Aitutaki is simply stunning – it is one of those rare places that actually outdoes the photos in a brochure (most of the Cooks promotional azure lagoon and sandy beach shots were taken here). It looks as good as the photos but the other senses are also rewarded – the warm water, the soft sand, the feeling that time has stopped. More than a day trip is recommended as there are also some good restaurants and nightspots (and accommodation). Apart from the magnificent lagoon, the island itself is lush with an interesting history and way of life. The eight villages indulge in healthy competition in sport and dance and they consider the Rarotongans far too busy and materialistic. After the plethora of Raro dogs you’ll be surprised that there’s not one dog on Aitutaki. Mind you, there’s every chance a cat or two will brush your legs during dinner in a restaurant. And, if you only have time for one restaurant, Café Tupuna won’t disappoint.
Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa
This is the sister resort to the Rarotongan Resort & Spa on the stunning island of Aitutaki. It’s a large resort with a variety of accommodation and has the Cook’s only overwater bungalows. It’s casual, probably overpriced for what you get, but the location is lovely. If you could bottle the smell of frangipani oil from the spa you could make a fortune. Hang on, someone has probably thought of that…
This property has six self-contained bungalows with a lovely aspect over the lagoon but it’s a fair way away from everything on Aitutaki so you’ll need to add the cost of car or scooter hire to the tariff if you want to get about. The snorkelling from this part of the island isn’t great and there’s no beach nearby.
Aitutaki Marine Resources
Located near the airport in Aitutaki, Richard can show you around and explain the process of clam breeding. He might also show you his collection of crabs (tupa).
Natural Cook Island body range made with nourishing Coconut oil and Vitamin E. Available at all Island Craft outlets on Rarotonga.
Alcohol isn’t cheap so, if you like a drink, budget accordingly and don’t complain because most has to be imported. A bottle of wine that you would usually buy in New Zealand or Australia will cost double in a liquor outlet or supermarket and you can probably double that again in a restaurant. Colourful cocktails in resorts never come cheap anywhere, but they are part of the resort experience.
The Aqua Cafe is the restaurant at Muri Beach Resort. It has a well-priced brunch menu – e.g. a sweet chilli chicken wrap costs $9 and the traditional Ika Mata (local raw fish marinated in lemon juice and served with diced vegetables and coconut cream) costs $14.50. The Ika Mata also appears on the dinner menu, as an entree. For a dinner main, perhaps the Rib Eye Steak (with Bearnaise butter sauce and served on kumara rosti with steamed green beans) or the Twice Cooked Orange Spiced Pork Belly (sliced and braised in orange juice, soy, honey & spices, oven roasted till soft and succulent , accompanied by bok choy and fragrant rice) – both $29.50. Or for $69, there is the seafood platter for two.
This is the old inner road around Rarotonga, allegedly constructed by a Polynesian chief named Toi a thousand years ago. These days it’s great if you’re walking or on a bicycle as there’s little traffic and it winds through gardens and plantations at the foot of the island’s towering interior. Keep your eyes peeled for old Polynesian religious sites called Marae beside the old road on the east and north sides of the island.
Are Tamanu Beach Hotel is a lovely resort on Aitutaki with 12 thatched self-contained bungalows and a friendly attitude. ‘Are’ means ‘house’ and ‘Tamanu’ means ‘mahogany tree’. The bungalow floors are made from Tamanu as are wood carvings and the poolside bar. It’s a family owned and run operation and Michael and Kuraono Henry will make you welcome. Mike’s philosophy is to offer value as well as relaxation so the bar is only for in-house guests with the best-priced drinks you will find in a resort.
Aro’a Beachside Inn
This is small resort style accommodation, right on a great beach with lovely white sand, turqoise clear water, fantastic snorkelling must metres from the waters edge. All eleven rooms have a lagoon view from their deck areas, the Beachside Deluxe is a closer, larger unit.
The property caters for children 12 years and over and has complimentary breakfast, free use of snorkelling gear/reef shoes, kayaks, bicycles, paddle boards, daily maid service, room starter pack and fruit basket and complimentary welcome cocktail at the Shipwreck Bar.
For those who cannot leave their computer at home, they are a WiFi hotspot. Enjoy a cocktail from the cute Beach Bar while the sun sets. Phone 22166.
These bungalows (11) offer good two star accommodation in a nice location (historic Avana Passage and a walk away from Muri Lagoon). There are basic cooking facilities with shops, restaurants and take away food outlets nearby. It’s worth paying a bit extra for the beach bungalows for the view but the beach is very rocky, and it’s too shallow most of the time to swim right there (head up to Muri). Phone 23625.
This is the area that is home to the Edgewater Resort, Hopsing’s Chinese restaurant and The Spaghetti House. For the historically minded, it was established by the Reverend Aaron Buzacott in the 1800’s and the historic cemetery at the old CICC church has the grave of Papeiha, the Tahitian missionary who is said to have swum ashore holding a Bible above his head.
This is the main township on Aitutaki. It has the oldest church in the Cook Islands (built from limestone and coral in 1828. The Anchorage is where containers are unloaded after being transferred from ships to smaller transfer vessels to get through the small opening cut in the outer reef. The Game Fishing Bar and the Blue Nun Café are worth a visit.
Art and Artefacts
There are handicraft shops but for the best range of inexpensive carvings, grass skirts, baskets, hats, jewellery etc head to the Punanga Nui Cultural Market (towards the airport from Avarua) on Saturday mornings. Island Craft (next to Westpac) is also worth a look.
There are 15 islands that make up the Cooks and Atiu is the third largest. There’s now reasonable accommodation and a visit is recommended for those returning to the Cooks who want to experience a ‘real’ part of the tropics. While there are no resorts with kids clubs and colourful cocktails poolside the unspoilt nature will reward those looking for beautiful scenery and a pace that’s even slower than the rest of the Cooks. Accommodation properties are Atiu Villas (4 self-catering chalets); Are Manuiri Guest House (3-room family house); Kopeka Lodge (2 x 2-bedroom units) and Tapare Lodge (2 self-catering units).
Automatic Teller Machines
The ANZ and Westpac have ATM’s in Avarua, at the Airport, and on Aitutaki.
Avana Marina Condominiums
This is a three star property comprising 5 two-storey bungalows on the water’s edge with a pool and BBQ area. It’s pretty much a home away from home but with a lagoon at the front door. There’s a private jetty inviting kids to hurl themselves into the water, kayaks for exploring and it’s a coconut’s throw from the uninhabited islet, Motutapu. This is very close to where the Maori people pushed off Rarotonga to make the canoe journey to New Zealand.
Avarua is the main town on the main island of Rarotonga. The name means ‘two harbours’ and it’s quite a delightful little place that can be explored on foot. It has the atmosphere of a colonial trading post and you will find everything you need or want here – banks, supermarket shopping, two museums, cafes, fish and chip shops, Internet access, pharmacy, police station (for scooter or car licence) and souvenirs from the Saturday markets, handicraft stores or pearl and gemstone outlets. It has the island’s only roundabout and some good restaurants and nightspots. A visit to Trader Jack’s for a beer or a meal is a must.
Ave Maria isn’t Polynesian, it’s a Catholic prayer associated with the Rosary. If it’s put to music at churches in the Cooks on Sundays you probably will never hear a better version – the church singers are wonderful.