What to do, where to stay, what to eat and see in the Cook Islands: Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Connections via Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney, or Tahiti.
Cook Islands Tourism
For details and resources on the islands. Cook Islands Tourism
Para O Tane Palace
Historic two-storey site of the signing of a treaty granting the Cook Islands as a British protectorate in 1888 by the ariki (chief). The Taputapuatea marae (sacred meeting place) is situated on the grounds. Outside accessible only.
Maire Nui Botanical Gardens
Over a couple of decades avid gardener Hinano Macquarie transformed 7 acres of family land into a tropical oasis. The gardens include palms, fruit trees, flowers, water features and sculptures and the Hidden Spirit Café which serves organic food. Ara Tapu, Takitumu District, +682 22 796
Former missionary school that today houses cafes and shops.
Cook Islands Library and Museum Society
An iconic mural graces the exterior of this volunteer-run museum on a historic road in Avarua. A repository of shells, ceremonial objects, photographs, weapons, rare books and more from Cook Islands’ past. +682 26 468; Cook Islands Library and Museum Society
In a yellow building with sloped roof that mirrors the mountains behind it, the museum houses artifacts related to the Cook Islands and South Pacific. 9am-4pm Mon-Fri, Victoria Rd, Avarua.
Highland Paradise Cultural Centre
On a plateau in Arorangi, the site of an ancient marae, amidst 25 beautifully landscaped acres, was once a thriving village that lay forgotten for a century and a half before being revived by the descendants of High Chief Tinomana. Today the centre offers sunset cultural nights (Wednesday and Friday, including dinner and performances) and daily guided tours. Highland Paradise Cultural Centre
Te Vara Nui
In 2005 Moana Hunter and her husband Fodil Nair transformed a taro swamp into this complex which includes history, art, culture, dance and food to honour legendary entertainer and dancer Vara Hunter (and Moana’s mother). Nightly over water show includes dinner and cultural history. Te Vara Nui
Rito Cook Islands
Produces a range of culinary and cosmetic products made from local cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. A great memento of the Cook Islands, products are available at the showroom at the Punanga Nui Market and the main store at Tikioki. +682 20134; Rito Cook Islands
Matutu Brewing Company
Locally made craft beers including Mai Lager, Kiva Pale Ale, the company also produces seasonal specials. Available at resorts, cafes and liquor stores, the brewery is open for tours and tastings. Matutu Brewing Company
Cross Island Track
Traversing the Aviatiu Valley and Te Manga Rua (the needle), this hike in the forested interior of Rarotonga provides breathtaking views and a good workout.
Cook Islands Christian Church
Dotted throughout the island, these churches are a welcoming and beautiful glimpse into one of the most important aspects of Cook Islands culture. Sunday service is a highlight.
Punanga Nui Market
Saturday morning market on the western end of Avarua next to the Avatiu harbour selling everything from pareu (sarongs), black pearls, prepared food, and smoothies to bread, nu (green coconut), fruits, vegetables and traditional specialties. Live local performances on the main stage are a highlight.
Muri Night Market
A sociable, friendly atmosphere pervades this collection of food stalls, and kiosks from local vendors in an open-air location in the busy resort town of Muri. Rent a plate to keep your visit eco-friendly. Muri Beach, Tues, Weds, Thurs, Suns 5pm to 9pm; +682 52 241.
EAT AND STAY
Le Bon Vivant (LBV)
With two locations in Muri and Avarua, this bakery and café offers a selection of items including pastries, quiche, sandwiches, scones, wraps and donughts. With delicious tropical touches (think, coconut and pineapple cakes), all-day local coffee, and chic-modern décor, this is a great foodie destination. +682 28 619; LBV
Crown Beach Resort & Spa
Near Black Rock on the western coast, this adults-only resort is set on the beach. Villas and suites are studded amidst 5-acres of lush gardens. With several on-site restaurants, a spa, a fun-filled activities hut, scuba dive centre, private and outdoor pool and entertaining Island night, there are plenty of options for exploring or relaxing. A friendly staff adds to the ambiance. Arorangi, Rarotonga, +682 23 953; Crown Beach Resort & Spa
Rumours Luxury Villas and Spa
Situated on one of the most beautiful stretches of Muri beach, this collection of boutique beachfront villas each feature a private pool, waterfall, outdoor patio dining, full kitchen and kayaks. Opt for one of the locally crafted and delicious platters for a culinary treat. Owner-managers are regularly on the premises to ensure your stay is perfect. + 682 22551; Rumours Luxury Villas and Spa
Coral Sands Apartments
On Rarotonga’s sunset coast, this immaculately kept self-catering apartment complex features an outdoor pool, easy beach access, and a prepaid phone. A small starter kit in the kitchen, barbecue, and laundry make it ideal for families and couples. +682 21959; Coral Sands Apartments
Manea Beach Villas
These 7 rustic self-catering villas (including 3-bedroom options) will make you feel like a local. Set amidst coconut trees, taro and native flora, Muri lagoon is just steps away. An outdoor pool, large private patio, and an endearing staff, make this a great choice for larger groups and families. Ngatangiia District; +682 25336; Manea Beach Villas
SilverSands at Muri Beach Club Hotel
Large windows accentuate the view at this restaurant. Locals and visitors converge at the bar for pre-dinner drinks. Expect seafood, curries, New Zealand lamb and local specialties on the menu. Muri Beach Club Hotel
Sandals Restaurant at Pacific Resort Rarotonga
A beachfront tent with views to neighbouring motu (islets) sets the scene at this restaurant. Pacific Resort Rarotonga
A new addition to the local dining scene, this restaurant at Crown Beach Resort and Spa features live entertainment, a fire pit and table-side preparations. As a testament to the demi-god Maui, who learned to make fire, the menu specializes in char-grilled items. Many dishes are unique show-stoppers so have your phone ready for photos. Flambé
Booking.com : Ocean Spray Villa
With over 1,265,000 unique properties that have approximately 25 million bookable rooms worldwide in over 227 countries and territories and more than 111,000 destinations, it is easy to find a property to love on Booking.com. A passion search allows visitors to pinpoint properties that align with their interests, like Ocean Spray Villa a 3-bedroom beachfront property with full kitchen and private location. Booking.com
Little Polynesian Restaurant
Dine beside an infinity pool, on island favourites including ika mata (raw fish in coconut and lime), Pacific Rim cuisine and several seafood choices, all while sipping a cocktail. Little Polynesian Restaurant
Air Rarotonga operates daily flights. Also inquire about their Aitutaki Day Tour which includes hotel transfer (to and from Rarotonga), air and the Vaka Cruise.
EAT, STAY, DO
3 private, beachfront villas minutes from the airport with private pool, verandah, kayaks, and water features. Rumours café the onsite dining offers local and international favourites from Chef Koteka. Aitutaki Escape
The Vaka Cruise
Fun and entertaining lagoon cruise featuring snorkelling, lunch and bar service aboard Titi-ai-tonga, a spacious 70-foot Polynesian style boat. The Vaka Cruise
Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Enjoy dinner overlooking the lagoon in a palapa-style, open air restaurant or opt for cocktails at Black Rock Bar. Pacific Resort Aitutaki
This original article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.