Polynesian and international cuisine is widely available on the Cook Islands. The most developed, such as Rarotonga and Aitutaki, are home to a variety of cafés, clubs and restaurants serving everything from traditional to modern fusion dishes. Local islanders and visitors alike enjoy an abundance of seafood, especially shellfish. All ingredients are sourced fresh, including fruits and vegetables. Dining out is particularly interesting during “Island Nights,” which are Polynesian dance shows accompanied by a local feast.
Umukai’, a succulent dish cooked in a special underground oven, is a must try, along with many other local specialties like ika mata, raw fish cooked with coconut milk and finely chopped vegetables and curried eke, octopus in coconut curry. Ungakoa is a type of shellfish, eaten as you would an oyster (cooked or raw). It is often served with cooked taro (green banana). White crabs are another Cook Islands specialty, and are often garnished or served with grated coconut and/or cheese. Poke is a traditional pudding made from different types of fruit, commonly banana and pawpaw that is cooked with coconut milk. Most local restaurants serve these traditional plates, but a number also feature Indian, Chinese, continental, and Italian. There are bars that offer live entertainment and nightspots stay open late, past midnight on the weekends.
Bars and Pubbing in the Cook Islands
Aside from the usual Island Nights put on by major hotels, a number of licensed bars also offer live entertainment and quality wines, spirits and cocktails. Whatever Bar and Grill (Ara Tap, Avarua) is a truly unique place that should not be missed. It is located just off the main road heading out of the capital, on a rooftop overlooking the town and the harbor. This hip place attracts night owls of all ages and is at its liveliest on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you are looking for good value on the Cook Islands, head to Staircase Restaurant and Bar (Avarua, Rarotonga) on a Thursday or Friday for a host of live bands and DJs. Rehab (Avarua, Rarotonga) keeps things modern with its discotheque ambiance, complete with thumping music and strobe lights. Hideaway Bar (Cook’s Corner Arcade, Avarua), tucked away in a little corner on Avarua’s coast features live music and international DJs. There are many other bars and clubs elsewhere on Rarotonga, as well as on Aitutaki (Cook Island’s second largest island).
Dining and Cuisine in the Cook Islands
Beachside dining is always a pleasure, but it is especially satisfying on the secluded sands of the Cook Islands. Les Palmiers Café and Grill on Muri Beach (Muri, Rarotonga) is one of the most popular restaurants. Its traditional décor will remind you of the tropical gardens and waterfalls of the Te Vara Nui Village. It offers first-class meals that are a fusion of Mediterranean and European recipes. On the menu are succulent seafood, grilled meats, fresh salads, mouthwatering desserts, crepes, coffees, smoothies, homemade gelato, and unique cocktails.
Best known for its local offerings, Vaima Restaurant (Vaimaanga, Rarotonga) is a popular setting for all kinds of functions, from parties to weddings. This restaurant offers fresh local fish, as well as imported New Zealand meat, homemade desserts, and plenty of vegetarian options. It has a bar with a large TV and a long wine list, and is the place to go on the Cook Islands if you are craving a shot of Scottish whisky.
The beautiful Aitutaki Island has its own share of top notch restaurants and cafés, starting from Koru Café (Aitutaki), which has a delicious menu of Chinese, Italian and Thai, filling breakfasts, and picnic lunches and barbecue packs for a day out. It is located on the way to the stunning Ootu Beach, and is a perfect pit stop before heading to the sandy shores. Rapae Bay Restaurant (Amuri, Aitutaki) specializes in South Pacific cuisine and seafood and is one of the best hotel restaurants on the Cook Islands, overlooking the lagoon and the beach.