The Cook Islands may not exactly be the place for all-out retail therapy, but they do have their share of downtown bazaars and local shops that sell all kinds of traditional arts and handicrafts. Shopping is especially enjoyable as merchants are typically much less pushy than other more built-up locations. Avarua has a great selection of boutiques where you can buy fashion and local products.
Stores are typically open throughout the day from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, with most closed on Sunday. Bargaining is not a customary, but don’t worry, prices are reasonable. You can find deals on jewelry, clothing, art, home goods, and other gift items. Locally made crafts make the perfect Cook Island souvenirs, especially carvings, woven products and tivaivai, a hand-sewn bed covering made by Polynesian women.
Blessed with rich lands where fragrant and exotic flowers grow, the Cook Islands is also known for its locally produced oils, soaps and perfumes, with scents extracted from frangipani, jasmine, gardenia, and other blooms. International perfumes are sold in Rarotonga at duty-free prices. Local stamps could be an interesting find for philatelists, as they are especially noted for their artistic designs featuring unique birds, flowers, shells, fish, historical events, and personalities.
Local markets are both a venue for good shopping and social events. The sprawling Te Punanga Nui Market on Rarotonga is a popular Saturday morning tradition and is frequented by locals and tourists. Stalls are overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. You’ll find delightful treats, from crafts to music, and even traditional food like the ika mata and poke. You are likely to catch some drumming, dancing or singing, which are typical fundraisers for cultural groups.
Black pearls are among the most popular products cultivated from the Cook Islands. The atolls of Rakahanga, Tongareva and Manihiki are home to large pearl farming communities harvesting shiny black gems with distinct combinations of green, purple, gold, blue, and silvery tints. Black pearl jewelry is widely available on the islands.
Colorful and uniquely designed fabrics with distinct Polynesian patterns also make excellent souvenirs. These beautiful works of art are carefully hand screened for window drapes, bed covers, wall hangings, wraps, made-to-measure clothing and other garments.