If not for the Cook Islands, the south Pacific would be a vast empty ocean with nothing, but uninhabited islets. Instead, each of the 15 landmasses has been blessed with its own remarkable gifts to fill your visit with wonderful attractions.
The Cook Islands can be divided into two major regions, the southern and the northern areas. The southern region is made up of volcanic, hilly islands with lush vegetation and is where most locals reside. The sparsely inhabited northern islands are mostly coral atolls that only hardcore adventure-seeking travelers dare go.
The youngest of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga is a lot different from its neighbors in terms of geography. It has retained central mountains and flat plains, and is known for its sparkling blue lagoon where technicolored tropical fish peacefully float. Within the 19.88 mile-circumference of the island is a diverse mix of nature, culture and history. The capital of Avarua is located here, which is the perfect starting off point for trips to the rest of the islands. Arorangi village on the west coast is home to the gorgeous coral and lime structure known as Tinomana Palace. Address: south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
Rarotonga has 13 beautifully marked trails offering different kinds of experiences for those interested in active adventure, peaceful historic walks or challenging rock climbing. Among the most popular are Cross Island Trek and Pa’s Mountain Walk. The first trail passes though ancestral warpaths, while the latter slices through the island’s lush interior. Te Kou Trek requires some degree of experience because its steep ascents can be daunting. Those who want to take on an even tougher climb can try the famous Ikurangi Trek, which features rock paths to the top of the mountain. Guided reef walks are available for those who wish to learn about the diverse coral ecosystem around Rarotonga. Address: Rarotonga, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
In addition to its numerous trails, the Takuvaine and Avatiu valleys on Rarotonga offer stunning tropical scenery like none other. The Avatiu harbor is an excellent base for water excursions. Elsewhere on the island, you can enjoy picturesque drives on Takuvaine’s Happy Valley Road. Address: Rarotonga, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
Otherwise known as Papua Waterfall, Wigmore’s is the only water drop on the main island, located in the area known as Vaimaanga. It is the end of a scenic pony trail (riding is a popular way to get around the area). During the dry season, the waterfall becomes nothing but a winding rock formation with a gentle stream cascading over it. Whenever you visit, though, the pool below is a great place for a refreshing dip, while the surrounding greenery offers a perfect spot for picnicking and sightseeing. Address: Rarotonga, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
The capital city has its share of attractive historic sites, including the Palace of Makea in Taputapuatea and the Takamoa Mission House, which was built in 1842. On the outskirts of town is one of the most sacred marae places in the world and the most prominent on the island—Arai-Te-Tonga—which is popular for the enchanting stone structures that once formed a royal court and ceremonial spot where the investiture of pre-European chiefs took place. Address: Rarotonga, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
Situated 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga, Aitutaki is the second most visited island. It is surrounded by the beautiful Aitutaki lagoon, which is a popular venue for water-based activities. The island is divided into interesting villages, the largest of which are Vaipae and Tau’tu. Historically used as a trading hub, the island is also a haven for shoppers and is home to a colorful market selling all sorts of souvenirs, from multicolored sarongs to panadus hats, bags, mats, and fresh seasonal produce. The island houses the oldest church in the Cook Islands. Southeast of its famed lagoon is another popular tourist spot known as Tapuaetai (or “One Foot Island”), which offers spectacular views of the Autitaki waters. Address: south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
Not only beloved for its splendid beauty, Aitutaki Lagoon is also a fisher’s paradise. Fly and bait fishing is common in the 19-square-mile lagoon, which holds the all-tackle record for hump head Maori wrasse. Address: Aitutaki, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
Atiu Island is home to some of the largest and most beautiful coffee plantations in the Cook Islands. It is also known for the Makatea limestone reef and stunning sheltered beaches. Inland are lush and unspoiled forested areas, many of which are as old as the volcanic mass itself, which dates back over eight million years. Atiu is the best place for bird watching, home to exotic and endangered species with ancient caves that dot the Makatea coastline. The Anatakitaki Cave and Te Ana o Raka are just some of the favorite underground spots to explore. Address: Atiu, south, Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a
The Cook Islands offers some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. Its underwater caves and canyons offer varied scenery enhanced by a fascinating marine life, plus more than 70 types of live corals. Some of the most impressive are the Matavera Drop-off, Koromori Coral Garden, Ngatangiia, Papua Canyon, Sand River, and the Mataora Wreck. Address: the Cook Islands Phone: n/a Website: n/a