Cook Islands Travel Guide
There are two main groups of islands in the north and south of the country. The North consists of tiny atolls with very small and isolated populations. The Southern Cook Islands comprises both Rarotonga and Aitutaki which account for almost all tourist activity, with just a handful of guesthouses on the rocky islands of Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia.
Rarotonga is the main island in the Cook Islands and where almost 90% of tourists spend their entire holiday and it has the international airport and plenty of beach front accommodation. Here, you can visit the local brewery, enjoy a cosmopolitan restaurant scene, and watch a game of rugby.
Rarotonga has lush tropical mountains, pretty coastal scenes, lots of picturesque sandy beaches and plenty of independent restaurants to enjoy. The island takes under an hour to circumnavigate, with mopeds being the most popular way of getting around. For a holiday, the island is well developed and decidedly geared towards tourism with an almost continuous parade of self catering beach bungalows, holiday homes and exclusive boutique beach resorts around the island. The cross island hike (4 hours) is popular for those looking to stretch their legs.
Second in popularity is Aitutaki, especially for romantic breaks or honeymoons and to snorkel its stunning lagoon and visit uninhabited coral cays on a day cruise. Said to be one of the most beautiful island in all of the vast Pacific Ocean, Aitutaki is less developed than Bora Bora, although there is a spa, hotels and golf course. Make the folks back home jealous by sending a postcard home from One Foot Island, which has one of the world's remotest post offices. Snorkelling and diving are popular activities – you can investigate submerged wrecks and see schools of colourful fish.
Aitutaki is a 45-minute flight north of Rarotonga (up to six daily flights) and offers one of the most exquisite lagoons in the world with lots of small uninhabited islets and sand bars to explore. The island is even more laid back than Rarotonga with just a handful of accommodations and basic grocery shops in the main villages. Lagoon cruises are the highlight with good snorkelling and decent scuba diving along the outer reefs. To really get a sense of being in a island paradise, stay here for at least three nights so you can unwind to the islands tranquil rhythm - this is the place where holiday-makers often return year after year ... and some for even months at a time!
More adventurous travellers might consider venturing off the beaten track and visiting the island of Atiu to marvel at some of its extraordinary caves or experience the traditional Maori culture. Here and in other outer islands, you can escape from your worries and really unwind – try chilling out and having some of the local bush beer.
The Northern Cook Islands are amongst the most isolated islands in the world. and receive virtually no tourists apart from a few passing yachties and some of the more extreme backpackers seeking utter isolation. Come here to enjoy the village culture, spectacular cliffs and the feeling that you've really gotten away from it all but you'll have to stay with locals or in very basic government guesthouses.