Cook Islands' Culture & Nature
Local Beer Clubs
A great opportunity to meet locals exists on Atiu in the form of a tumunu, where the local men all get together to drink their homebrewed beer and discuss the most recent topics. Although it’s a local tradition, visitors are more than welcome to join. If you attend a tumunu, you’ll sit around a barrel of beer with the others and be continuously handed a coconut shell full of homebrew until you’ve consumed enough. Even though money isn’t usually mentioned, it’s considered very rude and poor form to not bring a bit of cash for contributing to the ingredients and time.
Mangaia is the second-largest island in the Cook Islands and is its own attraction. Estimated at over 18 million years old, the island is full of history, from ancient caves where ancestral bones can be found, to the steps its people took to become independent from all of the other islands. With a small population of about 500 residents, Mangaia is one of the islands where you can find incredible beaches without large, annoying crowds. Make sure you keep an eye out for the local Mangaian Kingfisher, a bird that only eats skinks, insects and spiders.
Birds & Coffee On Atiu
Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the two best-known islands, but Atiu shouldn’t be overlooked during your visit. Known as Enuamanu (land of the birds), Atiu is home to a range of native birdlife including the rare Kakerori and Rimatara lorikeet. Along with beautiful fauna, the island is covered in think jungle that’s riddled with caves. You can spend days exploring the various cave systems that have been used as burial sites and swimming spots. There’s also a lot of culture to be experience on Atiu, from the locally grown coffee that’s produced by the traditional method of roasting coconut cream, to the bush beer drinking clubs.
4WD Inland Tours
You can explore the diverse inland environments of Rarotonga and Aituaki with a 4WD tour that’s led by experienced local guides who share fascinating stories about the region’s history and culture. You’ll visit some of the most significant locations in the Cook Islands and learn about the past cannibalistic practices.
With so much culture and pristine nature on the Cook Islands it’s not surprising that the locals are often inspired to create incredible artwork. A lot of this traditional and contemporary art can be seen at the Art Studio, Akatikitiki Art Gallery and the Beachcomber Art Studio. It’s not surprising to spend hours browsing through the various pieces that include styles such as paintings and wood carvings.
Libraries and Museums
Not all of the Cook Islands’ attractions are found outside in the jungle or on the beach; there’s a lot of culture and history to be learned by staying indoors. Rarotonga’s National Library & Museum and the Cook Islands Library & Museum are both authorities on everything about the country, thanks to the local artefacts, photographs and rare books. While visiting, make sure you see the examples of traditional weaving and carving. Although Rarotonga’s National Library & Museum is free, you can give a small donation to help future projects if you wish.
Te Rua Manga
Rising out from the centre of Rarotonga is Te Rua Manga (aka ‘The Needle’), a tall and very rocky mountain. The Needle can be seen from numerous areas on Rarotonga, but you can get up close and even to the top of it if you’re prepared for the hike and climb. The trek to the base of the needle isn’t difficult and can be achieved without having a high level of fitness. There’s a lot of interesting flora and fauna to be seen on the way, which make for an interesting walk. However, if you want to reach The Needle’s true peak, you need to climb the last 10 metres using professional rock climbing equipment.
This renowned expanse of water is one of Rarotonga’s best swimming areas, because of its calm water that’s sheltered from most winds by the four islets just off shore. These islets give Muri Lagoon a unique appeal. You can walk across to them at low tide or paddle a kayak across the water and enjoy secluded beaches that are often deserted. Back on the shores of Muri Lagoon you can sunbathe on the soft sand, relax in the water or kitesurf.
The best time for whale watching is during July and October, when the humpbacks migrate through the South Pacific. You can see the whales without leaving the islands and some of the best places to whale watch are: The Paradise Inn, The Fishing Club, Black Rock, Trader Jacks and the main street of Avarua. However, if you want to safely get up close to these magnificent creatures, you need to head out on a boat tour, which can stay as close as 100 metres from the whales. The Cook Islands is passed by as many as 15 different species of whales and they often put on a show. They swim very close to the islands, so if you’re in a kayak or canoe, you may have one pop up right next to you!
Life under the sea is a big element of the Cook Islands and there’s no better way to explore it than by scuba diving or snorkelling. With multiple companies offering scuba and snorkel tours, you can find an exciting underwater adventure for a reasonable price. During a dive you can see an array of marine life including giant turtles, colourful fish, rays and coral. If you’re new to scuba diving, take a learning course that teaches you everything you need to know. Qualified divers can venture out into the ocean, while learning divers have to prove their abilities in the lagoons, which have their own incredible underwater sights.
Deep Sea Fishing
The biggest fish are always found in the deepest water. Take on the behemoths with a Cook Islands deep sea fishing charter. You can head out beyond the reef on a comfortable boat with professional fishing equipment and catered lunch. No experience is necessary, just a desire to reel in every fish that gets hooked on your line. The most popular deep sea fishing charter companies are Seafari Fishing Charters, Black Pearl Fishing Charters, Marlin Queen Fishing Charters and Wahoo Fishing Charters.
Explore On Foot
There’s a lot of fun and adventure to be had during an inland trek with only your feet and the trails to guide you through the lush tropical wilderness. The island of Rarotonga can be easily crossed on foot and you won’t encounter any terrain that’s too difficult. The marked trails make it easy to stay on the right path and they guide you past creeks, a waterfall and other natural highlights.
Volunteer In The Cook Islands
An increasing popularity of volunteering on the Cook Islands has opened up a lot of opportunities for travellers to add a unique experience to their visit. A volunteer holiday can last anywhere from one to four weeks and is your chance to make a difference and give something back to the Cooks, while seeing what makes this country so special.
Whether you want to clean up local wilderness areas, work in a library or museum, help out at Rarotonga’s prison or Mental Health and Welfare Centre, or teach children, there’s a way for everyone to leave their mark.