Other than the rich Polynesian culture, it’s the landscape that really demands your attention. The islands are volcanic, and a lagoon surrounded by tiny islands generally characterizes the landmass. The two most visited islands are Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Rarotonga has jungle-covered mountain peaks and an excellent reef for swimming. Aitutaki is a completely tropical island paradise. There’s really no way to go wrong with a trip to the Cook Islands. Warm turquoise waters, sandy white beaches, and towering palm trees await!
Places to Visit in Cook Islands
- Arorangi Beach
- Tikiaveka village
- Avatiu Valley
- Te Rua Manga mountain
Unique Things to See and Do
in Cook Islands
- Take the Cross Island walk from Avatiu Valley
- Lounge around on one of the epic beaches
- Experience Rarotonga’s surprisingly busy nightlife
- Visit Punanga Nui Market to shop for souvenirs
- Get to know Polynesian culture at a Te Vara Nui village
- Snorkel in the crystal-clear waters
Cook Islands Culture
Cook Islands’ culture is Polynesian paired with European influences. Its history is steeped in mystery and romance: piracy, escapades, hidden treasures and more have all shaped the Cook Islands as we know it today. This is largely why the Cook Island folks are so unique.
The Cook Islanders are well known for heeding to “the call of the drum” – they’re incredible performers and entertainers, and you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t have some sort of musical ability. The traditional dancing and drumming is like a spiritual experience, especially the traditional Ura. These performances usually convey stories of love, desire, and passion. Children are raised with the chants and songs of the Kaparima (church hymns). Then there are string bands, ukuleles made with coconut shells, and yes, even a nightclub or twenty. Festivals take place year-round.
Arts and crafts are also important components of Polynesian life in the Cook Islands. Decorative woodcarvings, tattoos, and tapa cloth designs all have their own unique style here. Even tattoo designs have heritage significance and tend to symbolize a person’s role in a family.
Woodcarving is the ultimate art form, and much of it is featured in the museums around the islands. Here you’ll find hollowed out bowls, fishing spears, and even war clubs. Many of the patterns are the same across the board, including for tattoos. Basket weaving is another revered talent, considering baskets were used for nearly every aspect of life: collecting shellfish, carrying goods, etc.
Many villages have their own distinct handicrafts as well. For example, Mangaia excels in hatbands and Pukapuka is all about finely woven mats. Painting is another popular art form. The Cook Islanders are an artistic bunch! Need to do some souvenir shopping? Here’s your chance.
Getting Around Cook Islands
Probably the best way to get around the Cook Islands is to rent a scooter or a car. That way you can see and do things at your own pace! To get between islands, there are inter-island flights that are super quick and efficient. There are no ferries or boat services between islands, and some islands are uninhabited.
Best Time of Year to Travel to the Cook Islands
Cook Islands’ peak season is from June to August – the Islands’ winter months. Temperatures are hot, and it’s dry. This is also the priciest time of year too. December to March is the off season, but still actually makes for a good time to visit. Although it’s considered the “rainy season,” you’ll mostly just experience rainstorms in quick but short bursts. Hurricanes have been known to hit during this time, however.
The shoulder seasons are excellent times to visit. From April to May and then from September to October, you’ll find sunny days, and less humidity. And the water is always warm.
Ready to plan your visit to New Zealand? Check out these popular guides and trips.