To make the most of a visit to the Cook Islands, dive in to the beautiful clear waters, join in community events to meet welcoming local people, and sink in to the relaxed pace of island time. Don't miss these essential experiences in the Cook Islands.
That otherworldly lagoon
With its azure blue waters and magnificent eco-system of marine life and lush shoreline, Aitutaki Lagoon provides a stunning backdrop for photographs and romantic seaside enjoyment. Dive in the tropical waters for a refreshing swim or stake a claim on some prime beach real-estate and laze the day away while you enjoy the out-of-this-world scenery.
Eat local, fresh and naturally organic when you tuck into the Cook Islands national dish, ika mata, a delicious blend of fresh tuna marinated in lime juice, coconut milk and a touch of chilli. Other top picks from the catch of the day: just-caught mahi mahi, wahoo and marlin.
Join the family
Cook Islanders have a way of making visitors feel like family members, and nowhere more so than on a progressive dinner tour of islanders' homes. The five-hour wine and food experience happens twice a week (Monday and Thursday) and visits three island homes, where traditional meals are served, family-style.
Dip into Muri
Enjoy Rarotonga's most popular swimming spot, Muri lagoon beach, and try your hand at stand-up paddle-boarding, snorkelling or wake-boarding. Many of the island's best resorts are located here on the eastern side of Raro, and the white sandy beach hums with activity.
Plant both feet
Don't miss One Foot Island, a popular lagoon cruise daytrip from Aitutaki's main island. Untouched and gorgeous, it's been named the best beach on the planet. Don't forget to get your passport stamped and post a letter from the island.
Beer is a magic elixir in the Cook Islands, a refreshing way to end the day or get the party started. Locally brewed beer includes popular drops from Cooks Lager Brewery and the Matutu Brewing Company, which offers a brewery tour. Bush beer is another thing altogether, a potent brew made from fermented bananas, oranges or other fruit, a practice dating back to missionary times.
Raise the roof
Time your visit to coincide with Sunday morning service in one of the Cook Islands' beautiful white coral and limestone churches. The joyful sounds of the dressed-in-white congregation members singing in worship is a stirring experience. Meet the locals during refreshment time.
Cook Islands black pearls are legendary for their quality and lustre, and there's no better place to buy them than in Rarotonga. Treat yourself to a gorgeous ring, pendant or bracelet. It's prudent to ask for a certificate of authenticity.
Climb to the peak
The physically fit might like to challenge themselves to ascend Te Rua Manga, Rarotonga's highest peak, as part of a cross-island trek through the jungly interior. It's advisable to hike with a local expert guide, who can share their insights about the island's eco-system.
Make a night of it
Join in an island night and be treated to unforgettable traditional dancing, tale-telling and a communal feast to satisfy the biggest hunger. At Te Vara Nui Cultural Village, an informative history lesson precedes a well-orchestrated show and delicious buffet dinner.
Browse the market
Get amongst the action on Saturday mornings when farmers and fishermen bring their produce to sell at the community markets. At Punanga Nui Cultural Market in Rarotonga, you'll also find noni juice, colourful sarongs, embroidered quilts, handmade jewellery, wood carvings and woven baskets. On Aitutaki, the Saturday market takes place at Aratunga Wharf.