Local artisans, designers and retailers in the Cook Islands are skilled at making the most of the natural environment to produce beautiful, unique wares you won't find anywhere else. Stock up on colourful hand-printed pareos, beautiful black pearls and Gauguin-inspired original paintings. Fragrant soaps, lotions and perfumes make sweet souvenirs.
Top 3 Things You Should Buy
Black is most beautiful
Pearl diving has been a way of life for centuries in the Cook Islands. Found mostly on the atolls of Manihiki, Rakahanga and Penrhyn, the pearls in hues of black, (also blue, silver and deep green) are featured in gorgeous rings, pendants and bracelets by master jewellers. See avaikipearls.com.
Take home the island scent
One of the first things you'll notice in the Cook Islands is the lush tropical scent, a delicious blend of frangipani, tiare, hibiscus and coconut. A local company, Perfumes of Rarotonga (perfumes.co.ck), has bottled the scent and infused it into natural soaps, body lotions, haircare products and oils.
A unique local artwork
Artists are drawn to the vivid colours and natural beauty of the Cooks' tropical flowers, lagoons and big sky, taking inspiration for the traditional art of tivaevae, or traditional quilting. Browse the galleries on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and don't miss the weekend markets, where some of the best handmade quilts can be found.
Top 7 Places You Should Shop
Punanga Nui Cultural Market
The centre of town on Saturdays is Punanga Nui Cultural Market in Rarotonga when farmers and fishermen bring their fresh produce to town. Consider the bottled noni juice (said to be the magic fountain of youth). You can also snap up sarongs, jewellery, wood carvings and woven baskets. On Aitutaki, the Saturday market takes place at Aratunga Wharf.
Arorangi Prison's Craft Shop
Support the rehabilitation of Cook Islands inmates by shopping for souvenirs at Arorangi Prison's Craft Shop. Open weekdays from 8am-3pm, the shop sells goods handmade by prisoners, including ukuleles and other wooden instruments. Proceeds go back to improving prison welfare.
For black pearls
Cook Islands black pearls are prized around the world for their lustrous shine and high quality. Crafted into elaborate earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces, they come in various shades beyond black. Shop for pearls at well-known stores Goldmine Jewellery, Moana Gems, and Paka's Pearls.
Dress like royalty when you shop at TAV Pacific's Rarotonga store: Princess Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, recently chose one of TAV's bright pink floral dresses for an official function. The label is popular in the Pacific for its tropical prints and form-fitting shapes and swimwear.
Raro Records sells original Polynesian music from the Cooks as well as Tahiti and Samoa, at competitive prices. Over at the Philatelic Bureau, located next to the post office in Rarotonga, collectors can pick up colourful stamps and collector's sets of local coins and banknotes.
For local artwork
Artists are drawn to Polynesia to create original watercolours, sensual sculptures and colourful printed fabrics. Shop for original artworks at BCA Gallery, Loretta Reynolds' gallery or in the studio/retail space of Kay George.
Rito coconut oil
The islands' abundance of fallen coconuts is turned into high quality, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil at Rito. Produced in Tikioki, Rarotonga, Rito's kitchen turns out virgin oil, skincare products and moisturising soaps.