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Best Places to Visit in Cook Islands
Despite being one of the most remote places on the planet, the Cook Islands are among the most desirable travel destinations on the global map today and loved by people who like privacy. Located at the midpoint between Hawaii and New Zealand the journey itself is a great experience, though you may need a city break on your way; let’s say in Auckland or Sydney. Aitutaki and Rarotonga are the most visited islands but there are other secluded islands packed with attractions. The largest island in the Cook Islands is the Rarotonga, which is a gradient of a volcanic cone. The Cook Islands offer the quintessential image of the South Pacific: sugary white-sand beaches fringed with lustrous coconut palms, coral reefs teeming with bright tropical fish, bubble-gum blue ocean stretching as far as the eye can see. Our specialists can curate a trip focused purely on exploring the Cooks Islands’ attractions, or suggest ways you can incorporate an island stay into a wider Australasia tour. Places to go on the Cook Islands include Rarotonga, the main entry point, where you might wish to explore beyond the beach by taking a 4x4 into its jungle-clad mountainous interior. Then, if time allows, our specialists would encourage you to make the short flight to Aitutaki. You can take boat trips around its dreamy lagoon, stopping at motus (islets) to picnic and snorkel. Featuring heavily on our itinerary ideas for visiting the Cook Islands, these places are destinations that we know prove consistently popular with our travellers. How you choose to include them in your trip can be tailored into a route that best suits your preferences.
#1- Arutanga, Aitutaki
Dotted with mango trees and hibiscus flowers, sleepy Arutanga is the main settlement on Aitutaki. Tourists will find a few craft stores here, as well as a quiet harbor, but the main thing to do is wander around and soak up an authentic slice of island life. One of the town's main attractions is the Arutanga Cook Islands Christian Church. Built in 1828, it's the oldest in the Cook Islands and one of the most attractive, with stained-glass windows and colorful carved wooden accents. If you're lucky, you might hear the soul-stirring sounds of the local congregation singing their hearts out on a Sunday.
#2- Discover Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre, Rarotonga
Packed with interactive displays, this small but well-curated museum will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the quirky marine creatures of the Cook Islands, from the deadly stonefish to giant coconut crabs. You can also learn the fascinating stories behind the shipwrecks that sunk along these shores. This is a great place to take the kids. They can hold a blue sea star, get up close to baby turtles, and learn about the islands' ubiquitous hermit crabs. After your visit, pop by the Lickity Splitz Ice Cream Parlour for a sweet treat.
#3- Mount Maungapu, Aitutaki
At 124 meters, Mount Maungapu is the highest point on Aitutaki. A short 30-minute hike to the top affords spectacular views over the lagoon and lush, palm-studded landscape. A sign on the road opposite Paradise Cove marks the trailhead, and the track is marked on the free Cook Islands map available on the island.
#4- Aroa Lagoonarium Marine Reserve, Rarotonga
Sheltered by the outlying reef on Rarotonga's west coast, the crystal-clear waters of the Aroa Lagoonarium Marine Reserve are among the best places on the island for snorkeling. Parrot fish, Moorish idols, moray eels, wrasse, and angelfish are just some of the species snorkelers might spot here. Best of all, the lagoon is off-limits to motorized boats, making it especially safe for swimming and snorkeling with small children. Kayaking on the calm waters is also a popular thing to do here. After a day exploring the underwater life, you can relax and watch the sunset from the beautiful beach.
#5- Cross-Island Hike to Te Rua Manga
Hiking the cross-island track is a great way to explore Rarotonga's lush scenery. The trail leads from the north coast up to the distinctive pinnacle rock Te Rua Manga (The Needle), one of the island's most famous landmarks. It then leads via Wigmore's Waterfall to the south coast. The falls are beautiful after heavy rain, with a pool at their base, but the cascades slow to a trickle during the dry season.
#6- Titikaveka Beach, Rarotonga
On the southwest coast of Rarotonga, pretty Titikaveka Beach and lagoon is one of the island's best areas to swim and snorkel. The water is often so clear that you need only stand in the lagoon to spot colorful fish. Be sure to pack your snorkel gear, as there is plenty of marine life around the many coral heads, and the lagoon is dotted with blue sea stars. An underwater camera is another must-have. This beach is also great for kayaking. If you're looking for the most romantic beach for couples, this might just be it. The soft sand is often free from other tourists, leaving you to feel as if you have the whole beach to yourselves.
#7- Maire Nui Gardens, Rarotonga
Wondering where to go in the Cook Islands when you need break from the beach? A short stroll from Titikaveka Beach, the delightful organic Maire Nui Gardens will immerse you in the vibrant beauty of Cook Islands' flora. Flecked with tropical flowers, this seven-acre property is a lovely place for a stroll, with lily-topped ponds, wild ginger, hibiscus, and plenty of palms among the many plants flourishing here. Dragonflies flit through the lush foliage, and the sweet fragrance of tropical flowers wafts through the warm air.
#8- Muri Beach, Rarotonga
On the southeast coast of Rarotonga, Muri Beach or Muri Lagoon, as it is sometimes called, is one of the most popular and picturesque beaches on the island. Although the water quality has declined in recent years, the shallows stretch into dreamy shades of aquamarine, and snorkelers can see many species of tropical fish. Four offshore islets, called motu, shimmer on the horizon, enhancing the beauty of the area. After a day in the sun, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the many nearby resorts and restaurants.
#9- Arorangi, Rarotonga
Arorangi is a small village on the west side of Rarotonga and was the island's first missionary village. Today, you can visit the Arorangi Cook Island Christian Church dating from 1849 and view a monument to the island's first missionary, Papeiha. Arorangi Beach is a beautiful spot to bask on the sand by day and watch the sun sink into the sea at dusk. And if you're looking for a fun family activity, take the kids to the Discover Marine and Wildlife Eco Centre.
Fringed by gently curving coconut palms, beautiful Tapuaetai, or One Foot Island as it is more commonly known, is the most visited of Aitutaki's motu, and for good reason. This stunning island looks like it belongs in a tropical island fantasy. You can bask on its gleaming white sands, wade and snorkel in the turquoise lagoon, and even get your passport stamped at the tiny post office. Hermit crabs scuttle along the shore, and you can walk around the entire island in about 20 minutes.
#11- Aitutaki Lagoon
This must be what heaven looks like. Aitutaki's picture-perfect lagoon glows in technicolor shades of turquoise, and 21 idyllic islets (motu) dot the clear waters, tempting you to paddle to their shores. Not surprisingly, this gorgeous spot has been dubbed one of the best places to enjoy a tropical vacation. Activities: Kayaking is a great way to explore these tiny islets, but you can also visit some of the larger islands on cruises or tours. The small island of Maina in the southwest corner of the lagoon offers excellent snorkeling opportunities and is home to a beautiful sandbar known as "Honeymoon Island." The lagoon is also a popular spot for bonefishing, and you can hire local guides on the island.
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