5 Days on Cook Islands
Day 1: Arrival in Rarotonga
LAX to the Cook Islands is just a 10-hour direct flight via Air New Zealand, in which we found to be extremely comfortable and was one of the most pleasant flights we've been on. We arrived in Rarotonga around 6 AM, picked up our rental for the week from Polynesian Rentals, and headed off to our accommodations.
To see where we stayed, click here.
Since it was Sunday morning, we decided to go to the service at the Ngatangiia Cook Islands Christian Church after settling in. The service was colorful, fun, and the choir was amazing! Everyone was warm and welcoming so you totally don't feel out of place.
Note: proper attire is required so ladies please cover up your shoulders and wear knee-length dresses, skirts, and/or shorts.
After church, we decided to drive around the island and mark down spots that we wanted to visit in the next few days. FYI: it takes about 40 minutse to drive around the entire island. We then retired back to our accommodations for a nap until the evening.
We went into town for dinner at Bamboo Jacks, which was a highly recommended spot by many. Bamboo Jacks is an Asian fusion restaurant serving a mixture of Thai and Chinese dishes. We really enjoyed the great service and the quality of food. Needless to say, we left with happy tummies.
On the way back to our place, we stopped by a local store to pick up some snacks, water, and bug spray because insects love my blood and I always get bites when I'm in tropical climates. The rest of the evening was quiet and we went to bed early as we had an early adventure the next morning.
Note: Rarotonga is 3 hours behind Los Angeles (in time).
Day 2: Koka Lagoon Cruise & Beach Life
The one thing you should know about Rarotonga is that there are plenty of roosters, chickens, and dogs all over the island. The roosters will wake you up the first day or two, but you'll later get so used to them that you'll tune them out. However, we were woken up by a rooster that morning, a little earlier than we expected. The upside is that we caught the sunrise and enjoyed a nice, freshly made breakfast at our accommodation.
We had scheduled a tour for the day and headed out to the Koka Lagoon Cruise offices shortly after breakfast. Another thing to note is that everyone is super relaxed on the island, therefore island time is a real thing. I suggest adding an extra 10 minutes to your drive to be safe.
Koka Lagoon Cruise is a tour that takes you through Muri Lagoon on a glass bottom boat. You'll spend the afternoon on a marine reserve site where you can snorkel through the beautiful coral reefs. Lunch is included and includes freshly grilled fish and island sides, and yes, coconut is used in a lot of dishes! The crew onboard were highly entertaining, singing us jams during the boat ride and demonstrating how to pick a coconut, open it properly, and ways to wear a sarong (a garment consisting of a long piece of cloth worn wrapped around the body and tucked at the waist or under the armpits, traditionally worn in Southeast Asia and now also by women in the West.) We had a great time and KSOLE was even taught how to climb up a coconut tree, hah.
The tour started at 10AM and we returned back to the island at 1:30PM.
After returning from the cruise, we went across the street to Saltwater Cafe and grabbed a few pastries and coffee before heading back to our accommodations to shower and rest. We spent the remainder of the day wandering around and shooting, relaxing at the beaches, and had dinner at Tamarind House.
Tamarind House has amazing ocean views so I would recommend going during the day to take advantage of that. However, we enjoyed the dinner service and loved the vibes of the place. Reservations are recommended.
Other places to try on the island:
Flambe Restaurant at Crown Beach Resort
OTB Restaurant & Bar
Day 3: Day Trip to Aitutaki & Vaka Cruise
Depart at 7:20AM via Air Rarotonga for a 45 minute flight to Aitutaki. Even if you're sleepy, you'll immediately wake up as the turquoise lagoon below will leave you in utter amazement. We really couldn't believe how beautiful the water looked from the air.
Upon landing, we met up with our tour guide and took a drive around the island before boarding The Vaka Cruise. The crew was so lively and nice, it was like we were all just one big happy family. We stopped at several tiny islets before One Foot Island, which included a swim and snorkeling opportunity and on-board lunch featuring freshly caught fish.
We spent a good hour or so at One Foot Island, where we were free to explore and relax under the sun. This is also where you get your famous passport stamp from the post office on the island. Also, don't forget to send yourself a postcard as a souvenir!
Our way back was calm and included more musical entertainment from the crew. We arrived back for our flight and returned to Rarotonga by 5:30PM.
Before the retiring for the night, we decided to squeeze in a couples massage at a recommended hotel by the owners of Ikurangi Eco Retreat. I honestly forgot the name, but it is her favorite spot and we had the best massage.
Day 4: Raro Buggy Tours
From island hopping to getting dirty through the hills of Rarotonga. Despite the rainfall the island was receiving, the Raro Buggy Tours made sure to take advantage of all the mud with a few laps through an abandon property. Needless to say, be prepared to get really soaked.
The tour allowed us to let loose, go off roading, and even swim in a waterfall. We ended with fresh fish sandwiches and a view of the ocean.
P.S. Be extra careful if you're bringing your camera and phones, they will get wet.
The tour was just a few hours so it allowed us to go back home, rinse off, and prepare for lunch. We spent the afternoon in town, wandering the shops, and trying out local coffee shops. Dinner was served at our accommodations where we got a delicious plate of meats, cheese, fresh fruits, and locally grown vegetables.
Day 5: Te Vara Nui
The last full day on the island was spent in pure laziness. We slept in, worked on a few things and wrapped up any photo projects we had left.
If you happen to have some spare time and need some recommendations for breakfast and lunch, see below:
Le Bon Vivant Café in Muri Beach
Waffle Shack in Avarua
Deli-Licious Cafe Limited
Le Rendez-Vous in Avarua
Vili’s Burger Joint
Vaima’s Polynesian Bar & Restaurant
At 5 PM. we headed off to Te Vara Nui Village for the cultural village tour and night show.
I highly suggest saving your appetite for the dinner that accompanies the show as it's a buffet and is filled with the most delicious variety of island dishes. Not to mention that you get a glass of bubbles upon arrival and drinks of your choice is available throughout the night.
Te Vara Nui is a popular over the water night show that is a must and no, it is not a luau. While they may be similar, Te Vara Nui features compelling legend stories and resounding beats of drums and rhythms of song and dance. I had the best time and loved all the dancing! Oh, and yes, there is a table full of desserts to end your night, along with photo ops with the cast.
To say that the week flew by may seem cliche, but it was true. In a blink of an eye, our vacation was over and we had to return home, leaving paradise.
To the people of Cook Islands, thank you so much for the hospitality. I've never felt so welcomed and so at home. To the tourism board, thank you for taking the best care of us and ensuring we had the best time. I cannot recommend this place enough and have been raving about it since we got back. I hope that those who visit not only enjoy themselves but also respect the island, the people, the culture, and most importantly, maintain the beauty of this paradise.
Until next time, moe maru (sleep well)