Inspiration Destinations Cook Islands Cook Islands: Which is the Best Island for You?

Cook Islands: Which is the Best Island for You?


Whether you’re seeking honeymoon romance, jaw-dropping natural wonders or beachfront restaurants, discover which of the Cook Islands is perfect for you.

The paradisiacal Cook Islands are home to secluded beaches, lush jungle and a delicious degree of remoteness – and the great part is this utopia isn’t too far away, with flights accessible via New Zealand. With 15 islands to choose from, each as unique and geographically stunning as each other, picking just one or two to visit can be a challenge. How off-grid do you want your holiday to be? Are you a foodie, a beach worshipper or an active adventurer? We delve into our favourite five islands to help you decide which of the Cook Islands is best for you.

Ready to explore? Check out our handpicked Cook Islands escapes. 

Rarotonga: Welcoming local culture, incredible natural beauty and a thriving reef 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Rarotonga is an unspoilt tropical idyll where stretches of deserted white-sand beach meet lush rainforest, all framed by postcard-perfect volcanic peaks. The Cook Islands’ largest isle takes just 45 minutes to drive around, which means that while there’s still plenty to do here, you can still enjoy a laidback and remote escape.

This tropical jewel is a treasure trove for delicious food options. From quality seafood to fresh market produce and café breakfast treats, all foodie bases are covered. For tuna tacos and flavourful fish and chips, dine at The Mooring Fish Café. Or, if you find yourself free on a Saturday morning head to Punanga Nui Market and peruse stalls selling local handicrafts, herbs, fresh flowers, and organic fruits and vegetables. To start your morning with the best coffee on the island, Love Café is the place to be (make sure to try the freshly baked pastries, like cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven). 

If you’re a fan of soft adventure, you’ll discover a plethora of exciting things to do on Rarotonga. Go for a hike through the lush hinterland and be rewarded with spectacular panoramas from mountain peaks. Glide across crystal-clear waters on a stand-up paddleboard and see the island from a different perspective, or explore the coral reef and tropical marine life on a snorkelling expedition. 

Ready to dive in? Stay at the Pacific Resort Rarotonga or Ocean Escape Resort Rarotonga.  

Aitutaki: A remote and romantic honeymoon destination

Hide away in the Cook Islands’ second most-visited island, a haven for newlyweds and those seeking some sun-soaked solace. Aitutaki is paradise personified, where icing sugar sands meet the gently curved shores of one of the world’s most stunning lagoons. While only a 45-minute flight from Rarotonga, it feels far removed from the rest of the world.

It’s all about doing as much or as little as you like during your time here. Hire a scooter or bicycle and zip across the island at your own pace. Gain a glimpse into a tropical marine wonderland during a scuba diving adventure and encounter schools of colourful fish and graceful sea turtles. Learn about local culture at Tamanu Beach Resort, where you can witness the island’s traditional song and fire dancing while feasting on local food from Aitutaki.

Romantic dinners by the lagoon are in abundance on Aitutaki. Dine on succulent seafood caught fresh that day while listening to the sounds of waves crashing on sand from The Boat Shed Bar & Grill. For rich and tasty coffee and all-day breakfast, local favourite Koru Café is a must-visit enroute to Ootu Beach. To ramp up the romance, make a booking at Rapae Bay Restaurant and Black Rock Bar at Pacific Resort Aitutaki for fine dining, sumptuous seafood and a world-class wine list. 

Book your escape today: Pacific Resort Aitutaki. 

Pacific Resort Aitutaki.

Atiu: A nature lover’s remote paradise with untouched beaches

Only a 45-minute flight from Rarotonga, Atiu is an easy day trip and well worth the visit. Home to 400 proud warrior people, just a handful of cafés and rare native birds, Atiu is one of the few untouched islands in the South Pacific.

Nature lovers can delight in a plethora of activities, and clusters of limestone caves makes for fascinating cave tours. The Anatakitaki Caves are accessible via a challenging walk through lush, tropical rainforest and contain colossal stalactites and stalagmites (be sure to wear secure, non-slip footwear throughout). Within the caves you’ll find pools of artesian water that make for inviting swimming holes, perfect for cooling off after your walk. Keen birdwatchers should look out for the native and rare Kopeka bird, which navigates the dark caves using sonar (just like bats).  

Mangaia: Ancient artefacts and remarkable natural beauty

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Mangaia is only a 40-minute flight from Rarotonga and ranks as the oldest island in the Pacific at 18 million years old. It’s recognisable by its honeycomb, fossilised cliffs, hidden caves steeped in legend and folklore, and naturally formed staircases used by the island forefathers to descend into the verdant plateau.

Seek out secluded beaches that are enclosed by the coral cliffs and enjoy the pristine shore and turquoise ocean all to yourself. Explore Toru A Puru cave, a largely unexplored sacred site, known for its burial remains. Go snorkelling in Tuaati rock pool during low tide and see the spectacle of neon-bright marine life. Or treat yourself to a famous Mangaia doughnut, a local favourite treat that’s best enjoyed with a hot drink and lashings of butter. Cap off a day trip to Mangaia with a breathtaking sunset at the wharf. 

Mauke: Laidback island life

Life moves at a slower pace in Mauke. There are two main villages, an abundance of lazy goats, countless coconut trees and fragrant Tahitian gardenia trees. This is the place to come to pause and take a deep breath. Just a 1.5-hour flight from Rarotonga, regular flights mean it’s all too easy to experience the island on a memorable day trip.

When the weather’s warm, head to the local swimming hole, Vai Tango Cave, located in the village of Oiretumu. Expect deep sea-green waters and a cave ceiling dripping with stalactites. After an afternoon of splashy fun, head to the western edge of the island where you can witness a fiery sunset over the harbour, just a five-minute drive from the airport.  

Read more: Eat, Drink and Play in Paradise: Our Guide to Rarotonga  

About Felicia Arhontissas
A keen traveller and a margarita enthusiast, Felicia is all about getting to the nitty gritty of each destination she visits and discovering its hidden gems (and then running home to write about it).

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