Cook Islands Travel Guide

Cook Islands Travel Guide

The Cook Islands is hands down my new favourite place on earth. If you close your eyes and picture paradise, you will be picturing the beaches of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Small island vibes, coconuts on beaches, fish swimming around your ankles, the most blinding blue water, whales jumping out of the ocean a hundred metres from your hotel window... if you are going to take any advice from me, let it be going here!

Let's start with the basics...


No matter where you are flying from, you are going to want to find a flight into Rarotonga. Luckily for Australians, Jetstar has recently started flying direct from Sydney. They are always having great deals on flights; check out the current deals here.

From Sydney, the flight takes about 5 hours there and 7 hours back. If you are planning on going to Aitutaki during your trip (which you should be!) you will be able to fly there with Air Rarotonga from Rarotonga. The flights were about $367 per person return and take about 40 minutes each way.


The best time to visit is between April - October for your best bet at clear skies and minimal rain. I went in mid October and only had 2 days where it was cloudy and it only rained once at night! 


I would say a week is the minimum amount of time you should spend there. If you can go for longer, do it! I went for 7 days and seriously did not want to go home. 

My itinerary:

  • Sunday - left Sydney on the 9.30pm Sunday flight to Rarotonga, landed at 6am Sunday (there is a huge time difference as the Cook Islands are on the international date line)
  • Sunday - Rarotonga
  • Monday - Rarotonga
  • Tuesday - Rarotonga
  • Wednesday - fly to Aitutaki in the late afternoon
  • Thursday -Aitutaki
  • Friday - Aitutaki
  • Saturday - fly back to Rarotonga in late afternoon for a night
  • Sunday - 7am flight back to Sydney, land at 1.30pm Monday



I got this question a lot and the answer is not necessarily. I would say that it's very similar prices to Australia in terms of restaurants and accommodation (depends where you stay, obviously). It's a great cheaper alternative to luxury destinations like Bora Bora or the Maldives!


I also had a lot of questions asking how to get around Rarotonga and Aitutaki; the good news is getting around the Cook Islands is a breeze. In Rarotonga, there is only one main road that circles the island with no traffic lights and a speed of no more than 50 km/h; it takes less than an hour to go around the whole island! It's also left hand drive so no different to Australia. Aitutaki is very similar, in fact it's even smaller!

You can hire either a scooter or car on either island.

If you are thinking of hiring a scooter there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. The weather is tropical so it can be a bit unpredictable with rain and winds. If you don't want to get wet, then maybe opt for a car!
  2. If you don't have a motorbike license, you will need to get a visitors license from the police station in either Rarotonga or Aitutaki; you complete a visitor driver's license application form and take the theory test. After you've passed, you will need to do a practical test before you are issued a Cook Islands scooter license which is valid for 30 days and across all islands. It costs around $40 NZD. 
  3. Book in advance - I went in October and I thought the island was quite quiet, however I got one of the last available hire cars and I heard that a lot of people missed out. 


The internet is patchy - if switching off is what you are after then you will love this! The internet in Rarotonga and Aitutaki is very hit and miss. You will find that the hotels you stay at will have wifi... but you have to pay about $20 for it. My biggest tip is to get a SIM card from the airport in Rarotonga. It costs about $49 for 15 days of coverage.

The islands are small so drone usage is limited - Rarotonga wasn't as restricted due to it being a bigger island, however Aitutaki is very small so you will always be close to the airport. DJI has strict rules about flying near airports so unfortunately, we were unable to fly in a lot of areas that we wanted to. In saying that, I saw other people flying drones in areas we couldn't so if you don't have a DJI drone, you may be able to take off. Be careful though!

Mosquitos - bring repellent! There is dengue fever in the Cook Islands so take precautions to avoid getting bitten (wear repellent, longer clothes, don't leave doors open etc). I tried to be careful but still got eaten alive. 

Get cash out before you go - most places take card, however if you need cash while there, it can be a bit of a struggle. Aitutaki in particular has very few ATM's and they kept declining my card for no reason... or they just didn't have cash in them. 


A huge part of your experience in Rarotonga will be based on where you stay. I stayed at both the Rarotongan and the Sanctuary which are part of the same resort so you can use the same facilities. The Rarotongan is family friendly and the Sanctuary is adults only. I had the most incredible experience here with friendly staff, incredible beaches at your doorstep, buffet breakfasts each morning, a variety of restaurants and pools to choose from, a spa, hair braiding, nail salon, SUP boards and kayaks, activities like sarong dying and ai making... there really was something for everyone and I can see why it sells out so fast! The prices are very reasonable and the rooms were great! 

You can book the Rarotongan here, and the Sanctuary here

I made a tiktok documenting my experience on both hotels, which you can watch here

If you are planning to stay somewhere else, the only thing to keep in mind when booking is the area of the hotel. The best part of the island to stay is along the bottom of this map.

Image from wikipedia


Aitutaki was definitely the highlight of my trip; I could not believe my eyes at just how perfect this island was. When booking your accommodation here, it really doesn't matter where on the island it is - the only difference will be if you are facing the lagoon or the ocean. The ocean is self explanatory - a reef surrounds Aitutaki so the beaches are all sheltered from the waves, crystal clear and incredible for snorkelling. The lagoon on the other hand isn't typically 'clear' ocean water, however it looks like a painting with the swirling sand banks and the brightest blue water I have ever seen. The best way I can describe it is that it really looks like Hill Inlet in the Whitsundays!

I stayed at Aitutaki village which is located right on the lagoon and I had the best experience. Buffet breakfast every morning in a restaurant facing the stunning views, SUP boards and kayaks to use, hermit crabs scurrying along the sand, basic rooms but with everything you need, incredible location, free airport transfers, friendly staff, resident cat (Aitutaki actually only has cats, no dogs!) and so peaceful! 

You can book Aitutaki village here

I made a tiktok documenting my experience, which you can watch here

During my time in Aitutaki, I also spent a day over on Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island which is another incredible resort to stay in. It's actually the only place in the Cook Islands with over water bungalows! My tiktok on this place went viral (I'm not surprised) which you can watch here.

As the name suggests, it's a private island which is separated from the mainland by a tiny stretch of water which guests can go back and forth from whenever they like (the boat ride takes less than a minute). There are a variety of rooms to pick from here with the best obviously being the overwater bungalows. A shared infinity pool, restaurants, activities, performances by local dancers and musicians and bikes to ride around the island with at your leisure! 


  • Snorkel tours - spend a day out in the lagoon swimming with turtles and other marine life. There are plenty of different operators to choose from! 
  • Markets - the Punanga Nui market in Avarua (Rarotonga's main town) has food stalls, entertainment, souvenirs and fruits and vegetables. There are also the Muri Night Markets which is a great spot to go for dinner with a huge variety of different food stalls. 
  • Explore the island - the whole island of Rarotonga only takes about 45 minutes to drive around so definitely take a couple of hours to take your time cruising around finding quiet beaches, roads with mountain views and spotting whales! Head up some side streets - some of the most beautiful views I have seen.
  • Do a day trip to Aitutaki - if time is limited but you really don't want to miss out on seeing the beauty of Aitutaki, this may be the option for you. In fact, majority of people on our flight over there were on the day trip! You fly over, hop on a boat, do some island hopping and then fly back in the afternoon. You can book it with Aitutaki Day Tour.


  • A boat trip! A day out in the lagoon is a definite must. There are multiple boat companies who all mainly do the same stops, however I chose to do a private day trip with Bishops Cruises and had the most incredible day. If I wasn't planning on taking photos, one of the group trips would have been just as amazing, however having the freedom to get to islands first and spend as long as I wanted there was a huge benefit going private! You can check out Bishops Cruises prices and cruise options here. There are half day or full day charters; with full day, you will get to have lunch on One Foot Island. I actually made a tiktok vlog of my boat trip day which you can watch here. 

  • Visit One Foot Island - this point links back to the previous one as the only way to go here is via boat. This is the most beautiful island I have ever seen. Photos and videos don't do it justice! You can watch my tiktok on it here. Fun fact; bring your passport along and get one of the rarest stamps in the world when you visit!

  • Explore the island of Aitutaki - take a day to go at your own pace cruising down the quiet island roads. There are so many snorkel spots, beaches and view points. I could not believe how blue the water was - it seriously looked like someone had turned up the saturation too much. Hire some SUP boards and kayaks!
  • Visit the Piraki viewpoint - I decided to go here on a whim and I was so glad I did! A beautiful drive will take you to the highest point on the island where you can see the lagoon from above and WOW. I will put an iPhone photo below that hasn't been edited so you can see just how vibrant it is.

Overall, this was a trip I will not be forgetting any time soon. The locals are some of the friendliest people I have met, the water was the bluest I have seen, the scenery was mind blowing, the food was great and I would go again in a heartbeat. Highly, highly recommend. 

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