Planning your Holiday
Hiking in the Cook Islands
Rarotonga is the best place in the Cook Islands for hiking. The mots popular walk is the Cross Island trail which takes roughly three hours, starting from Avarua Town and ending on the south coast of the island at Papua Waterfall. Although this is a strenuous uphill / downhill hike, most fit walkers can easily accomplish the walk but bring plenty of water and mosquito repellent. Other good hikes inlude the more strenuous walk to the peal of Rimeau from the west coast of Rarotonga and also the more gentle trails above the Rarotonga Hospital, also on the west coast. For those looking to explore the every day life of Rarotongans, head into the back streets and small tracks around the north eastern side of Avarua Town, or into the Avana Valley from Muri Beach.
Water Sports in the Cook Islands
The main beach activity centre is Muri Beach on Rarotonga that has snorkelling tours, good kayaking around the lagoon and some wind-surfing and sailing. The steep drop-offs around the island make it great fo9r game-fishing. Rarotonga offers a handful of scuba diving charters that pick uop from around the island. Whilst the dive sites are not particularly well known, this is a good place to learn with easy access to the reef and good variety of sites. Aitutaki has some excellent scuba diving reefs and the lagoon is a fantastic spot for kite-surfing.
Historical Sites in the Cook Islands
There are only a few note-worthy historical sites in the Cook islands. Marae are the main tangible relics from the past and represent spiritual places marked by stones, often on a slightly raised earth platform. Most of these are covered in bush and difficult to see - the most impressive marae are found along the north-east coast of Rarotonga or at Avana Harbour on the eastern side of Muri Beach. The Cook Islands museum has a small collection of ancient artefacts to see as well as some explanations into traditional culture and photographs from the past.
The most visual historical sites are from the not too far past - the time of missionaries when impressive stone churches were hand built using baked coral as limestone bricks. Impressive churches can be found in Avarua Town, on the east coast of Rarotonga, at Arutanga in Aitutaki and at Areroa in Atiu. More impressive though is the singing that emanates from these churches every Sunday morning. Joining a Sunday church service is one of the things not to miss in the Cook Islands.
Culture Shows & Island Nights
The Cook Islanders are famed for their impressive hip swirling dance performances accompanied by high-tempo drummers and several of the larger resorts host weekly dance performances as part of their "Island Nights" when traditional buffet dinner is offered to both in house guests and the general public. You can also catch a dance show at one of the nightclubs in Avarua Town on a Friday or Saturday.
Shopping in the Cook Islands
The main centre for buying local produce is Avarua Town on the north coast of Rarotonga. The high street has several good boutique style souvenir shops but the best place to pick up a bargain as well as local food is the Punanga Nui Market, held every Saturday morning adjacent to the Avatiu Harbour on the outskirts of town. One of the most prized items on the shopping list is Black Pearls which vary in price from a few dollars to thousands depending on the quality of the pearl. Be sure to do your homework first before buying one. Colourful pareus (sarongs) and hand quilted Tivaevae covers are also high up on the shopping list, along with wood carvings which are enjoying something of a revival amongst local artisans. There are also several art galleries around the coastal road where you can find colourful paintings for sale.
For food shopping, there are a couple of large supermarkets around Rarotonga where you can find most groceries if self-catering, but prices are generally on the high side of expensive.