A dream vacation! We split our time between the Main island of Rarotonga and the picturesque Atoll of Aitutaki (Bora Bora of the Cook Islands, as it’s also known 🙂
Total of 5 days in Rarotonga, 9 in Aitutaki!
Here are my Activity and Adventure highlights
Read on for more descriptions on how you can plan your own adventure!
[Southern Cook Islands: Rarotonga]
For Orientation purposes – here’s a good interactive map of Rarotonga , here is a cute map drawing of the island, and here’s the relative position on a global scale
1) Hiking: Cross Island Trek
Just as it sounds, you trek across the entire island, through rainforest jungle, along a mountainous ridge and up to the iconic needle rock formation, before heading down towards the opposite side, passing back and forth across mountain streams and ending at the Papau Waterfall on the other side.
We arrived at the airport in Rarotonga at 7am. Got picked up by Bill (more on accomodations) and was advised by his partner Anna that we should get some rest. But we were excited! And so, decided to embark on a vigorous hike to trek across the island immediately!as long as you were smart about it. Apparently the North to South route is the way to go as it’s more clearly marked than the other way around.
We took the bus to the North side of the island and walked along the correct road until we got onto the dirt trail/ base of the jungle. There are several rolling green mountains and tropical plants and palms everywhere.
We came to this sign that showed us the expected elevation gain and where we’d end up.
It started off flat and grassy and then you started to reach the mountain.
Parts of the hike were fairly steep but the network of tree roots made for some natural staircases.
There were also narrow sections along a mountain ridge towards the iconic “Needle”
We were told to watch out for stinging centipedes but we didn’t see any.We did however, see a few roosters!
Near the end of the hike, there are a few places where you have to cross a stream. Some parts are easier than others. In one particular section, I was worried about falling but you just have to go for it and jump..and then quickly grasp the rock wall on the other side! We later met a group where one of the girls fell in: she got wet, but was still happy!
At the end of the hike, there was a small waterfall where some people were taking a swim to cool off. All in all, I would say it’s a good 4 hour hike. We felt amazing for doing physical activity straight away! Plus you get a nice mix of photo ops! Walking through the lush jungle, rocky cliffs, ocean views, rugged terrain, and then the waterfall.
We walked for what felt like 30 minutes before we got to the main road that follows the circumference of island and then took a bus back home 🙂
2) Renting a Moped/Scooter
When talking to other like-minded adventure travelers staying at the Backpackers accommodations, the number one answer for “best part of their trip” was renting a scooter/moped! It’s a great way to explore the island and get places, plus it’s unique and fun to do that in a tropical island setting where you don’t have crazy drivers!
How to rent a moped
To rent a moped, you’ll need to get a temporary Driver’s License which you can do so in the main town centre at the Police station. We had to wait for about 20 minutes, and then do a small practical test showing that you can operate a scooter. Picture taken, Cook Islands Driver’s license printed..there! New memento to take home!
We walked nearby to look at scooter rentals and the average rate seemed to be $20 NZD/day.
Although the speed limit was 50 km/hr, we took caution to go slowly because we met a few travelers that had some accidents (eg. trying to stop suddenly!).
Tip! The island is basically a circle with a main road that follows the perimeter (32 km circumfrence). There’s also a less traveled road that is more internal – this goes along the country side and is a fun change of scenery. We were advised to try this out and we did. That’s how we met the people that offered us our first taste of fresh coconut!
The moped had seats that opened up with storage inside which was great for placing our swimming supplies and snacks 🙂
The travelers were right – renting a moped is a definite must! They allow you to move around the island fast (bus comes every hour) and it feels awesome having the wind in your face while riding and getting glimpses of the island surroundings and sparkling water.
3) Kayaking at Muri beach
There’s beach all around the island but we heard that Muri beach was the best because there’s some small motus (islands) that you can kayak to and then walk around.
We took the moped to Muri beach and while scooting around, experienced a short burst of rain; however, the sun came out just in time for our arrival to the beach! We walked along the sand and found a rope to swing along. Then we rented a kayak for under $15 NZD and paddled along to the other side. It’s nice to get to one of these motus and look back on the main island!
With the sun in full force, the water was extra blue and brilliant.
[Southern Cook Islands: Aitutaki]
Trip To Aitutaki ( we chose to spend 9 days here )
For those short on time, you can book a day trip to Aitutaki. embark on a 45 min. flight and then jam a packed day of exploring the magical lagoon waters. We did our research and knew we would want to spend the majority of our time here and ended up doing 3 lagoon excursions! It’s a giant body of water, so while you can certainly swim and snorkel on your own, the boats will take you to special spots and to the edge of the coral reef which is pretty spectacular.
4) Renting a moped (on another island)
Much like renting a moped on the Main island of Rarotonga, you can do so here as well (but get your license on the main island of Rarotonga first). The population is significantly smaller (as is the island geography) so it feels especially rustic. We did lots of scooting around and I felt like I was in another world. Great for getting around to do groceries, go to the market and to simply explore more lush, tropical surroundings!
5) Snorkeling at the Beach
One great thing about the snorkeling and swimming in these particular islands is that it’s extremely safe!
The coral reef keeps out dangerous animals like sharks. This was important to me especially as a first time snorkeler! The one thing you have to watch out for is rock fish – don’t step on them with bare feet! This is why we wore reef shoes, or kept our flippers on.
Anyway, we snorkled several times (more on lagoon cruises offering this, next) and our first snorkel was at the far end of Aitutaki near the Airport. It was good place to get used the activity. The water was fairly clear, but there wasn’t a lot of interesting fish in this particular area. That’s where you need to go on one of the Boat Tours! Which leads me to…
6) Lagoon snorkel adventure! Different tour operators available to visit islands in lagoon
Here is part of the lagoon from the air:
There is SO much water and area to cover, you need to get into a boat to explore these! There are several tour operators and they offer different things.
Each tour runs from the morning (9 am) to mid/late afternoon. They’ll pick you and and drop you off at your accommodations and the tours include the snorkel gear (although we brought our own), towels and lunch (more on the food here!)
You can be part of a large group or you can book a private charter.
We went with 2 companies: Teking and Bishop. Teking operates a smaller speed boat and he’s able to get into some very unique places among the coral formations that the larger Bishop Boat wouldn’t be able to reach. Teking also had more stops to snorkel on the tour we did – the 5 island tour. Let’s go through Teking first!
7. a) Teking:
His team (including Captain No-Good!) picked us up from our place around 9 am and we got into the back of a truck and headed towards the boats. After collecting everyone’s payment we embarked on 2 different boats- we were probably a group of 15 total. Right away, I was stunned by the vibrant rich hues of the blue turquoise water!
We sped along until we reached one end of the lagoon at the site of the Alexandra shipwreck. Here we had our first of 3 snorkels. He threw bread into the water and fishes came up towards us right away! We had a good 45 minutes of snorkeling time and only one person chose not to snorkel. Teking told us about some history at each stop including the shipwreck and some people swam farther out and were able to see this.
Advice: Always keep your head in the water so you can see where you’re going and what’s going on! At one point, I got some water in my mouth and panicked, took my head out of the water and started making my way back towards to boat. I completely forgot that there’s coral everywhere and grazed my knee on the living coral and got a bit of a nasty cut! I was really lucky that it was a relatively minor injury – I could have whacked my entire leg along the coral and been bleeding all over. There was a doctor on board (fellow traveler) who had antiseptic supplies and gave some to me. FYI – coral leaves scars! I still have it a year later, but it’s slowly healing. Lesson – don’t panic! Keep your face in the water to see where you’re going.
The second snorkel stop was by the Clam Farm! There were GIANT clams and we made good use of the underwater camera!
After this endless clear water,
we stopped off at a sandbar and took a walk along honeymoon island. Sweet name – beautiful walk!
We served a delicious BBQ Lunch on Maina Island
Teking and his crew suggested a hermit crab race:
Went for our third and last snorkel among the purple coral! This was super fun and they took us on a little adventure path where you were swimming between large columns of coral. I felt like I was flying and in a video game!
We then went to a Volcanic island.
Saw some sea turtles.
Then over to the Famous One Foot Island!! Everything up until now was unique to Teking’s tour (ie. Bishops didn’t do these same islands) but everyone stops at One Foot Island! From the air, it looks like a foot 🙂 As mentioned in my Trip Planning entry – a lot of the beautiful promo shots are taken here – even weddings can take place here. It really is a picture of perfection.
This is also where we stayed in our own private accommodation! (more on accommodations)
After One Foot Island, we were taken back to the main island, and dropped off at our hotels.
7. b) Bishops Cruise
We arranged to have the Bishops Cruise operator drop us off at One Foot Island for our 2 night Private Island adventure! We packed a suitcase and a couple of bags and this larger boat was definitely more accommodating. Like the Teking cruise, we were picked up around 9 am and drove to different spot to embark on the boats. We got moving on the lagoon and the snorkel stops and little island/motu stops before One Foot Island were different. We only had one snorkel stop which was a bit disappointing – maybe it was because this particular day was cloudier? In any case, I had finally gotten over my fear of snorkeling after the first incident and was happy to give it a go again. The snorkel was on the far East side of the lagoon.
After snorkeling we went to a different volcanic island (there are onyl 2), and then to One Foot Island for lunch. I preferred the food on Teking’s cruise but this was still enjoyable! Bishops opened up the post office and we got our passports stamped with the One Foot Island mark.
Teking will also stamp your passports 🙂
Cutest passport stamp
8) One Foot Island
As described earlier, this is an iconic, gorgeous island with a long stretch of sandbar that you can walk along or you can let the tide carry you all the way to the sandbar! You can also snorkel to neighboring islands.
9) Walks along the sandbar
10) Island Nights with fire dancers
We kept hearing about island nights at different accomodations where you would pay an average of $50 and get dinner and a show. We were considering doing this because we heard the dancing and fire acts were pretty cool.
We mentioned this to someone working at the Tamanu Beach Resort and she informed us that we could actually watch the show for free!
We were delighted by this news!
So tip! If you just want to see the show – you are welcome to come by after the dinner portion is over.
11) Getting to know the locals and other travelers!
Loved this part – made some new friends that we ended up spending good time with! We even had dinner with different new friends on different occasions.
Home made dinner with fresh local crab (caught by part-time local!) out on our beach bungalow porch 🙂
Read on for how I planned my trip for those wanting to know what was involved, and so that you can plan your own trip too!
Related Cook Islands Blog posts:
How I booked my last minute trip: Planning and preparation
4 different accommodations I stayed at including a Private Island
Must-try food in the South Pacific
Activities and Adventure in the Cook Islands