Part of the attraction and the appeal of the Cook Islands was the exotic location, seclusion from crowds and the unique, off the beaten path factor (unobstructed views – no concrete jungles 🙂 . And, staying in a picturesque beach bungalow! There were some delightful surprises along the way when planning, booking and staying in the array of accommodations we did.
4 different accommodations and experiences
In summary – we stayed at 1 place on the main Island of Rarotonga, 2 beach bungalows on Aitutaki, and 1 rustic house on the private motu: One Foot island. Descriptions and links on each further down.
Stats: population 14,000, Circumference of the entire island is 32 km.
1) International Backpackers
How we booked
Sent an email in advance to book, and then we payed upon arrival. Includes airport pick up.
We knew that costs were adding up, plus we had found a private island accommodation to stay at in Aitutaki (which was more than double our beach bungalow accommodations) so to even out costs, we decided to explore staying at a hostel.
There are several options for sleeping arrangements and we chose a private room that had a door and lock ensuring privacy. Other travelers could choose to room with another person (double occupancy) or to sleep in larger rooms with more guests, and lower costs.
The room we stayed in was a great value (less than $50 NZD /night) and we ended up exploring the island right away anyways so it’s not as though we were hanging out in our room and needing the luxuries of home!
One nice surprise here, that none of the other places we stayed at offered, was the complimentary fresh fruit every morning (paw paw, bananas and passion fruit)! Another place we stayed at offered bananas (Inano on Aitutaki) but I don’t know how common this practice is 🙂
Great central location
The location was great – There was a bus stop just a few minutes walk so we could easily get into town.
There was a scooter rental just several minutes walk away. A west facing beach was also a few minutes walk (many sunsets were appreciated here!) and there was also a burger shack and small convenience store across from the bus stop to get food.
That sunset though
Meeting other travellers
The best part about staying here – was meeting other travellers. We ended up making good friends with Giacomo who would end up flying to Aitutaki with us and staying at the same accommodations and trying out the Lagoon Tour I suggested! It was also fun to share stories and experiences and get people’s first-hand experiences on what to do and see.
I understand that Management has changed, but it was great when I was there! Bill picked us up from the airport and we arranged to have him drive us for a small fee a few other times.
Optional day use of the room
On our last day in Rarotonga (after spending 9 days on another island, Aitutaki) Bill arranged for us to have a “day pass” at the Backpackers place so that we could shower, drop our bags off and hang out. This was awesome and gave us the freedom to explore without being weighed down or worried about the safety of our belongings. We invited some friends we had met on Aitutaki to join us for this “day rate” and they enjoyed it too. (We considered the Aquarius hotel near the airport but the day rate was closer to $75, and we simply want a place to shower and store belongings so the price didn’t make sense to us)
My only “wish” about the backpackers accomodations is that the roosters weren’t so loud! I was waking up before 7 am every morning. But hey, when one’s in Paradise, they want an early start!
The rest of our days would be spent on another Southern island: Aitutaki
Aitutaki – the Bora Bora of the Cook Islands
Aitutaki is a lot smaller (Population 2000, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aitutaki ) and even more down to earth and secluded than Rarotonga
2) Inano Beach
How we booked
I emailed them a week in advance and provided the first night’s deposit via credit card. Included in the accommodations was complimentary airport pickup.
Property at the far end of the island near the airport with several large Garden Bungalows with partial Lagoon views and one Beachfront Bungalow.It was an extra 30NZD/night for the Beachfront which was well worth it for the spectacular morning and evening views that could be fully appreciated on the large deck out front. The other bungalows are all equally spacious (Actually, there’s a larger family one I believe) but the beachfront was a little something extra.
Veia picked us up and we asked if there was any availability for our friend who we met in Rarotonga and convinced to come to Aitutaki! She was able to accommodate him for a very good rate.
She also welcomed us with flowered lei’s and I noticed that no one else had them. This was a very nice touch and I really appreciated this welcoming gesture.
We arrived after a few minutes to this beautiful garden and walked along a very well kept pathway and unpacked in our beachfront bungalow.
It was extremely spacious with a kitchen, kitchen table, bathroom, couch and large bed. It felt incredibly luxurious and comfortable.
Veia supplied filtered water for $1NZD which is very reasonable! We had some restaurants nearby: Koru Café, the Boatshed, and Samade on the Beach.
(more on food)
Veia also provided scooter rentals, but if someone else had taken it, there was another scooter rental about 5 minutes away.
They dug out some sand in front of the properties so you could go for a nice swim or lounge on the wooden chairs they provided.
Waterfront views and easy access for swimming
One of the highlights was meeting a part-time local staying at another Bungalow: We went for a quick swim outside and Eric noticed a man hunting for crabs.
Intrigued, we went over to introduce ourselves. He explained that he was catching Tupa crabs and shared the concept of sustainable harvesting (if you just catch the claw of the crab, it will regenerate so you can enjoy the meat without killing the crab!). And so began the friendship with Papa Jon, Bonefish Ambassador of Aitutaki! Really knowledgeable fellow from the US who spends several months of the year in the Cooks! He invited us over to his bungalow and shared some coconut while giving us some helpful tips and suggestions.
Example: to save money on food, go where to locals shop “Neibaa supermarket”.
Cooking lessons and group dinners
He also taught us to make banana fritters! Since the owners of Inano were so kind to hang bananas out at front for the guests, we could take those, mix with some flour and bake on the elements! These turned out to be a staple for the next week making a very nice, delicious and cheap snack! We then invited him and our other friend Giacomo from Rarotonga to join us for Dinner. Papa Jon served up some tupa crab with 3 homemade dipping sauces! He even brought a carved stick to crack the shells. Collaborative effort!
3) Private Beach House on One Foot Island aka the McBirney House
A lot of the famous promo shots of this magical lagoon and islands are taken from One Foot Island. It’s a tiny motu on the far end of the triangular lagoon of Aitutaki and looks like a little foot from the air. All the lagoon tour operators that take travellers to explore the lagoon and snorkel make a stop here as part of their tour.
However, after 3 pm, all the tourists are gone and you get to live on your own private island (with a few island cats for company).
They don’t have a website and it wasn’t until I read the travel forums in depth that I found out about this once in a lifetime opportunity!
How we booked this
You can book this accommodation through local travel Agents like Island Hopper Vacation or Jetsave. I went with Jetsave because they replied to my enquiry first! I met with some Jetsave staff once I arrived in town in Rarotonga and they were so lovely!
You can arrange to have lunch with some of the lagoon cruises that stop for lunch or do what we did: bring some food to cook! Part of the rental package includes coffee, tea and a large ice box with ice so that you can bring meats to BBQ!
The accommodations are very simple and rustic – it’s a 2 story house with a large patio on the first floor and balcony on the second! Here’s some of the views from different sides of the balcony:
The place sleeps 6 easily and comes with mosquito nets.
We went on walks around the island could enjoy snorkeling and swimming just outside the house! We swam to the neighboring island and then let the tide carry us away. And of course, went for nice long walks on the iconic sandbar that stretches way beyond the island.
4) Paradise Cove Aitutaki
How we booked
We booked in advance the same way we did with Inano by providing a first nights deposit with credit card.
Our last days on Aitutaki were spent here! It’s a much more of a central location than the previous Inano Beach stay and we could easily rent scooters and zip around from there. We were on the West Coast and had some beautiful sunsets (guess that’s why they call it paradise!).
The bungalows were much smaller than Inano but still fully functional with a bathroom, bed, desk, and small kitchenette that was decorated with fresh flowers. There was also a balcony out back facing the ocean for prime sunrise and sunset views. My boyfriend preferred this bungalow as he thought it was more cozy.
The staff here were SUPER friendly! It’s expected that you pay for bottled/filtered water, but when Eric asked for some (We were very cautious of our water intake after he suffered from some sun exhaustion on Rarotonga) one of the ladies gave us a full filtered bottle from the nearby resort. She was amazing! We shared some home made banana fritters with her and in return, she brought as a super fancy plate of food on our last night!
Another charming touch: they had a really cute sign out front that said “beware falling coconut!”.
I guess it’s true though, the Cook Islands are so safe that the only thing you have to watch out for are coconuts!
I’m very happy with the variety of accommodations we chose for different price points! It gave us a fantastic mix of experiences in a truly idyllic setting.
Thanks for reading! Happy to answer any questions.
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