The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Travelling to the Cook Islands

What Not To Do

Enjoy your dream Rarotonga getaway to the max by avoiding these common mistakes.

·        ONLY VISITING IN PEAK SEASON. Just because April-November is a “good” time to visit Rarotonga doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the “best” time for you. Consider off-peak as well, December to March. These months are “summertime” on the island, so the days are longer (more sunshine for your dollar), frangipani are in bloom, lush tropical fruits are ripe, the sea is warmer, and any tropical showers are generally passing by. Plus, you might even get to celebrate Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, or Easter on Rarotonga. Frangipani Season. What’s not to love?

·        NOT TRYING LOCAL FOOD EARLY ENOUGH IN YOUR STAY. Be brave and try something new. You might find that your next favourite food is the classic Cook Islands fish dish, “Ika mata”, and your new favourite cocktail is The Rarotongan’s swoon-worthy “Island Girl”.

·        NOT ALLOWING ENOUGH TIME.  To get into the groove of the island and really recharge, allow at least 7-8 nights on Rarotonga – but you could easily fill 10, 12 or 14 nights with plenty of relaxation and enjoyable diversions.

·        NOT EXPLORING BEYOND THE BUSY HOTEL STRIPS. Some areas, like the Muri and Arorangi hotel and restaurant strips, are a magnet for tourists. If you’re a traveller who prefers something more laidback, venture beyond. Top spot must be The Rarotongan’s new lagoon front deck right over the water at Captain Andy’s Beach Bar & Grill, right on Aroa Lagoonarium. Try the tasty Island Style Fish & Chips with a cold local Cooks Lager. Extra bonus. You’re on the southwest coast. So, imbibe the breath-taking sunset views.

·        THINKING THAT IF YOU’VE BEEN TO RAROTONGA, YOU’VE SEEN THE COOKS. Getting as far as Rarotonga but missing out on Aitutaki should be declared a crime. See for yourself why it’s called the World’s Most Beautiful Lagoon.

·        ONLY BOOKING A DAY TRIP TO AITUTAKI. You could do a day trip to Aitutaki or even stay one night (check in 3pm, check out 10am). But you’ll end up kicking yourself. It’s the favourite island of Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler for good reason. Do yourself a favour and stay at least 2-6 nights to discover what makes Aitutaki so jaw-dropping.   Naturally we recommend our beautiful sister resort, Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort, the only resort directly on the magnificent expanse of Aitutaki Lagoon, the only one with Overwater Bungalows and the only private island resort in the Cooks. Totally unique.

·        NOT GETTING IN AMONGST IT EARLY ENOUGH IN YOUR HOLIDAY. Get confident with your snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking or scuba early on in your holiday. Go on tours like Raro Mountain Safari, Turtle or Lagoon Cruises early on too. Make the most of good weather, stay sun smart so that sunburn doesn’t mar the rest of your holiday.

·        IGNORING MARINE SANCTUARY “RAUI” SIGNS. Respect the designated Rau’i marine reserves.  For Rarotonga’s best snorkelling you must try the Aroa Lagoonarium Marine Sanctuary at The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium. Don’t kick, stand on or touch the coral. Don’t take shells, sand, or coral home. Don’t go fishing in reserves.

·        USING SUNBLOCK WHICH IS NOT REEF-SAFE. Like coral reefs worldwide, Rarotonga’s corals have been affected by coral bleaching. Be part of the solution.

·        NOT HIRING A CAR. Rarotonga’s ancient back road, flanked by plantations of banana, pawpaw, taro and maniota, offers a charming peek into the life of the locals. Rarotonga’s bus service and excursions such as the Raro Mountain Safari Tour mean you may not need a car for every day of your stay, but for freedom to explore, hire a car for at least 2-3 days.

·        NOT TAKING SENSIBLE PRECAUTIONS. Just as you would at home, lock your unattended vehicle. Mind your personal belongings on the beach. Use the safe in your resort room.

·        NOT STAYING ADULTS-ONLY IF YOU’RE A COUPLE. The Rarotongan Beach Resort is a resort for all ages, so is a great option for anyone. But an even better option for couples is the adults-only boutique sister resort right next door, Sanctuary Rarotonga-on the beach, for guests aged 16 and over. It even offers the only swim-up bar at an adults-only resort right on its own kids free beach.

·        NOT ACCOUNTING FOR THE REMOTE ISLAND LOCATION. Some prices will be cheaper than at home, such as the freshest of tropical fruits & vegetables at Saturday morning’s Punanga Nui Market. Some prices will be surprisingly similar, such as alcohol. But others will reflect the challenges of isolation including airfreight and the internet.

·        NOT CARRYING CASH. Hotels, shops, and restaurants accept credit and debit cards. But if you’re planning to enjoy the vibe at Rarotonga’s Saturday morning market, or to buy a fresh island drinking coconut from a roadside stall, take some cash.

·        FAILING TO UNPLUG. At home you probably check your phone every few minutes. On your Rarotonga or Aitutaki getaway take the opportunity to unplug and enjoy the sweet, simple taste of analog life. A life of piña coladas beside blue lagoons, fresh gamefish, and hearty doses of vitamin D with your toes wriggling in the white sands. Be thankful you’re unlikely to have lightning-fast speeds and massive bandwidth, so chillax in paradise instead.

·        EXPECTING SNAP-YOUR-FINGERS SERVICE. Even back home there’s queues and waiting to be served. On Rarotonga, you're on island time. You can choose to get frustrated by it, or you can dial back and embrace it as part of its laid-back charm.

·        ONLY PACKING BEACHWEAR. Pack light, but ensure you bring a sweater or jacket for cooler evenings, and closed shoes for your flight. If you’re a water baby, pack your own mask & snorkel so you’re free to head out into the lagoon anytime with gear which fits perfectly.

·        IGNORING THE TIDE. Most places around the island such as Muri, Arorangi or Blackrock, are very tidal, so factor that into any plans. Aroa Lagoonarium directly in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium offers guests the rare ability to snorkel at all tides or for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. No need to check the clock.

·        CROSSING THE REEF INTO THE OPEN OCEAN. Next stop, South America. Don’t take your kayak or stand-up paddleboard over the reef. There’s no rescue service on Rarotonga.

·        HIKING WITHOUT A GUIDE. Overgrown, confusing trails has led hikers to become lost when doing the cross-island trek. Have enough water, snacks, bug repellent, jacket and warmer clothes if you end up having to sleep rough. Or better yet, go with a guide and learn so much more about the island and its unique culture and nature.

·        MISSING OUT ON STARGAZING. No light pollution makes Rarotonga and Aitutakiprime dark sky locations to view the Southern stars. Head outside and gaze in wonder at the spectacle.

·        ASSUMING THAT IF YOU’VE BEEN TO FIJI, YOU’VE EXPERIENCED RAROTONGA. Yes, both are tropical island destinations. But Rarotonga has a completely different vibe to Fiji. Don’t be one of those travellers who laments, “What took me so long?”

·        ASSUMING THAT YOU’LL GET TO EXPERIENCE RAROTONGA ON A CRUISE STOPOVER. While seeing Rarotonga, even fleetingly, is better than never seeing it, seeing it in a rush along with throngs of others is not ideal. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are among the most beautiful paradise islands on Earth. Give yourself time to really soak up the South Seas.   

·        NOT BUYING TRAVEL INSURANCE. No one wants to need it, but if you ever do, it’s a lifesaver to have it. Airlines & hotels are not your insurance policy if things don’t go to plan. 

·        NEGLECTING TO FACTOR IN THE TIME ZONE DIFFERENCE. Rarotonga is across the dateline from New Zealand & Australia. You’ll lose a day when you fly over, then gain it back when you fly home. Check your date of departure. Unless, that is, you’d rather stay.