Where are the Cook Islands?
Exactly what we asked ourselves when we saw an eye-catching Instagram post a few years back. Located it on the map and instantly added adventures in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, to our list once we saw it was close to 3 destinations on our bucket list in the South Pacific: French Polynesia, New Zealand, & Samoa.
There are many places that we all dream of going – places that usually stay on our bucket list because they’re destinations too expensive to afford unless an opportunity comes along.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands wasn’t a place we heard much about nor even planned on visiting anytime soon, until we received a great offer from The Bucket List Family that we couldn’t refuse. They partnered with Fiji Vacations, so we were thrilled to be working with their team again. From beginning to end, they help tremendously with planning your trip, and when they say, “don’t worry,” don’t worry! Because of Melissa at Fiji Vacations, our first international trip to Fiji a few years ago went flawlessly, smoothly, & stress-free.
Not often do we get once in a lifetime opportunities to travel & experience new places around the world, and when we do, we want to share the resources that help save time and money.
TO GET THERE
Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, & Jetstar are major airlines that service the Cook Islands.
Air New Zealand’s weekly direct flight schedule:
Saturday Los Angeles (LAX) to Rarotonga (RAR) 9 hours 30 minutes
Flight #NZ19 Depart 11:30 p.m. Arrive 6:30 a.m. Sunday
Friday Rarotonga (RAR) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Flight #NZ18 Depart 11:59 p.m. Arrive 12:10 pm Saturday
Rarotonga Airport (RAR) to Lagoon Breeze Villas: 12-15 minute
Lagoon Breeze Villas to:
lagoon breeze villas
What a pleasant surprise as we arrived at Lagoon Breeze Villas. Once you turn in, it feels like you’re in a small modern village that is tucked in and away from the busy side of town, which was a plus for us. Near the entrance, there is a pool area, a small playground, & 24 villas on 4 acres of lush tropical gardens.
Directly across the road from the villas is Aro’a Beach, where you can snorkel, kayak, and see the most spectacular sunsets of the south pacific!
Our garden studio was comfortably furnished & had all the amenities for a self-catering stay. We especially loved having the “home away from home” feel during our time here in Lagoon Breeze. Each villa has its own parking space, clothesline, and outdoor furniture, where we enjoyed spending our time when we weren’t out exploring. It was peaceful sitting out overlooking the tropical gardens and watching their resident wildlife roaming around, which added more to the home away from home ambiance.
When planning for trips, our decisions on transportation varies for each destination. Because it only takes 40-45 minutes to get around the whole island of Rarotonga by car, we didn’t get a rental until we got a feel for the area around our accommodation.
Cook Islands Tours provides shared transfers to and from Lagoon Breeze Villas. Pick up is smooth. Upon arrival, you will go to the Cook Islands Tours counter, and from there, someone will take you to your transfer.
Lagoon Breeze Villas doesn’t have an on-site restaurant and while their website says, “close to shops and restaurants,” & it was a 30-minute walk to the nearest restaurant for lunch. We heard it would be another 30 minutes and longer to town. No, thank you. We didn’t want to spend most of our time walking during our short trip, so we rented a car at Go Cook Islands. It worked out so much better, and we had more freedom and time to explore the island!
The staff at Go Cook Islands picked us up at our villa, which was very helpful! They brought us to the office to fill out paperwork, and we were on our way pretty quickly.
Tip: If you’re visiting Rarotonga for the first time, be aware that you’ll be driving on the left side of the road & right side of the car.
No one is ever in a rush, as you’re on “island time,” so take your time, if you’ve never experienced both, and always look out for scooters.
If you’re on a budget and good with timing, explore the island by bus. There are only two buses that circumnavigate the island – one going clockwise and one going anti-clockwise.
Right across the street from the villa is the bus shelter, where we waited for 20 minutes & only to see it drive passed us as we stood there. We shared our “tourist” experience with Naomi at the reception desk, and we all had a pretty good laugh. She told us that we have to wave the buses down to stop & not be shy about it. Well, now we know for our next visit, and so do you.
The bus schedule is in any tourist brochure, and keep in mind; you can also wave them down to stop from pretty much anywhere.
things to do in Rarotonga
how to recover from jetlag
Rather than a nap when we arrived, we stayed up to allow our bodies to adjust, so for this trip, went on a half-day snorkeling trip with Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes.
After a full day of travel from Portland, OR, we landed in the Cook Islands at 6 a.m., checked into our villa, and got picked up at 10 a.m. for the lagoon cruise in Muri.
We boarded Captain Tama’s glass-bottom boat & went to Muri lagoon to snorkel before having a BBQ fish lunch at Koromiri Island.
After lunch, they showed us different ways to wear a sarong, how to husk a coconut, as well as how to climb a coconut tree! We were all pretty impressed just how fast he was getting up and down from that tree.
What to do when it is raining?
GO on an off-road 4-wheeler trip through the jungle of the Cook Islands! What a great way to fully immerse yourself into the nature of the islands and learn about culture & history along the way.
Honestly, I wasn’t down nor interested in the idea when Brett suggested we do a quad tour, but it ended up being the best unforgettable muddy experience I’ve ever had! It was my first time driving a quad and a new experience beyond my comfort zone that I accomplished with my hubby!
The guides were fantastic, and we, along with another couple, had such a blast during our 2-1/2 hour tour, especially at the “playground.” It was so evident that I didn’t have skills at the playground, and ended up being continuously splattered by one of the guides and the only one covered in mud.
We saw a side of Rarotonga not often ventured & we can officially check off Rarotonga, Cook Islands Adventures on our bucket list, and we hope one day, you will too!
take in some culture
Spend a night out at one of Rarotonga’s top-rated attractions in Muri Beach, Te Vara Nui Village, for an overwater night show and Island/Western fusion buffet dinner.
Try Local Rarotonga Food
Local markets are a great way to experience local culture! We suggest spending some time during the day or night strolling through the local markets to taste local street food, see how locals interact, and, of course, shop for local goods.
We enjoyed the night markets right as the sun was setting, which was a great way to experience tropical paradise amongst the locals.
Punanga Nui Market
Next to the Rarotonga Wharf, Punanga Nui Market is a Saturday morning must-do for visitors to be part of the Raro local experience.
Unfortunately, we were visiting in the middle of the week, so we missed it, but went to their Thursday night market they had just started a few weeks prior. There weren’t many vendors, but just enough food options for dinner.
Muri Night Market
We didn’t do the Muri Night (food) Market on this visit but heard it was the place to experience local food and desserts, so this will be on our must-do on our future holiday in the Cook Islands.
Have you been to the Cook Islands? How was your experience? If not, would you want to visit one day? We’d love to know in the comment box below.