Is this part of New Zealand?
Why should I travel to the Cook Islands?
Is it true that I'm required to have advance hotel reservations?
Will I be able to camp?
Are there any inexpensive places to stay?
How much time should I budget for a Cook Island vacation?
How's the weather in the Cook Islands?
Where can I find more information?
Lying southwest of Tahiti and east of Tonga, the Cook Islands is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. Although the New Zealand dollar is the currency, the Cook Islands manages its own affairs. It belongs to many United Nations agencies but has never applied for full UN membership owing to the costs involved. The New Zealand connection is maintained largely to guarantee the islander's right of free entry to New Zealand. In fact, at least three times more Cook Islanders live in New Zealand and Australia than on their home islands. New Zealanders, on the other hand, do not have an automatic right of abode in the Cook Islands.
The gateway island Rarotonga offers beaches for swimmers, reefs for divers, mountains and valleys for hikers, quiet roads for cyclists, and excellent eating, sleeping, shopping, and entertainment options for all. The relaxed island lifestyle is a relief, and the locals are usually happy to sit and chat. More of the same vacation attractions are available on Aitutaki, and the adventurous will relish being the only tourist on outer islands such as Atiu, Mauke, and Mangaia where quiet walks to lonesome beaches, forests, plantations, and caves are the main things to do.
The policy set by the Immigration Department in the Cook Islands is to have at least one nights accommodation booked before you arrive. Although many visitors wait to book their rooms upon arrival, they are taking the risk of being refused entry if they happened to come on a day when everything was full. In practice this seldom happens. If you haven't reserved, use the listings in your travel guide to decide where you plan to stay and write that name on your arrivals card. Representatives of many of the hotels and resorts meet the flights.
Camping is not allowed anywhere in the Cook Islands. If you're intent on unrolling the tent, chose Fiji, French Polynesia, or Samoa as your destination.
Lots, and they compete fiercely. Accommodations range from dorm beds to comfortable units with cooking facilities. There are over a dozen places in the lowest price range around Rarotonga, five or six on Aitutaki, and a couple on Atiu, Mauke, and Mangaia. For longer stays you can rent houses by the week or month. Places accredited by the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation must meet certain standards, however the vast majority of the non-accredited accommodations are also quite okay. The accreditation system recognizes three categories: budget, self-catering, and hotels. Essentially you have a "hotel" if you have a restaurant (and a few other minor things). In fact, many of the "self-catering" places are nicer that most of the hotels, so don't go by price alone.
If you're only stopping on Rarotonga (which most Air New Zealand tickets between Los Angeles and Auckland allow), a week will be sufficient. With two weeks you could easily add one or two of the outer islands mentioned above.
Aitutaki and Rarotonga are further south than islands like Tahiti and Moorea, so the weather is slightly cooler and less humid. The precipitation is somewhat higher during the southern summer from November to April, but even then, the rain often comes in heavy downpours followed by bright sunshine. Rarotonga's towering volcanic peaks tend to catch the rain clouds and the other islands are much drier. The best holiday weather conditions are from July to September.
Our Cook Islands Travel Guide has 125 pages of information updated from the chapter in Moon Handbooks South Pacific. There are 15 detailed island maps and town plans, plus dozens of captioned photos and drawings. Categorized accommodations listings are provided. The guide is easily navigable with top and side menus. It's the most complete source of Cook Islands travel information currently available on the web.