The Secret Places of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Get off the tourist trail and discover some of the real hidden gems of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands. Now, our first instinct to compile this list of the most secret places in the Cook Islands is to simply list all the natural attractions and sights of the lesser-visited islands, such as Mangaia, Mitiaro, Mauke and Atiu, but we know that you’ll probably want to know some hidden gems in Rarotonga and Aitutaki too. So we’ve done a mix of everything in this list of the best hidden gems in the Cook Islands!
1. Arore Trek, Rarotonga
There’s not much that’s secret in the tourist hotspot of Muri anymore, but a true hidden gem is the Arore Trek. This short private track on the back hills of Muri, Rarotonga, is exclusively available as a guided experience but is totally worth it to see the stellar views from the top, either at sunrise or later in the day. The walk takes only a fraction of the time that the more popular Raemaru Track or Cross-Island Trek takes, while the views are some of the best on the island. Learn more about the guided experience in the 8 Best Guided Walks in the Cook Islands.
Location: Tours depart from the Muri Meeting House, Muri eastern side of Rarotonga. Transfers are available for a fee.
2. Akaiami, Aitutaki
While there are many more islands that are famous across the lagoon of Aitutaki, Akaiami is worth knowing because it’s the only outer motu (islet) where you can stay overnight! The blissfully secluded Akaiami Paradise accommodation with its basic beach huts offers the true Robinson Crusoe experience. Some popular lagoon cruises do visit the island, however, but only for what feels like mere moments compared to staying overnight. See more interesting motu to visit in the Top 10 Sights on Aitutaki.
Location: Eastern side of the Aitutaki Lagoon. Accessible with The Vaka Cruise and Kutekute Tours & Transfers. Water taxis can also be arranged with Akaiami Paradise.
3. Ara’oa Beach, Mangaia
One of the most stunning beaches in the Cook Islands is still, indeed, a hidden gem. Ara’oa Beach can be found on the Southern Group island of Mangaia, backed with coral cliffs hiding all sorts of caves and arches that make for stellar photos. Discover more sights, including caves and lookouts, in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mangaia.
Location: North side of Mangaia, on the coastal road, approximately 2.5km (1.6 miles) north of Ivirua village.
4. Aitutaki’s Giant Banyan Tree
This won’t take you too long but this hidden gem in the Cook Islands totally worth checking out when doing a road trip around Aitutaki. A giant banyan tree arches across the road and makes for a fun photo opportunity as you drive through! See more road trip highlights in A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Aitutaki.
Location: On the main road between Vaipae and Tautu villages, Aitutaki.
5. Arorangi Night Market, Rarotonga
Everyone has heard of the Muri Night Market and definitely the Punanga Nui Market, but not many people know about Rarotonga’s newest night market on the west coast. Held every other Friday from 4pm until 8.30pm, the Arorangi Night Market is your opportunity to sample a mix of Polynesian and Asian cuisine with a focus on smaller plates so you can sample more! Enjoy live music, local arts and crafts, games for kids and more as you support small local businesses.
Location: Flying Turtle Cafe/Ariki Adventures, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi, west side of Rarotonga.
6. Papa’aroa Beach, Rarotonga
One of the best hidden-gem beaches on Rarotonga, Papa’aroa Beach is a calm and sheltered beach backed by the Cook Islands’ own “Hollywood Boulevard”; a sandy road lined with tall coconut palms. With plenty of picnic tables, Papa’aroa Beach is also a scenic place to stop for a picnic. See more recommended beaches in the 10 Best Beaches in the Cook Islands.
Location: Southern part of Rarotonga at the western end of Titikaveka opposite Papa’aroa College.
7. Vai Tamaroa, Mitiaro
We’re sure that any cave pool that we mention in the Cook Islands can be classed as a hidden gem, as so few tourists visit the outer islands of the Southern Group where they are located. Nevertheless, one of the real hidden gems of the island of Mitiaro is the spectacular swimming caves, Vai Tamaroa. The track to the cave is easy enough to spot on the roadside by the white-painted sign and commemorative marker for the “1985 Boys Brigade”. It’s around a 20-minute scramble over grassy makatea (coral rock) to reach Vai Tamaroa, a 10m (30ft) deep circular hole mostly filled with water. Be prepared for a bit of climbing to get in and out though. Discover more Mitiaro hidden gems in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mitiaro.
Location: Along the east coast road of Mitiaro, spot the Vai Tamaroa sign a few hundred metres south of the Lake Rotonui turnoff.
8. Kopupooki Beach (Stomach Rock), Mauke
Another awesome little swimming hole, this time on the beaches of Mauke, Kopupooki Beach has a hidden cave that can be found at low tide. On the trail just after Tiare Cottages, a hanging buoy indicates where to walk down to the beach. Once on the beach, walk down the beach/reef to your left when facing the ocean. Go around the outcrop and you’ll find a small cave (hence the name “Stomach Rock“) with a pool inside, ideal for a swim! You can only reach this cave at low tide. Make sure you’re out of there before the tide comes in! Check out more hidden gems on Mauke in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mauke.
Location: East side of Mauke. On the coastal road, take the first turnoff toward the sea after Tiare Cottages – learn more about this accommodation in The Best Mauke Accommodations.
9. Konakonako Landing, Atiu
And on the island of Atiu, a short walk from the roadside at the northwest of the island, Konakonako Landing makes for a stunning photo op. When the tide is just right (aim for low tide), a small pool is created looking like your own private infinity pool! Discover more hidden gems in the 20 Best Things to Do on Atiu.
Location: Northwestern coast of Atiu. On the roadside, approximately 750m (820 yards) west of the airstrip building.
10. Anywhere in the Northern Group!
That’s right, the islands of the Northern Group are so unexplored by travellers that we consider any one of them a real hidden gem of the Cook Islands. From the black pearl farms of Manihiki to the eco-villages of Pukapuka to the shark-filled lagoon of Penrhyn, there are many interesting aspects of the Northern Group that we touch on in the 10 Best Things to Do in the Northern Cook Islands but just getting there and experiencing real island living is a true adventure.
Location: Northern Group. Flights are available from Rarotonga – see the Northern Cook Islands Transport Guide for more details.
More Hidden Gems in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Now that you know some of the most secret places and hidden gems in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, here are some other lists to help you discover more amazing places to visit:
- Sightseeing in the Cook Islands: Top 10 Sights in the Cook Islands
- Where to Take Pictures in the Cook Islands: 10 Best Photography Spots
- 10 Most Unique Things to Do in the Cook Islands
Finally, fill up more of your bucket list using the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List and plan more of your trip using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.