The Best Churches in the Cook Islands to Experience as a Visitor
Even if you’re not religious, attending a Sunday church service in the Cook Islands is not to be missed. It’s a way to have an authentic Cook Islands experience where you’ll join the locals dressed in their finest attire (and most magnificent hats – mostly made on the far-flung island of Penrhyn) and be immersed in the powerful harmonies that fill the coral limestone halls.
Around half of the Cook Islands population belong to the CICC church – the Cook Islands Christian Church, which is also the longest-running denomination in the country. That’s why you’ll see that most of the churches listed in this guide of the best Cook Islands churches for visitors are, indeed, CICC churches. We have, however, included a couple more denominations that offer a slightly different experience. Learn more about these denominations of the Cook Islands in The Guide to the Religions in the Cook Islands.
7 Tips for Going to Church in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
- Wear respectable clothing – ideally, long trousers and shirts for men and skirts/dresses that cover the knees for women (preferably with the shoulders covered too)
- The church services that welcome visitors are the services that take place on a Sunday at 10am. Note that Catholic church services start at 9am instead
- Some CICC churches on Rarotonga hold a gathering with food at the local hall after the church service which visitors are also welcome to attend
- You should wait until the pastor leaves before leaving the service yourself, otherwise, it will be seen as disrespectful
- It is not respectable to take photos inside the church while it’s in service – taking photos outside is perfectly acceptable though
- Have some small change available, known as offerings, to donate to the church; they will pass around a small bag for donations
- There’s no public transport available on a Sunday. However, Cook Islands Tours offers a Sunday church service tour with transport included.
1. Avarua CICC Church
The CICC church of the most populated town in the Cook Islands, Avarua CICC Church is a popular choice for visitors and locals alike. With pews set between two floors, you can get a different perspective of the service. The coral limestone church was built in 1853 (following the destruction of the first church during a cyclone) and has the most stunning backdrop of Te Rua Manga (The Needle) from outside. The church is surrounded by some of the oldest buildings in the country which are interesting to explore after the service – see the 10 Best Things to Do in Avarua for ideas.
Location: Makea Tinirau Road, Avarua, Rarotonga.
2. Arutanga CICC Church
The oldest church in the Cook Islands can be found in the town of Arutanga in Aitutaki. It’s by far the most striking building on the island, first made from coral limestone in 1828 and renovated over the years to keep it in prime condition. There are three entrances to the church, each at the northern and southern ends of the church for different villagers, while the side entrance facing the road is the visitor entrance.
Location: Main Road at the southern end of Arutanga, Aitutaki.
3. Zinoa CICC Church (The Divided Church)
Certainly the church with the most interesting story to tell, Ziona CICC Church can be found on the island of Mauke. It is better known as “The Divided Church” because it was built to satisfy the conflicting wishes of the two villages that share it. The villages made a compromise of having two different types of architecture and decor on the interior of the church with a distinct divide down the middle. Each village also has its own entrance and walkway with a grand limestone archway.
Location: At the centre of Mauke, between Ngatiarua and Areora villages.
4. Celebration Church Rarotonga
If you want to experience a church service that’s a little different, check out the Celebration Church in Nikao (the suburb of Avarua), just opposite the airport. The Celebration Church trades the usual traditional hymns in Cook Islands Maori for upbeat performances in English sung by a band. You can either sit inside the large hall with a stage or outside with views of the ocean.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Panama, just across from the airport and behind Rarotonga Rentals.
5. Tamarua CICC Church
Boasting one of the most stylish interiors of a CICC church in the Cook Islands, the Tamarua CICC Church still has its original wood-carved interiors, beams and sennit rope binding. The church on Mangaia offers a splendid Sunday service with the usual CICC church offerings: parishioners wearing gorgeous hats and singing glorious traditional hymns.
Location: Tamarua village, south side of Mangaia.
6. St Joseph’s Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands. Its striking hexagonal building can be found on the main road of Avarua. Be awed by the stained-glass windows and wooden carvings of its interior and enjoy the Sunday church service that takes place at 9am.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Avarua, Rarotonga.
7. Arorangi CICC Church
The CICC Church of the second-most populated district in Rarotonga is another worthy choice for visitors to experience a Sunday church service in the Cook Islands. Not only is Arorangi CICC Church close to many resorts along the Arorangi coast, but its sermon is in both Cook Islands Maori and English.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi near Raemaru Park Road, Rarotonga.
8. Matavera CICC Church
If you’re looking for a more “off-the-beaten-track” service away from the main tourist centres, Matavera CICC Church offers just that. Located in the smallest district of Rarotonga, Matavera CICC Church hosts a traditional Sunday service in their “silo” built in 1857.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Matavera, between Te Ara Koata Road and Matavera Road, Rarotonga.
9. Ziona Tapu CICC Church
The largest church in the Cook Islands, Ziona Tapu CICC Church is the only CICC church on Atiu. The coral limestone church has the unusual feature of a three-storey bell tower which you are welcome to walk up to the top of with the permission of the deacon. Again, traditional hymns are the highlight of this spiritual Sunday service.
Location: Centre of Atiu on the main road between Teenui and Mapumai.
10. Betela CICC Church
Finally, those on the island of Mitiaro are welcome to join the Sunday service of the Betela CICC Church. The church is impossible to miss, taking a prime position in the centre of Mangarei village. Enjoy its service to the vibrant colours of the church’s stained-glass windows.
Location: Centre of Mangarei village on the west coast of Mitiaro.
More About Church in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of the best churches in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands to experience as a visitor or tourist. Experience more of the culture of the Cook Islands with the advice of these guides:
- 10 Best Cultural Activities in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Historical Sites in the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Cultural Shows in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
And tick more experiences off your bucket list with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.