The Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands for Foodies
Travelling is a treat for all of the senses, so be sure to include taste into the mix with some of the Cook Islands‘ wonderful foodie experiences. From hands-on workshops learning to prepare traditional island food to more relaxed affairs where you kick back and taste the “umukai“, there are all sorts of ways to work your palate in the Cook Islands. Find out how in not just Rarotonga but right across the islands, right here, in this foodie list!
Before we begin, don’t forget to browse our complete foodie guide, The Food Guide to the Cook Islands – your food bible to the Cook Islands.
1. Prepare Your Own “Umu Kai” with Tumutoa Tours
One of the most hands-on foodie experiences in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, Tumutoa Tours will guide you through preparing a traditional “umu kai” and even take you on a guided walking tour to collect ingredients if you wish. Led by the characterful Tumutoa himself, adorned in traditional Cook Island warrior attire, you will learn how to prepare an umu kai (underground oven) using traditional methods. After husking and grating your own coconut, the men with wrap the meat in banana leaves while the women will prepare the vegetables and weave baskets. While the food is “in the oven”, enjoy an evening of storytelling, music and the climax of a Cook Islands fire show right in time to try your afternoon’s labours!
Walking tours discovering medicinal plants, fruit and vegetables are also available, as well as a combination of walking tours and umu feasts. See more tours like this in the 11 Best Foodie Experiences on Rarotonga.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi (well signposted off the main road), Rarotonga.
2. Be Hosted by Real Locals on a Progressive Dinner Tour
Another must-do for foodies in the Cook Islands, the Progressive Dinner Tour removes the barrier between “tourist” and “local” for an evening of authentic cuisine on Rarotonga. Join Cook Islands Tours as they transport you across the island for a three-course dinner with each course in a different local home. It’s your opportunity to sample the real flavours of the Cook Islands (see the Traditional Rarotongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands for an idea) and experience the generous hospitality of its locals.
Location: Transfers are included from anywhere on Rarotonga.
3. Do a Coffee Tour on Atiu
Who would have thought that the tiny island of Atiu was the best place to go in the Cook Islands for a cuppa?! Join Mata Arai from Atiu Island Coffee for her delightful coffee tour that allows you to learn about the coffee bean growing process, what makes Atiu perfect for growing arabica beans, and how to hand roast the beans. You’ll also learn about the secret ingredient that makes Atiu’s coffee unique! The tour concludes with a taste of the good stuff along with yummy pikelets and coconut cream! Check out more fantastic food tours on Atiu listed in the 6 Best Foodie Experiences on Atiu.
Location: Mapumai, north of the Air Rarotonga office and Centre Store and south of Akai Bakery, Atiu.
4. Taste Beer and Tour the Rarotonga Brewery
Brewed right here in the Cook Islands, Cook Islands Lager is the signature brew of the Rarotonga Brewery. Just across the road from the Edgewater Resort, the brewery is open Monday to Saturday for free beer tastings and from Monday to Friday for brewery tours. Enjoy a casual affair with a local brewer showing you how they make the good stuff, as well as different brews they’re currently working on. Check out essential drinks to try like Cook Islands Lager in the 10 Drinks in the Cook Islands You HAVE to Try!
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi, Rarotonga.
5. Experience the Street Food of the Muri Night Market
There are plenty of markets in the Cook Islands, which we’ll get onto in point #8, but the Muri Night Market is something a little different. Starting from 5 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, the Muri Night Market is the place for cheap eats when the island’s food trucks gather together for a whirlwind of tastes. You’ll be sorted for dinner and dessert, as well as get to mingle with the locals and other travellers at this buzzing event. Discover more affordable dining experiences like the Muri Night Market listed in The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga and The Top Cheap Eats on Aitutaki.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Muri, Rarotonga.
6. Feast on an Island-Style Barbecue on an Uninhabited “Motu”
A staple of any lagoon cruise on the Aitutaki Lagoon and Muri Lagoon, the lunch portion is a definite highlight for foodies! You won’t believe how good barbecued fruit tastes, while plenty of meat and vegetarian options are thrown into the mix. Most lagoon cruises enjoy their barbecue meal on one of the uninhabited motu (islands) of the lagoon. Compare cruises in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki and the 10 Best Day Cruises in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki and Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga.
7. Join a Tumunu Bush Beer Session on Atiu or Mitiaro
A true cultural experience that unofficially welcomes you to the island of Atiu, tumunu are shabby beer huts located on the outskirts of the island’s villages, usually on the edge of a forest or plantation. You’ll be sat on a tree stump and passed around home-brewed orange or banana beer (or “bush beer”), and some sessions are even accompanied by music played by a local string band. Be warned, the tumunu bush beer is strong stuff!
There is also a similar night offered on Friday nights at Pati’s Bar (Vivian’s Homestay) on Mitiaro. Find out more in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mitiaro.
Location: All over Atiu – find out more in The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours. Tumunu tours are also available with Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours. You can also experience a similar drinking experience on Mitiaro.
8. Experience a Local Market
The Cook Islands is home to a few vibrant markets well worth seeking out, especially if you consider yourself a foodie! The Saturday morning Punanga Nui Market is a must on Rarotonga with its array of tropical fruit, smoothies and other street eats at the food stalls. There’s also a fantastic little market on the island of Mangaia, which is a good go-to for local treats early on a Friday morning. Find out more in the 5 Best Markets in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Punanga Nui Market – Main Road (Ara Tapu), west end of Avarua, Rarotonga. Mangaia Friday Market – West side of Mangaia. The southern end of the sports field, Oneroa village.
9. Do a Hunting or Culture Tour with Punarea Culture Tours
Punarea Culture Tours offers a couple of foodie experiences for those visiting the island of Atiu. Try their three-hour traditional hunting tour taking you deep into the rainforest where you’ll learn how to set traditional traps to catch wild pigs. With (or without) your success, the experience will conclude with an umu feast. Alternatively, their signature “Culture Tour” not only offers fascinating historical context and crafting demonstrations, but a significant portion of the tour is dedicated to traditional Atiuan cuisine with an umu lunch included. Learn more about the tour in detail in the 6 Best Foodie Experiences on Atiu.
Location: Transfers are included from anywhere on Atiu.
10. Attend an Island Night Complete with an Umu Kai Buffet!
We leave the mention of “island nights” until last because it’s the one foodie experience in the Cook Islands that you have probably already heard about. The energetic dancing of the island’s warriors and princesses is only part of the experience, however. The other part is devouring plate after plate of all kinds of traditional Cook Islands dishes from the buffet prepared in an umu kai. The Cook Islands’ island nights can be found in various resorts, at the historical site of Highland Paradise or the overwater venue of Te Vara Nui Village. See the 9 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to compare your options.
Location: See the link above for locations.
More Foodie Experiences in the Cook Islands
Now that you know the top foodie experiences in the Cook Islands, discover more gastronomical experiences not so well-hidden within the guides below:
- The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours
- The Food Guide to Aitutaki: Places to Eat & Food Tours
- The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours
- The Food Guide to Mangaia: Places to Eat & Food Tours
Finally, plan a trip around the Cook Islands with food in mind using the following itineraries: Rarotonga Food Itinerary: 3 Days, Rarotonga Food Itinerary: 5 Days, Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 7 Days, Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 10 Days and Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 14 Days.