Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions© Alex King - Cook Islands Tourism
Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions

Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions

© Alex King – Cook Islands Tourism

What are the Customs in the Cook Islands?

When welcomed into a new country, it’s only fitting to respect the local customs and traditions. Luckily, there aren’t really any obscure rules to follow in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Cook Islanders tend to be very well-travelled themselves, many of which have spent time in New Zealand and Australia, so are certainly no stranger to different behaviours from tourists. Nevertheless, as a religious country, there are certainly some rules when it comes to Sunday church, as well as a few minor rules of etiquette that are just good to know as a visitor. We go over them all in this guide to the Cook Islands’ customs and traditions!

If you were looking for the other type of “customs”, head to Arriving in Rarotonga: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & Arrivals Process

10 Dos and Don’ts in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands

  1. DO wear respectable clothing to church
  2. DON’T wear just your swimmers in villages and towns
  3. DO say “Kia Orana” as a greeting
  4. DON’T take any marine life from a “ra’ui” area
  5. DO tip if you want to reward good service, but it’s not expected or mandatory
  6. DON’T haggle
  7. DON’T go nude in public, even at the beach
  8. DO take off your shoes if invited into someone’s home
  9. DO acknowledge someone if they have acknowledged you
  10. DO ask; DON’T demand.
Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions©

What to Wear in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands

While not as strict on clothing as other South Pacific Islands, Rarotonga and the Cook Islands do have a few social rules when it comes to what to wear.

Swimwear in the Cook Islands

A general rule for wearing swimwear in the Cook Islands is that swimwear should stay at the beach or pool. It is bad practice to walk around villages and towns in just your one-piece or bikini top, for instance. It is acceptable to cover up swimwear with a pareu (sarong), for instance.

Oh, and being nude at the beach (or anywhere in public) is not accepted in the Cook Islands.

What to Wear for Church in the Cook Islands

When going to a church service, wear respectable clothing. Ideally, men should wear long trousers and a shirt while women should cover their knees and, preferably, cover their shoulders too.

Find out more about church etiquette in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Visitors.

Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions© Cook Islands Tourism

Sundays in the Cook Islands

As a predominantly Christian country, the Cook Islands observe Sunday as a day of worship and rest. For this reason, many shops, tours and businesses decide to close (though, not all) and there are a few protocols to be aware of regarding Sunday in the Cook Islands.

First, keep the volume down; no loud music, no yelling, etc. Second, don’t take photos inside the church, although taking photos outside is acceptable. Third, respect what the deacon (church staff) says or asks of you if you attend a service. It is also customary to bring some change, known as tithe, to donate to the church; they will pass around a small bag to make a donation. And, of course, while church is in session (10am Sunday for CICC, 9am Sunday for Catholic and 10am Saturday for Seventh Day Adventists), keep the noise around the church to a minimum.

Finally, note that clubs and bars in Avarua close at midnight on a Saturday/Sunday to respect the Sunday laws and customs.

What Can You Do on a Sunday in the Cook Islands?

For the most part, your holiday in the Cook Islands on a Sunday remains the same except for a few tours and businesses that aren’t operating; but there are many others that are! Swimming, hiking the island trails, exploring the islands, etc. are still acceptable. Check out the 10 Things to Do in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands on a Sunday for ideas.

Cook Islander Etiquette: Rarotonga & Cook Islands Customs & Traditions© Creators Hype - Cook Islands Tourism

9 Other Rules of Etiquette in the Cook Islands

While not fitting into a specific category, there are other local customs and rules to observe when visiting the Cook Islands.

  1. If someone waves, nods or acknowledges you in any way, acknowledge them back; it is seen as rude to look away/ignore them
  2. Tucking a flower behind your left ear means you are single; the right means you are taken
  3. Ra’ui is a traditional method of resource management where parts of the coastline are given back to the gods. While you are allowed to swim in ra’ui areas, do not touch or take any marine life; not even shells
  4. Tipping is not expected or mandatory, but it is appreciated
  5. Haggling is not customary in the Cook Islands
  6. If you are invited into someone’s home, remove your footwear (and don’t come empty-handed if you were given enough time to prepare; bring a gift)
  7. Be discreet when breastfeeding in public
  8. Stick to the speed limits when driving – see 10 Road Rules for more information and tips
  9. The legal drinking age in the Cook Islands is 18 years old.

More About Cook Islands Customs and Traditions

That’s it for our guide to the Cook Islander etiquette and how to respect the Rarotonga and Cook Islands customs and traditions. For more advice regarding the local culture, check out the following guides:

Finally, for all your other essential travel tips for the Cooks, head to The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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