Packing Essentials for Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
What are the things you can’t forget to pack for the Cook Islands? You already know you need some sunglasses and probably a few pieces of underwear, but what else are absolute essentials? Although we have a complete packing list in What to Pack for the Cook Islands: Cook Islands Packing List (which you absolutely need to browse through, by the way), there are some handy items and essentials that are worth talking about in detail. We go through them all in this list of the essentials to pack for Raro, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands!
1. Passport and Accommodation Address + Phone Number
It’s kind of obvious, but a passport is certainly essential to enjoy a trip to the Cook Islands! Make sure your passport is up-to-date and that it’s not going to expire within six months of your intended departure day – find out why in our Cook Islands Tourist Visa Guide. One thing that’s not quite so obvious is that one of the entry requirements for the Cook Islands is having an accommodation booked before arrival. Evidence of this is asked at Customs by stating your accommodation’s name, address and phone number on your Passenger Arrival Card!
More details on this can be found in What Documents Do I Need to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? which also lists any other essential documents you need to prepare.
Rarotonga and the Cook Islands are all about enjoying the lagoons! With snorkelling, lagoon cruises, kitesurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, whale swimming, turtle swimming and more, there are plenty of reasons to get in the water on your holiday. Bikinis and one-piece swimsuits are fine for ladies, while men tend to wear boardshorts in the Cooks rather than “Speedos”.
3. An Extra Layer For an Evening By the Beach
The islands that most people visit in the Cooks are in the Southern Group, which are actually further away from the Equator than many other South Pacific Islands and even the Northern Cook Islands. Although still tropical, there are times when you’ll be glad to have a light cardigan, shirt or something to cover up, such as while you’re enjoying sunset cocktails by the beach.
4. Rashies (Rash Vest)
As mentioned, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time on the water, which is, quite frankly, hell to manage sun protection! Sunscreen needs to be reapplied pretty regularly (more on that below) and we’d rather spend more time snorkelling than getting out of the water for a sunscreen top-up. And your kids agree! We strongly recommend adding a rash vest/rash guard/rashie to your packing list. We like Sharkskin for their rapid-dry rashies which have SPF 50+ protection, come in fully recyclable packaging and are saltwater, chlorine and UV-resistant so can be used for many more holidays to come.
5. New Zealand Dollars
The official currency of the Cook Islands, despite the Cook Islands also having its own coins and banknotes, New Zealand Dollars are essential to pack for Rarotonga and the Cook Islands! We recommend bringing enough for the first few days of your trip, so you don’t have to pay foreign exchange plus credit card surcharges at every vendor. Then, just withdraw another stack of cash from the ATMs when you are ready. Find out more in What is the Best Way to Pay in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
6. Mosquito Repellent
In a country that’s prone to Dengue Fever, having some mosquito repellent is absolutely essential for your trip to the Cook Islands. Although many accommodations have mosquito control in place, it’s always a good idea to have some repellent with you, just in case you come across an area where the annoying little buzzies are wreaking havoc (like, pretty much anywhere inland).
See our recommended repellents in the 11 Eco-Friendly Mosquito Repellents for the Cook Islands and alternative mosquito control methods in the 12 Ways to Avoid Mosquito Bites in the Cook Islands.
7. Reef-Safe Sunscreen
With medium to extreme UV ratings all year round, it is essential that you add sunscreen to the packing list! Not just any old sunscreen, though. The Cook Islands is surrounded by a fragile ecosystem of coral that is highly susceptible to sunscreen-induced bleaching – see The Best Sunscreens for the Cook Islands + Sun Protection Tips for more details. Make sure your sunscreen is no less than SPF 30+ if you want to be genuinely protected. We recommend one full bottle between two people for a 10 to 14-day holiday.
8. Reusable Water Bottle
There’s no need to buy bottles of water to stay hydrated during your time in the Cook Islands. Most accommodations have UV-treated and filtered tap water, while public filtered water stations are available around the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Should you be visiting the outer islands, however, or have any doubt about the water quality where you are staying, then opt for a Lifestraw Bottle with a purification filter inside. We use them in all of the South Pacific Islands without fault!
Learn more about the water quality in the Cook Islands in Is the Water Safe to Drink in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
9. Your Medication
Don’t forget your meds! Although there is a small selection of pharmacies on Rarotonga, you can’t guarantee that they’ll have what you need. Not to mention, there are no pharmacies anywhere else in the Cook Islands! For prescription medication, make sure you have a copy of your prescription, just in case they ask you about it at the border. As for everything else, get prepared with What Medication to Pack in Your First Aid Kit for the Cook Islands.
10. Digital Copies of Your Travel Documents
And just in case you forget your flight booking, lose your passport, or can’t remember the place where you are staying; make sure you have everything also as a digital copy that you can access even without the internet.
11. Flip-Flops (Jandals)
With tropical temperatures, endless stretches of sand and probably a lot of time on your feet, you bet that flip-flops (or jandals if you’re Kiwi) are going to be the first thing you throw in your suitcase. Make sure you bring a pair that’s comfortable.
12. Walking Shoes
Speaking of being on your feet, walking shoes are certainly essential if you plan on doing any of the amazing island hikes (which you totally should)! You might even find walking shoes are more comfortable for your flights between Rarotonga and home, as well as for long days shopping in Avarua and the Punanga Nui Market.
Not Really Essentials But Highly Recommended …
13. Driver’s License
Planning on hiring a car or a scooter? You absolutely need your overseas driver’s license. If it’s not in English, you’ll also need your International Driving Permit (IDP) or another official translation. Driver’s licenses are needed to hire a vehicle, as well as to apply for a scooter license. Learn more in Can You Drive in the Cook Islands With an Overseas License?
14. Reef Shoes or Water Shoes
If you have them, they’re great to have on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Although the beaches are mainly sandy, there are broken bits of coral and devilish stonefish that you will not want to stand on with exposed feet! On the outer rocky “makatea” islands of Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro, reef shoes are absolutely essential for exploring the coast. A good pair to have are the unisex Mishansha Water Shoes while Speedo Kid’s and Toddler’s Water Shoes are great for little ones.
15. Snorkelling Gear
Although many accommodations and tours on the water include free snorkel rental, they are often of questionable quality and certainly don’t compare to bringing your own! Nothing ruins your turtle swim more than an ill-fitting mask. We highly recommend masks and snorkels by TUSA Sport, as they are made with high-grade pure silicone and have a high-flow purge valve that makes clearing your snorkel a breeze.
16. Quick-Dry Travel Towel
Sure, many accommodations provide beach towels. But if you’re staying at an accommodation that doesn’t or you don’t want to take their bulky beach towels around the island or on a lagoon cruise, then we suggest taking a much better beach towel: a quick-dry travel towel! You can find these microfibre towels at any outdoor store, but we like 4Monster Camping Towels that fold up nice and concise.
17. Sea Sickness Tablets
Sea sickness tablets are not really essential, as most people stay inside the lagoon on placid waters that will only make the weakest of stomachs flip. If you’re going on a fishing charter or a whale-watching cruise, however, well; that’s a whole different story and you’ll be glad to have the “Sea Legs” with you.
18. Clothing for Church
On the Sunday itinerary of many travellers in the Cook Islands is experiencing the glorious singing of a church service. For this fabulous free cultural experience, however, you’ll need to be dressed appropriately. Covering the knees and shoulders is essential, while wearing white is a welcome bonus. Learn more about visiting church in the 10 Best Churches in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Visitors.
Are you a light sleeper? If you are, then you’re going to want to bring some earplugs (or noise-cancelling earphones) as the enthusiastic calls of the morning roosters are probably going to spoil your holiday sleep-in. There are also dogs barking in the night on Rarotonga, so get those ears prepped!
With whales swimming offshore in the whale season, bats returning to roost at sunrise and rare birds to spot in the forests, any nature-lover will be stoked to have a good pair of binoculars. Go for something lightweight and travel-friendly, though; you don’t want to be lugging weighty lenses around. Occer has always been our go-to for high-quality travel binoculars.
More Essentials to Pack for Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of essentials to pack for Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands. For more on the packing list, make sure you scroll through the following guides:
- What to Pack for Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Cook Islands Packing List
- What to Wear in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Clothes Packing List
- 5 Best Travel Adapters for the Cook Islands
Finally, get more essential tips for your holiday using Cook Islands Travel Tips: 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.