The Most Unusual Things to Do in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
What is so special about the Cook Islands? At first glance, the country does seem like another tropical paradise with beaches and swaying coconut palms in the South Pacific. But those who dig a little deeper, i.e. find this list of the most unique things to do in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, will discover there are some more unique and unusual experiences to get stuck into. From drinking “bush beer” with the locals to sighting birds that behave like cave bats, there are some truly unique and different experiences to be had. We cover some of the quirkiest in this list!
1. Ride a Sea Scooter Beside Turtles in Rarotonga
One of the few places in the world where you can pretty much guarantee several turtle sightings on all of its turtle swimming tours, Rarotonga also offers the unique experience of doing this by sea scooter. Ariki Adventures offers a two-hour experience zooming along the currents of the Avaavaroa Passage with electric sea scooters, making it effortless to keep up with the sea turtles. Learn more about the turtle tour and book your tour on Viator or Tripadvisor. Plus, see how the tour compares to others in the 7 Best Turtle Swimming Tours in the Cook Islands.
Location: Tours depart from the Flying Turtle Cafe, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi, west side of Rarotonga.
2. Get Your Passport Stamped at One Foot Island in Aitutaki
Why is there a post office on this islet in the Aitutaki Lagoon? We don’t know, but it’s one of the remotest places to post a postcard and get your passport stamped in the South Pacific! Also known as “Tapuaetai”, One Foot Island is the destination of many cruises in Aitutaki that stop here for a barbecue lunch and leave you plenty of time to explore the sights. The post office here, which tends to be open on busy tour days, offers a few gifts for sale and the opportunity to get your passport stamped with their foot-shaped “One Foot Island” stamp.
Location: Southeast side of the Aitutaki Lagoon. Accessible with Bishop’s Cruises, Teking Lagoon Cruises, Kia Orana Cruise, The Vaka Cruise and Platinum Cruising. Find out more in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
3. Hike Inside the Island of Mangaia
Sure, there are many places to hike over the land on the islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and more – just check out the 10 Best Hikes in the Cook Islands. But on the island of Mangaia, the cave networks are so long and intricate that you can spend hours hiking inside the island. Some spectacular caves to visit include Te Rua Rere, Toru a Poru and Tuatini, all of which you can hire guides to lead you through their complex network of tunnels. Choose your cave using the 5 Best Caves on Mangaia.
Location: Mangaia. See the link above for cave locations.
4. Dine at Local Homes on Rarotonga
A unique way to “go out for dinner” on Rarotonga is by dining in local people’s homes on the Progressive Dinner Tour. The tour run by Cook Islands Tours removes the barrier between “tourist” and “local”, transporting you across Rarotonga 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 and experience the generous hospitality of its locals. Intrigued? Learn more and book your progressive dinner on Viator or Tripadvisor. Plus, see alternative food tours in the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in the Cook Islands.
Location: Transfers are included from anywhere on Rarotonga (but pick-ups are from the main road, Ara Tapu).
5. Sample “Home Brew” at a Tumunu on Atiu
You may have heard of “kava drinking” that takes place on many South Pacific islands, but in the Cook Islands and particularly on Atiu, their drinking tradition is a more unique substance called “home brew” or “bush beer”; a potent drink made from banana, orange or pawpaw. On Atiu, bush beer is drunk at special bars called “tumunu” where visitors are welcome to sample some of the good stuff themselves. Either visit a tumunu independently (locations and opening hours are listed in The Food Guide to Atiu: Places to Eat & Food Tours) or join Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours for a fully guided experience with transfers and history storytelling included.
Location: All over Atiu! Ask your accommodation or tour guides about the nearby tumunu or transfers are included with Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours. Alternatively, see the link above for locations.
6. See a Bird That Thinks it’s a Bat on Atiu
The Cook Islands is home to several endemic bird species but the most unique is the “kopeka”, a swiftlet that lives in just one cave on the island of Atiu and uses echolocation to fly around in the dark. It is even thought that this unique little bird can sleep while flying! Learn more about the kopeka in the 20 Animals & Birds in the Cook Islands and learn more about the cave where it lives in the 5 Best Caves on Atiu.
Location: Anatakitaki Cave, east side of Atiu.
7. Ride a Quad Bike, Buggy or Dirt Bike Through the Bush of Rarotonga
Rarotonga might be more famous for its beaches and marine activities, but one of the unique inland experiences is getting off-road on a 4WD buggy, quad bike or even a dirt bike. Raro Buggy Tours and Raro Quad Tours are your opportunity to let loose on an off-roading vehicle, get muddy and explore the inland tracks of the island. If you have a motorbike license, you can even hit some awesome terrain on a dirt bike with Raro Trail Tours. Find out more about all of the excursions in the 5 Best Off-Road Tours in the Cook Islands.
Location: Departures are from Wigmore’s Superstore, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Vaimaanga, south side of Rarotonga.
8. Drive Through a Giant Banyan Tree on Aitutaki
This won’t take you too long but is totally worth doing 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.
9. Bathe in Cave Pools on Mitiaro, Mauke and Atiu
Another cave-related activity and another one of the unique things to do in the Cook Islands is bathing in one of its underground cave pools! Only available at some of the lesser-visited islands of the Southern Group, including Mitiaro, Mauke or Atiu, cave pools like Vai Nauri, Vai Tango and Vai Marere feature dramatic stalactites towering above refreshing pools. Find all of the best cave pools in the 10 Best Caves in the Cook Islands.
Location: Mitiaro, Mauke and Atiu. See the link above for specific cave locations.
10. Witness Unique Cook Islands Dancing
If there’s only one aspect of the Cook Islands culture to witness or experience, it has to be Cook Islands dance and music. Standing the test of time and going mostly unchanged since pre-missionary times, Cook Islander dancing is often reputed as some of the best in Polynesia. The easiest way to witness the uniqueness of Cook Islander dancing is at an “island night”, as listed in the 7 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands. However, you may be lucky enough to time your trip with one of the many lively events with dancing, some of which we list in The Top Events & Festivals in the Cook Islands.
Location: All islands.
More Unique Things to Do in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Now that you know some of the most unusual and unique things to do in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands, discover more different or exclusive experiences in the lists below:
- 10 Best Hidden Gems in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 10 Most Luxurious Experiences in the Cook Islands
- The Top 10 Natural Wonders in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, see how the experiences compare to, well, everything in the Cook Islands in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.