10-Day Island-Hopping Trip to the Cook Islands: Including Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Mauke!
Most visit the Cook Islands and only spend their time on Rarotonga and/or Aitutaki. If you’re a more intrepid traveller, however, you have the time in 10 days to experience three very different atolls! With 10 full days to explore, you can certainly afford to experience a resort holiday on Rarotonga, the white sands and turquoise lagoon of Aitutaki and the rocky uplifted atoll of Mauke. So pack your bags and get ready for 10 days in paradise with this intrepid itinerary specially curated for travellers with wanderlust.
While you’re here, don’t forget to open The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide, which is your bible to a getaway to the Cooks!
Overview: Cook Islands 10-Day Island-Hopping Itinerary
- Day 1 – Arrive on Rarotonga
- Day 2 – Relaxation or adventure on Rarotonga
- Day 3 – Explore Rarotonga
- Day 4 – Rarotonga to Aitutaki
- Day 5 – Experience the Aitutaki Lagoon
- Day 6 – Explore Aitutaki
- Day 7 – Fly to Rarotonga then to Mauke
- Day 8 – Explore Mauke
- Day 9 – Fly to Rarotonga
- Day 10 – Last day on Rarotonga.
How to Get Around the Cook Islands in 10 Days
This Cook Islands island-hopping itinerary for 10 days includes travel on various islands, as well as between islands. Here’s a quick rundown on how to get around the Cook Islands in 10 days.
Road Transport in the Cook Islands
The first road transport you’ll encounter on each of the islands you visit is your airport transfer. On Rarotonga, this must be booked in advance with your resort or with one of the airport shuttle companies, as outlined in the 8 Best Airport Transfers. On the outer islands of this itinerary – Aitutaki and Mauke – airport transfers are provided free of charge.
For travelling on each of the islands, the most convenient and private options include car and scooter rentals. Start your car rental research with What You Need to Hire a Car in the Cook Islands and for scooters, 10 Tips for Riding a Scooter in the Cook Islands. On Rarotonga, you also have the option of the island bus which cuts down the costs. Find out more about the bus in The Bus in Rarotonga: Bus Fares, Timetable & More and compare bus and car rental in Which is Better, Renting a Car or Taking the Bus on Rarotonga?
Interisland Transport in the Cook Islands
The only manageable way to get between islands in the Cook Islands is via domestic flights. Flights to Aitutaki and Mauke are approximately 50 minutes from Rarotonga, while approximate airfares can be found in our guide, Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands.
For all of your transport options, not limited to the recommendations given above, check out the Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Best Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands.
Day 1 – Arrive in Rarotonga
Welcome to Rarotonga! After the arrivals process of going through customs and biosecurity, you’ll step outside of the arrivals hall to the sounds of “Kia Orana” and a floral ‘ei put over your head. It’s the customary Cook Islands greeting that most airport transfers supply with enthusiasm!
Since it’s your first day in the Cook Islands, take it easy and get settled at your chosen accommodation. After check-in, relax by the pool, have a paddle with the kayaks provided at your resort, sip on cocktails and transition to “Raro time”. We’ll go over a few things you can do on Rarotonga tomorrow.
Rarotonga Budget Accommodation
Rarotonga Mid-Range Accommodation
Rarotonga Luxury Accommodation
… And that’s just a handful of accommodations and resorts available! Check out Where to Stay on Rarotonga: The BEST Rarotonga Accommodations for a full comparison.
For your first night, if you’re staying at an accommodation with a restaurant on-site, like Edgewater Resort & Spa, Little Polynesian, Manuia Beach Resort, Crown Beach Resort & Spa, Nautilus Resort or Castaway Resort, make things easy for yourself by eating at their very reputable restaurants. You’ll have enough time to explore the rest of Rarotonga’s dining scene later.
Day 2 – Relaxation or Adventure on Rarotonga
It’s time to explore Rarotonga your way, whether you prefer to spend your time seeking adventure or getting some much-needed R&R.
Ways to Relax on Rarotonga
For a day that hones in the relaxation, treat yourself to an island massage at one of Rarotonga’s spas or boost your zen with a stand-up paddleboard yoga session at Muri Beach. See more details and examples in the 10 Most Relaxing Things to Do in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Adventure Experiences on Rarotonga
If you’re looking for something more active, today could be a great day to hit the Cross-Island Trek (weather permitting). Alternatively, join an exhilarating quad bike tour or explore the deep with a scuba diving trip. For more details on all of these activities and more, check out the 10 Best Adventure Activities in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Experience some of Rarotonga’s delectable eateries. For South Pacific cuisine done superbly, head to The Anchorage Restaurant. Alternatively, try fine dining at Antipodes or Tamarind House – bookings are essential! If you’re on a budget, don’t miss the Muri Night Market (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) for its food truck festivities.
Get more inspiration for where to eat from The Food Guide to Rarotonga.
For drinks with friends or loved ones, the beach bars have an awesome vibe, such as Shipwreck Hut or the classy Sunset Bar of OTB. Wilson’s Beach Bar is always a fun time and even has a menu of Cuban cigars, should you be so inclined.
If you’re looking for a party, however, hop on one of the “party buses” taking you around the bars and clubs of the island, returning you to your accommodation at the end of the night. Find out more in The Ultimate Guide to Rarotonga Nightlife + Happy Hour List.
Day 3 – Explore Rarotonga
If there’s anything that you missed yesterday, then you have another chance to do it today! Otherwise, how about exploring the island via car/scooter rental or the island bus?
Road Trip Around Rarotonga
Explore Rarotonga’s main road and scenic back roads today to discover historical sites like Arai-Te-Tonga Marae, awesome snorkelling beaches like Tikioki Beach, natural attractions like Black Rock and much more. We detail how to visit these sights and others in our complete day trip itinerary, A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Rarotonga.
Of course, there’s a lot more to do on Rarotonga, which we cover extensively in the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga.
For your final night before heading to Aitutaki, Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar at the Pacific Resort and Nautilis Restaurant at Muri Beach are highly recommended. Charlie’s Cafe in Titikaveka offers reasonable prices for their unreasonably sized sandwiches. Or keep things simple with a food truck takeaway, such as the gourmet cuisine of The Kai Guy.
Otherwise, check out The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants for more details and recommendations.
Day 4 – Rarotonga to Aitutaki
Return your rental vehicle if needed then take an airport transfer to the domestic terminal of Rarotonga Airport where you’ll take your flight to Aitutaki – see our Aitutaki Transport Guide for more details.
After a scenic 50-minute flight, you’ll meet your accommodation representative at Aitutaki Airport who will transfer you to your chosen retreat for check-in.
Aitutaki Budget Accommodation
Aitutaki Mid-Range Accommodation
Aitutaki Luxury Accommodation
Compare accommodations further in our guide, Where to Stay on Aitutaki: The BEST Aitutaki Accommodations.
You’ll have plenty of time to explore Aitutaki in the next couple of days, so relax at your resort. Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Etu Moana, Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort, Aitutaki Village and Tamanu Beach Resort each have delightful dining options.
Otherwise, for self-catering, your best to have a car rental delivered to your accommodation so you can pop into Amuri or Arutanga to pick up supplies. Find out more about self-catering in The Complete Travel Guide to Aitutaki.
Day 5 – Experience the Aitutaki Lagoon
It’s your first full day in Aitutaki, so experience the atoll’s “must-do”, the lagoon!
Aitutaki Lagoon Cruises
Daytime lagoon cruises offer an easy way to reach awesome snorkelling spots, visit uninhabited “motu” (islets) and indulge in an island barbecue. There’s quite a broad range of lagoon cruises, so compare their point of difference in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
For more things to do on the lagoon, browse our 20 Best Things to Do on Aitutaki.
If you want a sophisticated vibe, head to the Rapae Bay Restaurant of the Pacific Resort Aitutaki or the Flying Boat Beach Bar & Grill of the adults-only Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort. Otherwise, alternative yet fantastic dining options include the casual alfresco ambience of the Avatea Cafe and the seafood specialists and local watering hole of The Boat Shed Bar & Grill.
Learn more about these eateries and get more recommendations in The Best Places to Eat on Aitutaki: 10 Best Restaurants on Aitutaki.
Day 6 – Explore Aitutaki
Relax this morning at your Aitutaki accommodation. Then, do some exploration on dry land today – you’ll need a car or scooter rental for this.
Road Trip Around Aitutaki
Save A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Aitutaki on your phone, grab a rental car, scooter or bicycle and hit the road with its scenic lookouts like Maunga Pu, stunning beaches and historical sites. Everything you need for an awesome day exploring Aitutaki is in the day trip itinerary linked above.
For breakfast or lunch, enjoy the sustainably sourced meals spruced up by the fabulous Koru Cafe. Or if you prefer a quiet night in your self-catering accommodation, they offer barbecue packs too.
Check out more dining experiences in The Food Guide to Aitutaki: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Day 7 – Fly to Rarotonga Then to Mauke
Check out of your accommodation and a representative will transport you to Aitutaki Airport. It’s a 50-minute flight back to Rarotonga where the views are incredible (tip: sit on the right-hand side of the plane, if possible). Then, catch your connecting flight to one of the more adventurous Cook Islands to visit, Mauke. See all of your transport options to Mauke in our Mauke Transport Guide.
On arrival in Mauke, your accommodation provider will greet you at the “airport” (get ready for more flower ‘eis!) then it’s off to your accommodation on the island.
Accommodation on Mauke
You have a couple of places to stay on the island of Mauke. Tiare Cottages are the best choice for couples with budget garden cottages and their more modern clifftop cottage. Ri’s Retreat is also an option with full private kitchens and plenty of room for families and groups. Compare the two accommodations further in Where to Stay on Mauke.
Mauke has no restaurants, so all of your food is provided by your accommodation at an extra but reasonable cost. Enjoy authentic Cook Islander cuisine and unmatched hospitality that will feel a lot more “homely” than anywhere else you’ve eaten in the Cook Islands so far! Alternatively, accommodations have self-catering facilities; there are a couple of shops on the island to buy supplies.
Learn more about managing food on an underdeveloped island in The Complete Travel Guide to Mauke.
Day 8 – Explore Mauke
Mauke is quite a small island, so a day is enough to see the highlights that this stunning uplifted coral atoll has to offer. Hire a car from your accommodation provider and start experiencing the sights all to yourself. Alternatively, accommodation hosts can arrange guided island tours.
Road Trip Around Mauke
Inland, walk to the wonderful little cave pool of Vai Tango Cave and go for a refreshing dip. On the coastal road, discover hundreds of tiny beaches, including Kopupooki Beach and its hidden cave pool accessible at low tide. You’ll also find the Te Kou Maru Shipwreck, while Te Oneroa Beach is considered one of the best beaches by many.
Plan your route around the island using A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Mauke.
Guided Tours of Mauke
Alternatively, you can hire a guide through your accommodation to visit the harder-to-find attractions on Mauke, such as South Pacific’s largest banyan tree and the surrounding caves. You can also take a tour of the fascinating Divided Church to learn about its stories and see its unusual architecture.
Check out more experiences in the 15 Best Things to Do on Mauke.
Either see what authentic Cook Island cuisine your accommodation is sprucing up for dinner, or get self-catering supplies and make your own!
Day 9 – Fly to Rarotonga
Say goodbye to the quieter side of the Cook Islands as you fly back to Rarotonga today. We recommend making your way back to Rarotonga a day before departure, not just to spend more time on Raro but just in case there are cancellations or rescheduling of your flight – you wouldn’t want to miss your connecting flight back home, would you? Wait, would you?!
Alternative Rarotonga Accommodations
- Magic Reef Beachfront Bungalows
- The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium
- Muri Beachcomber
- Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa
- Ikurangi Eco Retreat
Why not try somewhere different for your final night in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands? Otherwise, check-in at the same accommodation as your first stay on Rarotonga, if you really loved it! Compare some of our favourite resorts in the 20 Best Resorts on Rarotonga.
It’s your last night in the Cook Islands, so make it count! How about a delectable three-course dinner at OTB? Or an island night and cultural tour at Highlands Paradise? You can also make your own “umukai” with Tumutoa Tours! There’s so much on offer, so be sure to compare eateries and foodie experiences in The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Day 10 – Last Day on Rarotonga
It’s time to say goodbye to the azure lagoon waters and silky sands of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands as you depart for your next destination.
If you want something to remember the Cook Islands by, have one last browse of the craft and gift shops of Avarua and Rarotonga International Airport’s duty-free stores with black pearls, rito earrings and fans, local perfumes and more. Check out the 12 Best Souvenirs from Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for ideas.
Remember to arrive at Rarotonga International Airport a couple of hours before your scheduled departure so that you have enough time to check in, go through security and browse the duty-free. Airport transfers are a little cheaper for your departure flight, so check them out in the 8 Best Airport Transfers in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
And it’s “ka kite” from the Cook Islands!
Alternative Cook Islands 10-Day Itineraries
Is this 10-day island-hopping itinerary for the Cook Islands not quite speaking to you? How about checking out our alternative itineraries for 10 days:
- Cook Islands Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 10 Days
- Cook Islands Honeymoon & Romance Itinerary: 10 Days
- Cook Islands Food Itinerary: 10 Days
- Cook Islands Family Itinerary: 10 Days
- Cook Islands Luxury Itinerary: 10 Days
- Cook Islands Adults-Only Itinerary: 10 Days
Finally, if there’s any aspect of your trip that we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.