How to Stay with Locals in the Cook Islands
Homestays offer a more “authentic” way to travel; a way to immerse in the real Cook Islands culture and remove the barrier between “tourist and “local”. But do homestays exist in the Cook Islands? Well, not exactly in the tourist hotspots of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. But if you head to the lesser-visited islands of the Cook Islands; the alternative islands in the Southern Group and certainly in the Northern Group, you’ll find accommodations offering a much more local experience. There are a couple of homestays on the island of Mitiaro, while homestays on the other islands are typically arranged when the guesthouses are full. Find out more in this guide to the best homestays in the Cook Islands!
5 Tips for Homestays in the Cook Islands
- Most homestays can be arranged with each island’s “Island Administration”, whose recent contact details are best sourced from Cook Islands Tourism
- Most homestays typically include all meals for the rate – usually more than you can eat! In the rare instances where you may have to pay for meals, make sure you bring enough cash
- On the island of Palmerston, you’re not typically required to pay for your stay as per custom, but you may be expected to help with island chores – see The Complete Travel Guide to Palmerston for more specific tips
- While locals treat their drinking water source, it still might not agree with your immune system – follow the precautions given in Is the Water Safe to Drink in the Cook Islands?
- Needless to say, homestays are pretty basic – far from the lavish resorts on Rarotonga and may lack things you may take for granted like hot water, for example. In short, they are not recommended for fussy travellers.
The Two Homestays of the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands’ two “official” homestays are both on the same island, Mitiaro, which also has very similar accommodation categories in the form of guesthouses – more on that later.
One of the longest-running homestays on Mitiaro, Nane’s Homestay offers an irresistibly affordable rate with three meals a day included! The homestay is with Nane Pokoati, a local “mataiapo” (subtribe leader) whose infectious bubbly personality and local know-how will ensure a fun stay on the island.
There are no private rooms at Nane’s; just one shared communal bedroom in the large house. Guests will also share a bathroom, lounge and kitchen.
Vivian’s Homestay consists of a traditional kikau bungalow, which sits in her garden in Atai village. The bungalow is made from woven panels of “kikau” (coconut palm) leaves, which makes the room airy but they can be weather-beaten…
The bungalows have one double bed and one single bed with mosquito nets, while the ensuite is toward the back of the bungalow with a shower. Outside, you have a verandah with two seats. Alternatively, the are two free-standing concrete guesthouses, which aren’t as adventurous as the kikau bungalow but are perhaps more comfortable.
Your host, Vivian (Inangaro), or her family will look after you with three meals a day included, as well as can arrange a rental vehicle for you.
Homestays in the Northern Group
Although some of the Northern Group islands, such as Pukapuka, Manihiki and Penrhyn have guesthouse accommodation set aside for visitors to their islands. When these are fully booked, however, the overflow usually stays with locals in their homes through arranged homestays. This must be arranged before visiting the islands.
On the islands of Rakahanga, Nassau and Palmerston (Ok, Palmerston is actually in the Southern Group, but we’re grouping it here for ease), there’s no guesthouse accommodation set aside for visitors. Therefore, visitors to the islands must stay with a local family (or on their yacht if that’s how they travelled here). Arrangements are usually made with each island’s Island Administration.
Alternative Accommodation to Homestays in the Cook Islands
The closest cousin to the traditional homestay is a guesthouse. Guesthouses are very similar to homestays in that you are looked after by a local host, usually providing food and other essentials to help you experience a remote island, but the host isn’t always “living” in the same accommodation with you.
The outer islands have plenty of guesthouses, while Aitutaki and even Rarotonga have one or two! Guesthouses in the Cook Islands include:
- Divine Retreat, Mitiaro
- Nukuroa Guesthouse, Mitiaro
- Babe’s Place, Mangaia
- Pukapuka Guesthouse, Pukapuka
- Penrhyn Guesthouse, Penrhyn
- Tiare Cottages, Mauke
- Aitutaki Budget Accommodation, Aitutaki
- Amuri Guest House, Aitutaki
- Aremango Guesthouse & Cottage, Rarotonga
Find out more about our top picks in the 10 Best Guesthouses in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
More About Homestays in the Cook Islands
That’s it for our guide to homestays in the Cook Islands. For more low-key local stays, check out these alternative accommodation lists:
- 10 Best Budget Accommodations in the Cook Islands
- Where to Stay on Mauke: The Best Mauke Accommodations
- Where to Stay on Mitiaro: The 4 Best Mitiaro Accommodations