What are the Cruise Ports in the Cook Islands?
So the Cook Islands are included on your cruise ship itinerary. Lucky you! The cruise ports in the Cook Islands are stunning yet small enough to explore even in just a day when your cruise ship is docked offshore. But what are the ports of call in the Cook Islands and, more importantly, what are the things to do there? You’re in the right place to find out! In this guide to the cruise ports of the Cook Islands, we not only go over where they are but offer ways to enjoy them beyond what your cruise ship sells to you (which will be much cheaper too).
Wait, you haven’t booked your cruise to the Cook Islands yet? Check out the 7 Best Cruises That Visit Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to see who goes there.
Cruise Docking Locations in the Cook Islands
Note that for all ports of call in the Cook Islands, cruise ships drift outside of the lagoons and run tenders between the ship and shore throughout the day.
The largest and most visited island of the Cook Islands for cruise ships and vacationers alike, Rarotonga offers a vibrant and versatile port of call to explore. You’ll land at Avatiu Harbour along the northern coast of the island, in the nation’s small but contemporary capital, Avarua.
Avarua – The Capital of the Cook Islands
For those who don’t want to venture too far from the ship (or too much time away from the spa), Avarua has its own display of eateries and experiences. Potter around some of the oldest buildings in the country located at the eastern end of town or, if you’re lucky enough to visit on a Saturday morning, the place on the island to be is the Punanga Nui Market at the western end of town. Better yet, join a guided walking tour of the small town brimming with cultural experiences – Cook Islands Tours offers a fantastic walking tour which can be booked on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Plan more of your visit to Avarua with the 10 Best Things to Do in Avarua and find places to eat in The Food Guide to Rarotonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Must-Dos in Rarotonga
If you have time to explore the whole island, which most cruise passengers do, here are some of the places well worth visiting and things well worth doing:
- Stop by Muri Beach for a lagoon cruise, kayaking, paddleboarding or simply to watch the world go by at a beachfront bar
- Go for a paddle or a snorkel at the marine reserve of Tikioki Beach and get a famous giant sandwich from Charlie’s Cafe
- See the Cook Islands’ only waterfall, the Papua Waterfall where you can go for a dip
- Relax at one of the many beach bars and restaurants of the resorts lining Aorangi Beach or for those feeling fit, hike up the Raemaru Track
- On a Saturday morning, don’t miss the Punanga Nui Market in Avarua with its assortment of local food, unique handcrafted gifts, entertainment and more.
For more details about these activities, as well as much much more experiences, check out the 50 Best Things to Do on Rarotonga.
The Best Rarotonga Tours for Cruise Ship Passengers
Take the hassle out of exploring the island by joining one of the guided tours of Rarotonga! If the shore excursions offered by your cruise ship are a bit out of your price range (which we all know that cruise ships can sometimes charge up to three times the price of what you would pay for the tour if you booked independently), then these are the best tours to take you around the island which you can book yourself.
- Raro Safari Tours – Explore the highlights of Rarotonga, including the backroads and even up mountains in a 4WD safari jeep
- Tik-e Bikes & Tours – Ride an eco-friendly electric tuk-tuk with your guide showing you historical sites, local industries and gorgeous gardens around the island
- Raro Tours – Their “Island Discovery Tour” hits the highlights and includes local food and drink tasting and a coconut demonstration – Book on Viator or Tripadvisor
- Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours – An easy-going cycling tour to explore Rarotonga’s backroads and get a more local experience – Book on Viator or Tripadvisor
- Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizes – Cruise the Muri Lagoon with snorkelling, lunch on an uninhabited island and a sarong-tying and coconut-husking show – Book on Viator or Tripadvisor.
More information about these tours can be found in the 10 Best Sightseeing Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands and the 10 Best Tours of Rarotonga.
How to Tour Rarotonga Independently
If you’d rather make your own way around Rarotonga, you can either hire a car or ride the public bus around the island. Car hire is available in abundance in Avarua with some rental companies even delivering you a car to port free of charge. Find out more in the 10 Best Car Rentals in Rarotonga.
For the bus, an “All Day Pass” is available to hop on and off the bus as much as you like on its journey along the main road of Rarotonga, which takes 50 minutes to travel around the whole island. Find out more about taking the bus in The Bus in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Bus Fares, Timetable & More.
If you know anything about Rarotonga it’s that scooters are very popular here. However, we don’t recommend renting a scooter for cruise ship passengers due to the time it takes to apply for a licence and do a test before you’re legal to drive a scooter in the Cook Islands. If your heart is set, however, you can find out more in our guide, Scooter Hire in Rarotonga: Where to Rent, Cost & More.
Finally, if you need inspiration for an itinerary of exploring Rarotonga in a day, then we have just the guide for you! Check it out in A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Rarotonga.
Often described as one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons, Aitutaki is a highlight for many visiting on cruise ships. Your port entry at the Arutanga Harbour brings you to the main town of the island, Arutanga, but aside from admiring the coral limestone architecture of the oldest church in the Cook Islands or dining at a couple of cafes, there are not many other reasons to stick around. That’s why we highly recommend getting a car or scooter rental or jumping on a lagoon cruise.
Lagoon Cruises in Aitutaki
Although you might have been at sea for a day or two, it’s well worth staying on the water in Aitutaki. Lagoon cruises are an ensemble of island-hopping between uninhabited and pristine “motu” (islets), snorkelling in crystal clear waters with giant clams, giant trevally and the like, and indulging in a barbecue lunch either on an island or on your boat.
Although most cruises depart from Ootu Beach on the other side of the island from the port, transfers are included.
Some of the best lagoon cruises for cruise ship passengers include:
- Teking Lagoon Cruises – Emphasis on snorkelling and covering a large area of the lagoon
- The Vaka Cruise – A more laid-back cruise on a large Polynesian-style boat
- Kia Orana Cruises – A small-group adventure tour straight from the Arutanga Harbour
- Bishop’s Cruises – Larger boats so you are able to walk around while on the water. Plus, ample time is spent on One Foot Island
- Kutekute Tours & Tranfers – Private lagoon cruise.
Learn more about all of the lagoon cruises mentioned and others in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
How to Tour Aitutaki Independently
For those who’d rather stick to dry land for the day, Aitutaki makes for an excellent wee island to explore by car or by scooter. Car rental companies deliver vehicles to port, usually for free. Check them out in The Best Car Rentals in Aitutaki.
Unlike Rarotonga, getting your scooter license is much more straightforward in Aitutaki. If you don’t already have a motorcycle license, head to the Police Station in Arutanga – just 230m (755ft) up the road from port – to get your temporary license with your driving license. Find out more in our guide, Scooter Hire in Aitutaki: Where to Rent, Cost & More.
As for where to visit once you’ve got your wheels, there’s a wealth of island lookouts, quaint cafes, gorgeous resort restaurants and beaches to explore. Plan your whole day with A Self-Guided Day Trip Around Aitutaki.
Rarely visited by tourists other than those travelling by private yacht, the atoll of Palmerston is a real privilege to visit by cruise. Seabourn is one of very few cruises (and usually the only one some years) that visit this secluded atoll with a population of around 30 people. Regardless of its small population, you’ll be greeted with open arms and smiles. The community is very welcoming here and eager to show visitors their way of life on an isolated island.
With no established tourism industry, most of the activities here will be arranged by your cruise. But simply being here and soaking up the serene atmosphere of the pristine white sands and turquoise beaches, along with the kind hospitality of the local people, are usually the images that stick.
Learn more about what it’s like to visit this stunning atoll in The Complete Travel Guide to Palmerston.
More About Cruises and the Ports of Call in the Cook Islands
We hope you found this guide to the ports of call of the Cook Islands helpful for your cruise to the Cook Islands. If it was, then you might also find these other cruise-related guides pretty darn useful too:
- The Best Time to Go on a Cruise to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 7 Best Cruises That Visit Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- The Best Islands to Visit in the Cook Islands
Finally, discover more ways to get to the Cook Islands in our guide, Getting Here: How to Get to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?.