The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn© Tayla Beddoes - Cook Islands Tourism
The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn

The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn

© Tayla Beddoes – Cook Islands Tourism

How to Plan a Trip to Penrhyn

Still proudly known by the locals as its traditional Maori name, Tongareva, Penrhyn is the northernmost of the Cook Islands. It’s also the largest lagoon in the country at 233km² (145mi²) and 14km (8.7 miles) across. When you’re sitting on the secluded beaches, you can’t even see the other side of the lagoon!

Most famously, however, Penrhyn is known for its crafts. The islands here are the source of the white woven hats, earrings and fans that you see people wearing all over Rarotonga.

There are two main settlements on Penrhyn, Omoka on the “motu” (island) of Moananui and Te Tautua on Pokerekere. Most visitors will only set foot on Moananui and its surrounding tiny motu… Find out how in this complete travel guide to Penrhyn.

Frequently Asked Questions About Penrhyn

We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about Penrhyn in the Cook Islands, so we won’t waste any time in this Penrhyn travel guide giving you the answers to the questions that most travellers have about visiting.

Where is Penrhyn?

Penrhyn is located in the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, approximately 1,365km (848 miles) northeast of the nation’s capital, Rarotonga. The Cook Islands is located in the South Pacific, which you can learn more about in Where are the Cook Islands Located?

What is Penrhyn Known For?

Penrhyn is not only known for being the largest lagoon in the Cook Islands, but it’s also famous for crafting finely woven white rito hats – the ones you see the “mamas” wearing to church all over the Cook Islands! The locals also craft mats, fans and jewellery than make up the souvenir scene of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands.

What is the Population of Penrhyn?

The population of Penrhyn is around 220 people.

Is Penrhyn a Country?

Penrhyn is an inhabited coral atoll in the Cook Islands. It has an Island Administration that deals with local affairs, while its national government is the Cook Islands Government. Learn more about the politics of the Cook Islands in Who Owns the Cook Islands? The Political Status of the Cook Islands.

The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn© Sandee Cook - Cook Islands Tourism

How to Get to Penrhyn

Penrhyn has an airstrip on Moananui island on the western side of the lagoon which receives infrequent flights from Rarotonga. The atoll is also visited by an even less frequent cargo boat, also from Rarotonga.

Flights to Penrhyn

Flights to Penrhyn are available with the sole domestic airline of the Cook Islands. Although there are no scheduled flights to Penrhyn, travellers can arrange private charters from Rarotonga or as part of Northern Group tour packages where you’ll stay one night on each island visited. Private charter flights typically take 2h30mins to travel between Rarotonga and Penrhyn. Find out more about flying in the Cook Islands with our guide, Domestic Flights in the Cook Islands: Your Guide to Interisland Flights.

Cargo Ships to Penrhyn

Very patient travellers with a lot of time on their hands can take the arduous journey from Rarotonga to Penrhyn via a cargo ship. Cargo ships depart for the island once every two months but are often delayed and impossible to plan around. Voyages take several days, depending on which islands are visited first. On the plus side, Penrhyn is the only island where the cargo ship can pass through the lagoon and dock at the wharf. Find out more about cargo ships in our Cook Islands Cargo Ship Guide: How to Use the Ferry for Interisland Travel in the Cook Islands.

Sailing to Penrhyn

Another way visitors get to Penrhyn is via a private yacht. Penrhyn is an official port of entry in the Cook Islands, so you can go through the clearance formalities here. Check out Sailing Guide to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Tips for Yachting in the Cook Islands for more advice.

Getting Around Penrhyn

A scooter or car can be arranged with your host to navigate Moananui and its sprawling village of Omoka. Boats on the lagoon can also be arranged with your host or with local fisherfolk who can usually be found at the jetties in Omoka.

Find out more about the ins and outs of travelling around the Northern Cook Islands with our Northern Cook Islands Transport Guide: 9 Ways to Get to (& Around) the Northern Group.

The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism

Where to Stay in Penrhyn

Penrhyn has one guesthouse located a short walk from the airstrip on Moananui. Leaving the guesthouse, you’ll have your toes in the sand and gorgeous views across the atoll from the deck.

The Guesthouse in Penrhyn

The guesthouse has two double rooms, sleeping a maximum of four people, all sharing a bathroom, lounge and a kitchen. You won’t need to worry too much about using the kitchen facilities, however, as three meals a day are included in your stay. Food is local dishes prepared with local ingredients. Drinking water typically comes in the form of filtered rainwater, but check out our advice for precautions to take in our guide, Is the Water Safe to Drink in the Cook Islands?

Your hosts will look after every aspect of your stay on Penrhyn; they can organise vehicle rentals to explore Moananui and its village, Omoka, as well as boat trips on the lagoon.


If the guesthouse is at full capacity, visitors are invited to stay with local families in Omoka. This can be arranged with the Island Administration, whose most recent contact details can be obtained from Cook Islands Tourism.

The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn© Daniel Fisher - Cook Islands Tourism

5 Best Things to Do in Penrhyn

Penrhyn is about experiencing life on a remote island, embracing nature, as well as the kindness of the local people and the skills of the craftspeople.

  1. Take a boat trip on the largest lagoon in the Cook Islands
  2. Feed the friendly reef sharks
  3. Browse amazing crafts that are famous across the Cook Islands
  4. Snorkel and scuba dive among untouched coral
  5. Experience amazing singing at a local church service.

Boat Trips on the Lagoon

Getting out on the lagoon is highly recommended even if it’s usually not possible to explore everything due to the lagoon’s immense size. Either your host or yourself (by talking to fisherfolk on the jetties in Omoka) can arrange a boat tour of the lagoon, visiting the odd motu and snorkelling spot in between fishing or spearfishing. Take enough sunscreen for a full day on the open water with no shade!

Feed the Reef Sharks

One of the most striking things about Penrhyn is how in touch the people are with nature. You’ll often see locals feeding and petting reef sharks that come close to shore, which you can join in too to see how friendly these typically misunderstood creatures are.

Browse and Buy Penrhyn’s Famous Crafts

Buy gorgeous “rito” (bleached pandanus frond) hats, earrings, fans and more, all of which the island of Penrhyn is so famous for. What goes for a high price on Rarotonga you can buy straight from the source in Penrhyn, directly from the skilled women who make these crafts.

Snorkel and Scuba Dive

Penrhyn is one of the most biodiverse lagoons in the South Pacific with sections so deep that they are yet to be explored. For those with their own gear, an amazing adventure awaits when drift diving the passages, for example. Sharks are everywhere, however, so if you’re a bit nervous, you might not want to jump into the invitingly clear waters.

Listen to the Singing in Church

Like on all of the Cook Islands’ inhabited islands, the church services are amazing to experience on a Sunday morning with singing that is sure to move you. The CICC Church Sunday service starts at 10am on a Sunday, while the Catholic Church service begins at 9am. Both are located in Omoka on Moananui.

See more typical Cook Islands experiences in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.

The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn© Tayla Beddoes - Cook Islands Tourism

Information, Services and Shops in Penrhyn

It’s important to know what Penrhyn does (and doesn’t) have so that you come fully prepared.

Shops in Penrhyn

The village of Omoka has a couple of tiny stores selling basic goods like tinned food, rice, sugar and flour. Otherwise, the locals get supplies out of shipping containers, so should there be anything that you really need, you can ask your host who could possibly source it for you. But when it comes to personal items, cash (bring plenty with you in New Zealand Dollars), medication, hygiene products, your favourite snack, coffee/tea, sunscreen, snorkelling gear etc. etc. it’s best to bring it with you.

As mentioned, traditional crafts are available to buy. Learn more about Cook Islands souvenirs in 10 Best Souvenirs from Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

WiFi and Post Office in Penrhyn

There are two WiFi hotspots, one in the administration area of Omoka and one at the Vodafone/Post Office in Omoka near the hospital. Learn more about connecting to Vodafone hotspots using How to Get Internet & WiFi in the Cook Islands. You can also use the Vodafone office for postal services and to buy a local SIM card. Learn more about the local phone network in The Best SIM Card in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Travellers.

Banks and ATMs in Penrhyn

While there is a bank in Penrhyn, the BCI (Bank of the Cook Islands), they do not deal in foreign exchange or withdrawals using international bank cards. There are also no ATMs in Penrhyn. Needless to say, you need to take enough cash with you to pay your way.

Hospitals in Penrhyn

There is no pharmacy in Penrhyn but there are two hospitals, one in each village. Omoka Hospital is in a colonial-style building in Omoka village. Te Tautua Hospital is located in Tautua village. Opening hours for the hospitals are the same from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.

More About Penrhyn and the Cook Islands

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Penrhyn in the Cook Islands. For more less-explored islands to visit, check out the following guides:

Finally, plan the rest of your Cook Islands expedition using The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide and the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before settling in the South Pacific, so he knows a thing or two about planning the perfect trip in this corner of the world. Robin works and consults regularly with Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, a local government body representing the tourism industry. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides and is a regular host of webinars with the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

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