The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]
The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]

© DH – Cook Islands Tourism

The Complete Family Guide to the Cook Islands

The ultimate tropical playground, the Cook Islands is a safe place for families to unwind and reconnect. While there are plenty of family adventures to be had, the beauty of the Cook Islands family holiday is more the simple pleasures, like hermit crab hunting on the beach and snorkelling in the lagoon. A getaway to the Rarotonga promises parents some time to relax thanks to the numerous ways younger ones will be kept entertained, while families who prefer to adventure together might like to venture to the outer islands. We’ll guide you through it all, right here, in the complete travel guide to the Cook Islands for families.

An Intro to the Cook Islands

Location: The Cook Islands is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean in between Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and French Polynesia. It is approximately 3,000 km (1,864 miles) northeast of New Zealand. Find out more in Where are the Cook Islands Located?

Size: The Cook Islands’ land area is 261 km² (101 mi²) scattered across 2,200,000 km² (850,000 sq mi) of ocean.

Climate: Maximum average temperature – 27°C/81°F, minimum average temperature – 21°C/70°F and yearly average rainfall – 2,000mm/79″.
Find out more in The Cook Islands Weather, Seasons & Climate.

Time zone: UTC/GMT-10.
Find out more in What is the Cook Islands Time Zone?

Population: 17,900.
Find out more in Who are the People of the Cook Islands?

Languages: Cook Islands Maori, English and Pukapukan.
Find out more in What is the Cook Islands Language?

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© CookIslandsPocketGuide.com

How to Get to the Cook Islands

What is the best way to get to the Cook Islands? The Cook Islands can be accessed by flight, cruise ship or private sailing yachts. The most popular way to get to the Cook Islands is by international flight, so let’s start with that.

Flying to the Cook Islands

Direct international flights to the Cook Islands come from New Zealand, Australia and French Polynesia. If you’re coming from further afield, connecting flights can be made in New Zealand and Australia. See our guide, Which Airlines Fly Directly to the Cook Islands? for more advice.

All international arrivals land at Rarotonga International Airport on the island of Rarotonga, only a few minutes from the nation’s capital, Avarua. Find out more about the airport and what to expect in Which Airport to Fly into the Cook Islands.

Cruises to the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is on the itinerary of several South Pacific cruises from French Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia, as well as round-the-world cruises from the US and Europe. There are two main ports of call in the Cooks, one in Rarotonga and the other in Aitutaki. Cruises also occasionally stop at Palmerston. Find out about which cruise liners have the Cook Islands on their itinerary, as well as what to do at each port of call in 7 Best Cruises That Visit the Cook Islands and The Complete Guide to the Ports of Call in the Cook Islands.

Sailing to the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is situated on the Transpacific journey between the US and New Zealand. The yachting season is between May and October. Learn about the sailing formalities and the ports of entry in our Sailing Guide to the Cook Islands.

A Note on Customs Declarations

The Cook Islands has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. Therefore, anyone arriving in the Cook Islands has to declare any “risk items” they have packed in their luggage – even common items like food and sports gear. Be sure to read up on Arriving in Rarotonga: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & Arrivals Process so you are prepared.

Check out our complete guide on How to Get to the Cook Islands for even more tips on making your way to the islands.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© Taniera - Cook Islands Tourism

When to Visit the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a tropical country and experiences warm temperatures throughout the year. It has two distinct seasons, a dry season which is drier and cooler, and a wet season which is hotter and humid. Learn more about the climate in The Cook Islands Weather, Seasons & Climate + Weather by Month.

Dry Season (April to November)

The dry season is also known as the winter season in the Cook Islands, although many would not describe it as winter with temperatures around 19-28°C (66-82°F). The rainfall per month is an average of 102-174mm (4-6.9″). The dry season is also the time for seeing whales, kitesurfing/kiteboarding, clearer scuba diving conditions and catching wahoo. On the downside, the winter school holidays for New Zealand and Australia (July) are when flights and accommodations are at their most expensive in the Cook Islands.

Wet Season (December to March)

The wet season is hotter and more humid, with temperatures around 21-29°C (70-84°F) and an average monthly rainfall of 174-237mm (6.9-9.3″). This is also the Cook Islands’ cyclone season, which means there’s a risk of cyclones (but only a risk, which you can learn more about in A Guide to Cyclone Safety in the Cook Islands). The wet season is also the best time for catching Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna and Mahimahi, for catching some popular events, and for avoiding other tourists. Visiting the Cook Islands during the summer school holidays for New Zealand and Australia is when you will find cheaper flights for families, as long as you avoid Christmas and New Year.

Still can’t decide when the best time is to travel to the Cook Islands? Check out our complete guide, The Best Time to Visit the Cook Islands: Best Months to Visit, which dives much deeper into the subject.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© CookIslandsPocketGuide.com

What to Pack for the Cook Islands

The main thing you need to keep in mind when packing for the Cook Islands is having a tropical wardrobe that includes some more modest items of clothing for going out for dinner and/or visiting a church. A packing list for the Cook Islands might look a little something like this:

  • Singlets/T-Shirts
  • Blouse/Shirt to cover the shoulders for dinner or church
  • Shorts/Skirts
  • Light evening dress to impress at dinner
  • Dress/Skirt below the knee for church
  • Light sleepwear
  • Light jacket/Cardigan/Pashmina for cooler evenings
  • Outfit to travel between Rarotonga and home
  • Bras mum, we have you covered
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Bikini for beach/pool
  • One-piece for watersports
  • Boardshorts for guys
  • Rash vest
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Light shirt to cover arms and back
  • Light rain jacket
  • Flip-flops/sandals
  • Walking shoes
  • Reef shoes/Water shoes.

And that’s just the clothes! For a full packing list of everything to take including for the kids, as well as accessories and toiletries, check out What to Pack for Rarotonga: FULL Cook Islands Packing List. We also have additional packing tips for families in the 30 Tips for Your Family Cook Islands Vacation with Kids.

Health Products

With high UV levels and the presence of mosquitos, certain health products are essential to take to the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands also has a fragile marine ecosystem so natural sunscreens (and for the kids too) and repellents are a must. If going to the outer islands, a reusable water purification bottle is preferable to buying bottled water for obvious environmental reasons. See our health essentials packing list, including essentials for the kids, in What Medication to Pack in Your First Aid Kit for the Cook Islands.

Currency

The currency in the Cook Islands is New Zealand Dollars. Most vendors accept Visa and MasterCard, while there are ATMs and options for currency exchange on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Cash is the only way to go on the other outer islands. Get more money tips in What is the Best Way to Pay in the Cook Islands?

Note that the Cook Islands issues its own coins and banknotes that you won’t be able to exchange overseas, so make sure to use them all up unless you want a souvenir.

Travel Documents and Paperwork

Visitors to the Cook Islands do not need a visa but do need a passport that is valid for no less than six months after your intended date of departure (seven days for New Zealand and Australian citizens). There may be other current entry requirements, we keep updates in What Documents Do I Need to Travel to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? More info can also be found on the Cook Islands Tourism Travel Advisory page.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© Zhang Da Qiang - Cook Islands Tourism

How Long to Spend in the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands might make for an idyllic boutique resort getaway to simply relax for a few days and that’s fine; we all need to R&R from time to time. More intrepid families, however, will find that the Cook Islands is an excellent country not only for island-hopping but road tripping around the very manageable islands.

We’d recommend the minimum number of days to spend in the Cook Islands is five days if just visiting Rarotonga. However, 10 to 14 days is the recommended number of days for a satisfying trip to the Cook Islands, especially if you include at least two islands, such as Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

For those of you who want to explore, here’s what you can achieve in certain timeframes… (And don’t worry, we’ll get onto the destinations in the next few sections).

3 Days / A Long Weekend in the Cook Islands

Over 3 days or a long weekend, you have enough time to see the highlights of Rarotonga. Check out our Rarotonga Family Itinerary: 3 Days for a compilation of itineraries.

5 Days in the Cook Islands

5 days gives you more time to comfortably explore Rarotonga. See our Rarotonga Family Itinerary: 5 Days for trip ideas.

7 Days / One Week in the Cook Islands

Families will find that 7 days is ideal for a mix of adventure and relaxation on Rarotonga. Get some inspiration on what to do and where to go from our Rarotonga Family Itinerary: 7 Days.

10 Days in the Cook Islands

10 days is a comfortable amount of time to enjoy two islands in the Cook Islands, such as Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Check out Rarotonga & Cook Islands Family Itinerary: 10 Days for a complete holiday plan.

14 Days / Two Weeks in the Cook Islands

Adventurous families can visit multiple atolls in the Cook Islands, or simply enjoy Rarotonga and Aitutaki for longer – there’s plenty to do! See the Rarotonga & Cook Islands Family Itinerary: 14 Days for a relaxing itinerary or Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu & Mangaia Itinerary: 14 Days and Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mauke & Mitiaro Itinerary: 14 Days for a jam-packed adventure.

How Long Can You Stay in the Cook Islands?

Visitors to the Cook Islands can stay up to a month! Visitor extensions are available, however, which you can learn more about in our guide, How Long Can You Stay in the Cook Islands on a Visitor Visa?

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© DH - Cook Islands Tourism

Which Island to Visit in the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands split between two island groups, the Southern Group and the Northern Group. The most-visited islands and the easiest to get to are the ones in the Southern Group, which is where Rarotonga and Aitutaki are located. The Northern Group is some 1,000 km (620 miles) from Rarotonga, requiring a much pricier airfare or charter flight to get to. Nevertheless, those looking for a true South Seas adventure will be truly welcomed on these islands.

Compare some of the most popular and easiest islands to visit in The Best Islands to Visit in the Cook Islands and Which is Better, Rarotonga or Aitutaki?

The Best Islands for Families in the Cook Islands

By far, Rarotonga is the best island for families to visit in the Cook Islands. It has the best range of family-friendly accommodations and things to do for all ages, so no one is getting bored. The same can’t always be said for the outer islands, such as Aitutaki or Atiu, which only have a handful of family-friendly activities. Most of your time on these islands will be relaxing on picture-perfect beaches.

Families with older children and teens with a little bit of intrepidness will find that the smaller outer islands of Atiu and Mangaia are particularly welcoming and a great adventure. See our family guides for the following destinations:

If they weren’t enough, the islands of Mauke and Mitiaro also have some wonderful natural and cultural attractions that families with older kids will love. Check them out in The Complete Travel Guide to Mauke and The Complete Travel Guide to Mitiaro.

Again, be sure to check out The Best Islands to Visit in the Cook Islands for more of a comparison.

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How to Get Around the Cook Islands

The distance between islands in the Cook Islands is rather substantial, leaving very few options for island-hopping. Once you have arrived on each of the islands, however, getting around is made extremely easy, whether it’s the good public transport system and vehicle rentals on Rarotonga or your hosts on the outer islands simply renting out their car for your family to explore at leisure.

Domestic Flights and Charter Flights

There is one airline in the Cook Islands running scheduled and charter flights between nine islands in the Cook Islands. Learn more in Your Guide to Interisland Flights and A Guide to Plane Charters.

Car Rental

Renting a car is the most popular way for families to get around each of the islands, whether it’s for ultimate freedom or because it’s the only choice on some of the outer islands. Find out everything you need to know about hiring in What You Need to Hire a Car in the Cook Islands.

Rarotonga Bus

Rarotonga is the only island in the Cooks with a bus service. It is a cheap and frequent service with two buses revolving around the island in opposite directions at the same time. Check it out in The Bus in Rarotonga: Bus Fares, Timetable & More.

Scooter Rental

A popular method for locals to get around, scooters are worth a quick mention but are not recommended for families due to safety issues (and lack of storage space). See the 10 Tips for Riding a Scooter in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands if you’re interested.

While those are the main ways to get around the Cook Islands, you can dive into all of your options, including some eco-friendly transport, in the Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© CookIslandsPocketGuide.com

Where to Stay: Family Accommodation in the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands has a broad and impressive range of holiday accommodations, from five-star resorts to humble holiday homes. Most accommodations are boutique, with only a few large resorts on Rarotonga, as well as are for the mid-range to the luxury market. But there are a few budget options if push comes to shove.

Note that many accommodations on Rarotonga and the Aitutaki are adults-only or only allow guests over the age of 12. Be sure to double-check with accommodation providers if it’s unclear whether kids can stay.

Take a look at accommodation styles across the Cook Islands in The BEST Cook Islands Accommodations: Where to Stay and find out more about choosing family stays in How to Pick the Best Family-Friendly Accommodation in the Cook Islands.

Family-Friendly Resorts

Resorts are a popular choice for a Rarotonga family holiday, especially considering that they provide all of the food and entertainment, making things easier on mum and dad. Some resorts have babysitting services and kids’ clubs, as well as complimentary watersports rentals. Resorts offer a range of accommodation, from hotel-style rooms sleeping a whole family to spacious multi-bedroom bungalows. Check out some examples in the 20 Best Family Resorts in the Cook Islands.

Self-Contained Villas and Apartments

Sometimes confused with resorts, villas and apartments are very similar in their services: often with a pool and/or watersports equipment, but rooms are typically multi-room villas with cooking facilities instead of a restaurant on-site. While most can be found on Rarotonga, villas and apartments can also be found in Aitutaki, AtiuMangaia and Mauke. Many are also listed in the 20 Best Family Accommodations in the Cook Islands, but additional examples can be found in the 25 Best Villas in the Cook Islands and 10 Best Holiday Apartments in the Cook Islands.

Holiday Homes and Private Villas

Holiday homes and private villas present a more independent holiday for families. This type of accommodation has all your homely amenities, such as kitchen and laundry facilities, so you can keep the family routine going. Some holiday homes and villas will have luxurious holiday extras, such as a private swimming pool and watersports equipment. Holiday homes can only be found in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Check out examples of holiday homes for families in the 20 Best Holiday Homes in the Cook Islands and 25 Best Villas with a Private Pool in the Cook Islands.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© DK - Cook Islands Tourism

Things to Do in the Cook Islands with Kids

Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to do in the Cook Islands than drink cocktails and sit by the pool. The Cook Islands exceeds in adventure, relaxation and culture, providing a generous mix of water and inland experiences. There’s so much to do that we could hardly fit it all into our 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands!

When it comes to experiences for all ages, our top recommendations include:

  • Lagoon cruises – Visit uninhabited islets, snorkel and enjoy delicious local food
  • Snorkelling – Snorkel in the lagoons or join sea scooter tours
  • Kayaking SUP – Join tours or hire watersports equipment to explore the lagoons
  • Island nights – Cultural show with local food
  • Culture tours – Learn how to make Cook Islander food, take part in traditions and more
  • Natural attractions – Explore caves, waterfalls, rock formations and more
  • Kids’ clubs – Let the kids have their fun while you have yours
  • Beaches – Hermit crab hunting, sandcastles and swimming
  • Mini golf – Good competitive fun
  • Eco-tours – Connect with nature through reef walks and more…

… And there’s much more where those came from in the 40 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands with Kids! Or if you’re just visiting Raro, check out the 30 Things to Do on Rarotonga with Kids.

Fun Facts for Kids

Before you get started on your trip to the Cook Islands, get the kids involved by teaching them some fun facts about the Cook Islands! We’ve compiled some in the Fun Facts About the Cook Islands for Kids so you can make your own trivia.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© Lara Hotz - Cook Islands Tourism

Food in the Cook Islands

All kinds of cuisine are represented in the Cook Islands, especially on Rarotonga which is best described as “island cosmopolitan”. With that, you’ll hardly struggle to find food that the whole family will love. What’s more, self-catering is easy to manage with grocery stores found on most islands that people visit.

Restaurants and Cafes

Restaurants serve international dishes, including Asian, European and American, while local dishes are best tried at “island nights” or on certain food tours. While buffets have children’s rates, note that kids’ menus are not too common in the Cook Islands, so you might have to get creative with “snack menus” and the like.

There are a few cafes and restaurants on Aitutaki, while food is experienced on the outer islands through your hosts’ homecooked meals – probably not the best idea if you have picky eaters in the tribe. Browse restaurants and cafes in The Food Guide to Rarotonga and The Food Guide to Aitutaki.

Self-Catering

Self-catering is made easy on Rarotonga and Aitutaki with plenty of accommodations with cooking facilities, as well as supermarkets, convenience stores and roadside fruit stalls to pick up supplies. Baby products are also easy to come by with plenty of baby food, nappies and more imported from New Zealand. If you have specific brands of baby food you’d like to stick to, you can bring them to the Cook Islands (see Taking Food to the Cook Islands). Check out the A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in the Cook Islands for everything you need to know about a self-catering holiday. Plus, check out The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for restaurant and grocery store prices.

Special Diets

Vegetarian options are widely available across Rarotonga but less so on other islands. Specific dietary needs, like veganism and coeliacs, are hard to cater for. Check out our advice in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Vegans & Vegetarians, as well as The Gluten-Free Guide to the Cook Islands. For many special diets, it’s best to self-cater.

Food and Water Safety

Most tourist accommodations on Rarotonga and Aitutaki have access to safe drinking water, whether it’s tap water through a UV-filtration system or a jug of filtered water at reception. There are also filtered and treated public water stations on the roadsides. Finding clean drinking water on the outer islands is a little more challenging. See Is the Water Safe to Drink in the Cook Islands? for more advice. Food in the Cook Islands is generally cooked to safe hygiene standards, so there’s not much to worry about there, but check out Cook Islands Safety Tips for additional advice.

What Food to Try

And what are the foods worth trying in the Cook Islands? Look out for the items listed in Traditional Rarotongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands and 10 Drinks in the Cook Islands You HAVE to Try!

For all things “food” in the Cook Islands, including markets to attend, foodie tours, restaurant recommendations and more, head to The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More.

The Complete Travel Guide to the Cook Islands for Families 👪 [2022]© CookIslandsPocketGuide.com

Typical Costs and Budget for a Family Trip to the Cook Islands

Families all travel very differently. Therefore, making a precise budget for everyone is an impossible task. Nevertheless, you can work out your own needs, thus budget, by simply looking at the typical prices listed below or in our article, How Much Does a Trip to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Cost?

The Cost of Accommodation

Note that some accommodations have “kids stay free” deals. Find out more in the 30 Tips for Your Family Rarotonga & Cook Islands Vacation with Kids.

The Cost of Food

  • Main breakfast meal – NZ$10-$29
  • Main lunch meal – NZ$15-$35
  • Main dinner meal – NZ$14-$49
  • Kids’ meal – NZ$7-$16.50*
  • Island night buffet and show – NZ$60-$130
  • Small coffee – NZ$5-$6
  • Bottle of beer – NZ$6.50-$8
  • Glass of wine – NZ$12
  • Cocktail – NZ$11-$21
  • Mocktail/Smoothie – NZ$7-$16
  • Soft drink – NZ$5-$6

The cost of supermarket food can be found in The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

* Different children’s menus have different options depending on the restaurant, for instance, resort restaurants are likely to have a main + dessert menu for kids (around NZ$16) while kids’ mains alone are usually around NZ$7-$10 when available. Not all restaurants have kids’ menus, however, but smaller portion menus like “$15-$16 snack pizzas” are usually a good way to go.

The Cost of Tours and Activities

The Cost of Transport

* There’s a negligible discount for children on domestic flights. For this reason, it’s best to base kids’ airfare budgets on adult fares.

Spending Money Budget for the Cook Islands

Here are a few averages for a daily budget for Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. These include food, activities, transport and miscellaneous expenses. Each price is per adult per day; half the budget for each child in the group.

  • Budget daily budget: NZ$130
  • Mid-range daily budget: NZ$250
  • Luxury daily budget: NZ$460+

We break down the budgets further in How Much Spending Money Do You Need for the Cook Islands?

More About Planning a Family Holiday to the Cook Islands

That’s it for our complete travel guide to the Cook Islands for families, but is by no means the end of our Cook Islands advice! Check out the following articles for more tips for families:

And if you simply can’t get enough Cook Islands wisdom, head over to the 30 Tips for Travelling in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

Happy travels and thanks for checking out this travel guide to the Cook Islands for families!

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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