What are the Least Travelled Islands in the Cook Islands?
Looking for a real adventure? The islands outside of Rarotonga and Aitutaki feel a world away from their more Westernised counterparts. The least-visited islands in the Cook Islands start with uninhabited islands in the Southern Group and continue to the lesser-visited lagoons of the far-flung Northern Group. Want to know more about the less-travelled islands of the Cook Islands? Take a look at the list below!
Tremendously hard to even land on, Takutea easily tops this list of the least-travelled islands in the Cook Islands! Smashed by waves and fringed by an enclosed reef, this tiny island in the Southern Group is so hard to get onto that it’s been mainly left to the birds and sea turtles. Yet, with the jungle-clad uplifted atoll just visible from the island of Atiu (see point #13), Takutea is an oh-so-tempting excursion. Learn more about it in The Complete Travel Guide to Takutea.
Another one of the Cook Islands’ uninhabited islands is Manuae. Despite its relative proximity to Aitutaki 101km (63 miles) away, rarely anyone ventures here. The island is actually two islands in a small lagoon: to the west is Manuae and to the east is Te Au O Tu. Those wishing to see this stunning piece of paradise for themselves will have many hurdles to jump. Find out more about those hurdles, as well as more interesting history about the island, in The Complete Travel Guide to Manuae.
Pure white sandy islets surrounding an azure lagoon and far-flung between the Southern and Northern islands, Palmerston is certainly one of the lesser-travelled islands of the Cook Islands. Despite being inhabited, it is so unlike its sisters in the Southern Group by having absolutely no tourism industry. The population is tiny too with around 35 inhabitants who can all retrace their lineage to the same Englishman that founded the island and made it his mission to populate it with his three Polynesian wives. Learn more about the story in The Complete Travel Guide to Palmerston.
Heading to the less-travelled island group of the Northern Group, the least travelled of all is Suwarrow with a population of two (and that’s only for half the year). It is the Cook Island’s only national park: the ultimate place to get “marooned on a deserted island” that even some have recreated and written books about. The only ways to get to Suwarrow are via yacht or on the extremely infrequent cargo ship. Find out more in The Complete Travel Guide to Suwarrow.
Tiny, remote and unique amongst the Northern Group of the Cook Islands, Nassau is a small coral cay sitting 8.5m (28ft) above sea level. Unlike its Northern Group brothers and sisters, Nassau has no lagoon. What it lacks in a lagoon, however, it makes up in dense coconut forests and lush gardens, giving Nassau a reputation as a “Garden of Eden”. The only way to get to Nassau is via Pukapuka (see point #7), which Nassau is considered a “suburb” of. Learn more about Nassau and how to visit using The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau.
Like Nassau is the suburb of Pukapuka, Rakahanga is sort of the suburb (or more like a neighbouring town) of Manihiki (see point #8). The rectangular lagoon is only accessible by boat from Manihiki or less frequently via cargo ship from Rarotonga. The tidy little village on the southern island of the lagoon is known for their finely woven rito hats and mats, as well as one of the last refuges for coconut crabs – the largest species of crab in the world. Find out more about the lagoon in The Complete Travel Guide to Rakahanga.
The remotest of all of the Cook Islands, Pukapuka is as far as you can get from Rarotonga. It’s closer, in fact, to its South Pacific cousins of Tokelau and Samoa. The result is an interesting way of life with the island having its own unique dialect, as well as a much stronger sense of community than in the rest of the Cook Islands. The villages on the lagoon are known for moving locations every few months to allow nature to regenerate. Learn more about it in The Complete Travel Guide to Pukapuka.
Although hardly explored compared to some of the other islands in the Cooks, Manihiki is still one of the most-visited islands in the Northern Group. It is known for its back pearls, a rare industry only found in two countries in the South Pacific (and Manihiki alone represents the Cook Islands in that count). If you’re looking for a less-travelled island in the Cook Islands that isn’t a pain to get to (except for the airfare), then you’ll enjoy the fact that it has scheduled flights with the local airline. Find out more in The Complete Travel Guide to Manihiki.
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) yet, it’s one of the Cook Islands’ lesser-visited islands. Most famously, Penrhyn is known for its crafts. The islands here are the source of most of the rito woven hats, earrings and fans that you see people wearing all over Rarotonga. Find out how to visit using The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn.
Mitiaro might have a tourist industry but it’s so small that you’ll truly feel like you’re the only one that’s ever visited. The 22.3km² (13.9mi²) island has a population of around 155 residents, a significant percentage of which opens their homes to visitors providing the only accommodation on the island. The lucky few that come here have the option to delve into its cave pools and discover its secluded beaches. Check out the island in The Complete Travel Guide to Mitiaro.
Lying near Mitiaro, Mauke is one of the smallest of the Southern Cook Islands. The uplifted coral atoll is rich in fertile soil, giving it the name the “Garden Island“, which is clear to see with the lush jungle bouncing from the “makatea”. In the fissures of the island’s makatea are various caves, typically with a refreshing pool at the bottom, while the coastal makatea is separated by pockets of serene and secluded white-sand beaches. Sounds like the dream? Learn how to visit this less-travelled island of the Cook Islands in The Complete Travel Guide to Mauke.
The oldest island in the Cook Islands and one of the oldest in the South Pacific, the history of Mangaia can be felt even as you sight the terraces of “makatea” ringing around a central plateau when your plane comes into landing. Exploring the ancient coral atoll is what an escape to Mangaia is all about, from the highest lookouts to deep down in the island’s caves, the latter of which hides glittering limestone and the preserved remains of Mangaian ancestors… Check out this less-visited island in The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia.
A whopping 1% of tourists who come to the Cook Islands visit the island of Atiu, which makes it the final and most travelled island on this list of the less-travelled islands of the Cook Islands. Atiu is another one of many Southern Group islands that is an uplifted coral atoll, characterised by its rugged limestone terrain known locally as “makatea”. The traditional name of Atiu, “Enuamanu“, pretty much sums up what the island is about, meaning “Land of Birds”. Discover more about the island in The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu.
More About the Less-Travelled Islands of the Cook Islands
That’s it for the list of the least-travelled islands of the Cook Islands. For more exciting expeditions to these tiny islands in the South Pacific, check out the following guides:
- 10 Best Things to Do in the Northern Cook Islands
- Cook Islands Transport Guide: 15 Best Ways to Get Around the Cook Islands
- The Best Islands to Visit in the Cook Islands.
Finally, plan all the ins and outs of a trip to the Cook Islands with The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.