The Famous Locations in the Cook Islands
What are the most famous places in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands? From the most popular tourist attractions to places that have literally been featured on TV, we go through the top famous locations of the Cook Islands right here!
1. Muri Lagoon
If there’s only one image you’ve seen of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, it’s probably something about the Muri Lagoon. Located on the east coast of Rarotonga, the Muri Lagoon is the widest part of Rarotonga’s lagoon which features four little islets (motu). The placid waters are a watersports paradise with lagoon cruises, kitesurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkelling and kayaking available, while the restaurants, cafes and resorts lining the sands make it easy to replenish. Check out more of Rarotonga’s most iconic sights in the Sightseeing on Rarotonga: Top 10 Sights on Rarotonga.
Location: Muri, east coast of Rarotonga.
2. One Foot Island (Tapuaetai)
Easily the most famous island on the Aitutaki Lagoon is One Foot Island, also known as Tapuaetai. Many lagoon cruises stop here for a barbecue lunch, leaving you plenty of time to explore the sights. A highlight is the post office where you can get your passport stamped and pick up other souvenirs. The island is accessible with Bishop’s Cruises, Teking Lagoon Cruises, Kia Orana Cruise, The Vaka Cruise and Platinum Cruising – more details of which can be found in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki.
Location: Southeast side of the Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki. See the links above for operators to take you there. Water taxis are also available, as outlined in our Aitutaki Transport Guide.
3. Moturakau, Motukitiu, Rapota and Muritapua
If your idea of “famous” is that it was on TV, then you need to scout out the islands of Moturakau, Motukitiu, Rapota and Muritapua. These islands were used in the filming of the US TV show, Survivor: Cook Islands. Moturakau also featured heavily in the British TV show, Shipwrecked. Luckily these uninhabited motu in the Aitutaki Lagoon are not too difficult to get to, especially Moturakau which is visited on some lagoon cruises – find out which in the 10 Best Lagoon Cruises on Aitutaki and the 10 Best Tours of Aitutaki.
Location: Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki. See the links above for operators to take you there. Water taxis are also available, as outlined in our Aitutaki Transport Guide.
4. Te Rua Manga (The Needle)
Piercing the sky at the highest point on Rarotonga, it’s easy to see why this famous attraction is more commonly known as “The Needle“. The official name of this mountain peaked with a breccia spire is Te Rua Manga and can be accessed on the Cross Island Trek – the most famous hike in the Cook Islands. Either tackle the 4-6-hour hike yourself or take an insightful guided walk with Maunga Tours, as highlighted in the 8 Best Guided Walks in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Rarotonga. The quickest way to The Needle is from the southern end of the Cross Island Track, which is at the end of Papua Road, approximately 1.6km (1 mile) from the main road (Ara Tapu). Guided tours have transfers included to take you to the Cross-Island Track.
5. Avana Point
Famous in history and to any New Zealander or Cook Islander (which makes up most of the travellers visiting Rarotonga), Avana Point is where the Maori set off in their canoes (vaka) to make the migration to Aotearoa New Zealand. The site has a memorial with commemorative stones set in the circle listing the names of each vaka that departed here. Many New Zealand Maori can trace their heritage back to these vaka from Rarotonga. Check out more places that are historically famous in the 10 Best Historical Sites in the Cook Islands.
Location: A gravel roadside clearing on the coastal side of the Main Road (Ara Tapu) opposite the Ngatangiia CICC Church, Ngatangiia, east side of Rarotonga.
6. Black Rock
A volcanic outcrop among the sand, Black Rock is not only famous for being a spiritual site for Cook Islanders but a glorious place to snorkel or reef walk. The rock is said to be where Rarotonga’s spirits depart to the afterlife, which you can learn more about on the interpretation panel erected in front of the rock. At low tide, the rock pools are interesting to investigate, while it’s also a fun snorkelling spot at high tide. Check out more places to snorkel in The Best Snorkelling in Rarotonga: Top 7 Places to Snorkel.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Nikao, northwest side of Rarotonga.
7. Punanga Nui Market
The biggest market and community event in the Cook Islands, the Punanga Nui Market is easily one of the most famous places in Rarotonga. Anyone who’s anyone knows to be there on a Saturday morning! The island’s passionate artists, chefs, growers and gatherers come together in a whirlwind of tropical produce, smoothies, barbecued treats, pareu (sarongs) of all colours and black pearls. Check out more markets in the 5 Best Markets in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), west end of Avarua, north side of Rarotonga.
8. Honeymoon Island
Famous among kitesurfers, Honeymoon Island is another one of the better-known lagoon motu of Aitutaki. Not only is this sandy island surrounded by shallow waters a hub for kitesurfing in the kitesurfing season, but it also offers incredible sightseeing. Keep an eye out for turtles and enjoy amazing snorkelling spots among coral near here, as outlined in Sightseeing on Aitutaki: Top 10 Sights on Aitutaki. Honeymoon Island is accessible with Teking Lagoon Cruises and Kia Orana Cruise, while water taxis and charters are also available with Black Pearl Charters and Wet & Wild – find out more in the 10 Best Snorkelling Tours in Aitutaki.
Location: Western side of the Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki. See the links above for operators to take you there.
9. Matai Shipwreck
Everyone loves a good shipwreck, of which there are many scattered around the atolls of the Cook Islands! The most famous shipwreck in the Cook Islands, however, is a British cargo ship that wrecked in the Avarua Harbour on Christmas Day in 1916. Admire “The Boiler” of the Matai Shipwreck poking out of the ocean from shore at Trader Jacks or swim out to ship yourself. Caution: Only strong swimmers with fins and snorkelling gear should make the journey – and at low tide with other people. The swim is about 500m (1,600ft) from shore. Alternatively, the Matai Shipwreck can be admired on Raro Reef Sub and snorkelling tours with Ariki Adventures and KiteSUP.
Location: Trader Jacks, Main Road (Ara Tapu), the western end of Avarua, north side of Rarotonga.
The island that’s famous for the literature it has inspired, yet is one of the hardest of the Cook Islands to get to, Suwarrow is our final famous place in the Cook Islands. American travel writer Robert John Frisbie and his children spent almost a year living in Suwarrow, whose story including surviving a devastating cyclone can be read in The Island of Desire. He also wrote The Book of Puka-Puka, which are more stories from the Cook Islands. These books also inspired the writings of New Zealander, Tom Neale, who lived on Suwarrow at three separate times during his lifetime for a total of 15 years between 1952 and 1977. His works can be read in An Island to Oneself.
More Famous Places in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our top list of the most famous places in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, but they aren’t the only places you’ll want to visit! Check out these other guides for more famous tourist attractions:
- Sightseeing in the Cook Islands: Top 10 Sights in the Cook Islands
- The Top 10 Natural Wonders in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- Where to Take Pictures in the Cook Islands: 10 Best Photography Spots
Finally, add more to the bucket list using the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List. Plus, work out all the logistics of planning a Cook Islands getaway in The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.