How to Save Money at Restaurants, Supermarkets and More in the Cook Islands
Food is typically the third-highest expense for holidays in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands but it’s also where you have the highest disparity in costs. Eat out at upscale restaurants every day for every meal, including drinks, and you could be spending NZ$150 per person per day; that’s NZ$1,050 for a week! If you buy groceries from the supermarkets and roadside stalls, for instance, and cook all your own meals and you can reduce the cost to as little as NZ$20 a day. We have plenty of tips on how to strike the right balance of enjoying amazing food while sticking to a budget in this list of ways to save money on food in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands.
Want to know the typical cost of food in the Cook Islands? Head over to The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Restaurant & Grocery Prices.
1. Eat a Big Breakfast at Your Resort
If you’re staying at a resort or accommodation that includes a buffet breakfast, then go nuts! Enjoy a large breakfast of pancakes, toast, muffins, fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli, pastries and sometimes even cooked options. That way, you won’t feel the need to snack or even have lunch throughout the day. That’s a huge saving made already!
2. Have Your “Resort Dinner” at Lunch
Some resort and fine dining restaurants are well worth experiencing but this comes at the expense of high-priced evening meals. If you’re tempted by what they offer, how about having lunch there instead? Prices are cheaper for lunch while usually offering similar, if not the same, dishes to what they serve at dinner. See some of our recommended restaurants in The 10 Best Restaurants, The 10 Best Restaurants on Aitutaki and 5 Best Fine Dining Restaurants in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
3. Scout Out the Cheap Eats!
There are plenty of local eateries, food trucks and takeaways in Rarotonga and Aitutaki where you’ll pick up a meal for about half the price of a resort restaurant! There are too many to list here, so check out The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga and The Top Cheap Eats on Aitutaki for recommendations.
4. Consider Self-Catering
We’ve already talked about how food can be one of the highest costs in your travel budget. The cheapest way to eat in the Cook Islands by far is self-catering, so any meal that you can make yourself will save you a ton. Stay in accommodation with cooking facilities and follow the advice in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to learn about where to shop.
5. Shop for Produce at the Market or Roadside Fruit Stalls
A way you can save further on self-catering is by picking up local produce from markets, such as the Punanga Nui Market on Rarotonga, and fruit stalls on the roadside. Note that markets only happen on certain days of the week (although some fruit-sellers can still be found at the Punanga Nui Market throughout the week, so it’s worth having a look), while it’s best to spot roadside fruit sellers on your morning drive. Check out the 5 Best Markets in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for market dates.
6. Refill Your Water Bottle
Whatever you do, don’t waste money (and kill the environment) by buying bottles of water throughout your trip. There really is no need in Rarotonga and Aitutaki! Not only do most accommodations have filtered and treated tap water that’s safe to drink and refill your water bottle, but there are filtered public water stations dotted around these islands. To remove any doubts about the water you’re drinking, we recommend getting a reusable water bottle with its own water purification filter, such as Lifestraw.
For more tips on having access to water, check out Is the Water Safe to Drink in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands?
7. Ask if the Water is Bottled
You might have the habit of asking for water when dining at a restaurant or cafe, just because it’s often free in other countries. This is not often the case in the Cook Islands. If you ask for water, you’re likely to get bottled water that you have to pay for. Be specific when you’re asking for water to go with your meal.
8. Have Your Drink at Happy Hour
Having a cocktail or two is all part of the holiday fun, but it is certainly not a good way to save money. If you have to have a tipple though, either aim for happy hour using our Happy Hour List or buy some drinks from the liquor stores and make your own martini! The liquor stores in Avarua are cheaper than the duty-free on arrival into Rarotonga – just a heads up.
9. Don’t Look for Western Food
Western food, particularly European dishes and European restaurants tend to be the most expensive options when dining out in the Cook Islands. Instead, opt for Asian or local dishes for more affordable prices.
10. Know the Restaurant Specials and Themed Days
Keep an eye out for cafes and restaurants offering themed specials on different days of the week. Of course, restaurants are changing their specials all the time, but some popular ones on Rarotonga are the NZ$3.50 burger specials at Palace Takeaways on Wednesdays, cheap food at the Muri Night Market on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evening, and Wilson’s Beach Bar & Restaurant at the Castaway Resort has a different theme every night of the week!
11. Share a Meal at Restaurants with Huge Portions
Some restaurants are notorious for their huge portions, such as Charlie’s Cafe with its oversized sandwiches. While these meals are pretty affordable to start with, they can easily be shared between a couple for lunch or dinner. Learn more about Charlie’s in the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga.
12. Go Vegetarian
Meat and fish are notorious for hiking up the cost of meals anywhere in the world and it’s no different in the Cook Islands. If you want to save some money and make a more sustainable choice for dining on your holiday, go vegetarian (or, you know, at least a couple of vegetarian meals if you can’t bear the idea). There are some delicious vegetarian burgers, pizzas, tacos, sandwiches, pasta dishes and much more found around Rarotonga, so check out Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants for inspiration.
13. Pay Cash to Avoid Credit Card Fees
When it comes to paying for food in the Cook Islands, we recommend paying with cash to avoid card fees. Restaurants and supermarkets charge an extra 2.5-3% on all purchases made by foreign bank cards, which certainly adds up after a few purchases! Bring some New Zealand Dollars to the Cook Islands with you to start your first few days then withdraw enough cash at Rarotonga and Aitutaki’s ATMs to see you through a few days after. Make sure you secure your cash, however, as petty theft does happen on Rarotonga.
Learn more about paying your way through the Cook Islands using What is the Best Way to Pay in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands? and keep your cash safe following our Cook Islands Safety Tips.
14. Shop on Rarotonga for Snacks for the Outer Islands
If you’re heading to the outer islands (not including Aitutaki, which has plenty of grocery stores and supplies), do some food shopping for snacks and any other essentials before jetting off! Groceries are in very short supply on the outer islands. Although many homestays and guesthouses provide all of your meals, if you get a bit snacky during active days, you’ll be thankful to have something available.
Learn more about the infrastructure available in the outer islands using the Information, Shops & Services in the Cook Islands.
15. Do Your Research
If you’ve made it all the way to point #15 on this list of tips to save money on food in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, then you probably don’t need this tip but we’ll tell you anyway… Doing your research about where to eat and where to buy food in the Cook Islands before you travel ensures that you’re not scrambling and paying more than you need to once you arrive on the islands. Luckily, we have money-saving tips for food right across Cook Islands Pocket Guide!
Head to The Complete Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands for more ways to shave off the cents.
What About Taking Your Own Food to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands?
You might have got to the end of this list of tips and thought: What about taking food to Rarotonga? Well, before you start filling your “chilly bin”, know that taking your own food to the Cook Islands isn’t exactly necessary nor will it save you that much money. Prices on Rarotonga really aren’t that much more expensive than in New Zealand – the country where most food items will even pass through biosecurity – as most food items are imported from New Zealand anyway.
In short, unless you have snacks that you can’t live without or a special diet that is usually difficult to manage when overseas (although, check The Cook Islands for Vegans & Vegetarians and The Gluten-Free Guide to the Cook Islands may help you out), we don’t recommend going through the hassle of bringing food to the Cook Islands. You can make your own judgement, however, by checking out our guide, Taking Food to Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: What You Need to Know.
More Ways to Save Money on Food in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of the best ways to save money on food in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. For more ways to shave off the cents when it comes to wining and dining, check out the following guides:
- The Cost of Food in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands: Restaurant & Grocery Prices
- The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More
- Is Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Expensive?
Finally, get more frugal tips from The Complete Backpacking Guide to the Cook Islands on a Budget.