A List of the Cook Islands
Want to learn more about the Cook Islands? This list of the Cook Islands is an excellent place to start. The Cook Islands are home to 15 main islands, some are volcanic islands, some are sand cays and many are coral atolls with many small islands and islets bordering lagoons. These islands are split into two island groups, the most-visited Southern Group and the remote Northern Group.
So what are the 15 islands in the Cook Islands? Find out below in the list of islands in the Cook Islands.
Cook Islands Southern Group
The largest island in the Cook Islands and the one most people know about, Rarotonga is a good place to start when talking about the 15 islands of the Cook Islands. It is the most populated island with around 75% of the Cook Islands population living there. The volcanic island with a rugged rainforest interior and lined with white sand beaches is also the most visited of the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is home to the Cooks’ only international airport, so if you’re coming from overseas, chances are you’ll stop by here.
Check out what “Raro” is all about in The Complete Travel Guide to Rarotonga.
Lying 264 km (164 miles) north of Rarotonga is the Cook Islands’ second-most populated island and fifth-largest island, Aitutaki. This island, too, is a popular holiday destination with its main island and 15 islets lining a large lagoon with invitingly clear waters. There are a few accommodations and lagoon cruises on the island to tempt you.
Learn more about Aitutaki in The Complete Travel Guide to Aitutaki.
One of several Southern Group Cook Islands that is a raised coral atoll, Atiu is characterised by its jagged fossilised coral formations (makatea) that have created all sorts of caves on the island. But caves are just a small part of this surprisingly diverse island with lush coastal forest, swamps and inland lakes. The eco-lovers paradise with tropical bird species to look out for, while the island is also the Cook Islands’ centre for coffee-making – yes, really!
Learn more about visiting Atiu in The Complete Travel Guide to Atiu.
Fast becoming another popular island for travellers to explore, Mangaia is the Cook Islands’ second-largest island, located around 203 km (126 miles) southeast of Rarotonga. It’s thought to be one of the oldest islands in the South Pacific, awash in deep caves, huge fossilised coral cliffs and steeped in history with old marae (Cook Islander meeting grounds), burial chambres and missionary-era churches.
Discover more about Mangaia in The Complete Travel Guide to Mangaia.
A neighbour of Atiu, and much like Atiu, Mitiaro is a raised coral atoll awash in limestone caves with a highlight being the cave swimming pools with stalactites overhead. Locals live much like they always have (with a few modern conveniences, of course), so Mitiaro is a great place to connect with the local culture.
Want to visit one of the least-visited islands in the Southern Group? Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Mitiaro to plan your trip.
The lush neighbour of Atiu and Mitiaro, Mauke is a densely forested island and home to only around 260 people. A tiki tour around the island will bring you to small beaches and photogenic coastal archways (formed by limestone, of course). But no visitor can miss out on a swim in the impressive Vai Tano Cave. This is the place to come for a tranquil Cook Islands escape.
Learn more about Mauke in The Complete Travel Guide to Mauke.
Two uninhabited islands make up Manuae, located around 100km (60 miles) southeast of Aitutaki. The islands are a sanctuary for birds and sea turtles and are rarely visited by travellers. Nevertheless, the lagoon and islands look stunning from above when taking the flight between Aitutaki and Atiu.
Learn more about this fascinating island in The Complete Travel Guide to Manuae.
Uninhabited apart from the seabirds that thrive on this island, Takutea is visible from Atiu. The wildlife sanctuary is home to tropicbirds and frigates. Access to the island requires permission from the Trust that administers the sanctuary, as well s the High Chief Rongomatane Ariki.
Intrigued about Takutea? Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Takutea.
The most remote island in the Southern Group, Palmerston is only really visited by yachties and some cruise ships (find out which in the 7 Best Cruises that Go to the Cook Islands). There are six islands scattered across Palmerston’s vast lagoon; a real paradise for the lucky few that make it here.
Learn more about Palmerston in The Complete Travel Guide to Palmerston.
Cook Islands Northern Group
Moving to the much more remote and lesser-visited islands of the Northern Group, Suwarrow is perhaps the most famous as the Cook Islands’ only national park, the Suwarrow National Park. It is an important breeding ground for turtles and seabirds and is uninhabited by people apart from some caretakers that live on the island during the yachting season (April to November).
Discover more about this island in The Complete Travel Guide to Suwarrow.
One of the most remote islands in the Cook Islands (and the South Pacific, for that matter), Pukapuka is a world of its own. We don’t just mean in its beautiful lagoon and island landscape but in its traditions and culture that are distinct from the rest of the South Pacific – they even have their own language, Pukapukan, which is an official language in the Cook Islands. Despite being 1,150 km (714.5 miles) from Rarotonga, the local airline still services Pukapuka.
Learn more about Pukapuka in The Complete Travel Guide to Pukapuka.
Pukapuka’s closest neighbour (if you can call 83 km/51.6 miles a neighbourly distance), Nassau is the only island in the Northern Group without a lagoon. The coral cay is home to only around 70 residents and can only be accessed from an inter-island boat from Pukapuka. Just getting there is an adventure!
See what else there is to discover on Nassau in The Complete Travel Guide to Nassau.
This rectangular atoll in the Northern Group shares close ties with its sister island, Manihiki, just 44 km (27 miles) south. Rakahanga, like many of the other Northern Islands, is made up of several islands surrounding a large lagoon. The lush and unspoiled islands are known for their weaving art thanks to the array of coconut palms that thrive here.
Want to know more? Check out The Complete Travel Guide to Rakahanga.
40 tiny islands (and we mean tiny) surround a massive lagoon, which is the pearl farming capital of the Cook Islands. Yes, Manihiki is famous for its black pearls where visiting to learn about the trade is a fascinating experience. Manihiki is also one of the most accessible islands in the Northern Group thanks to its airstrip at the northern tip of the atoll.
Learn more about Manihiki in The Complete Travel Guide to Manihiki.
The final island on this list of the 15 islands of Cook Islands, Penrhyn is known for its magnificent 233 km² (145 mi²) lagoon. Locals do a spot of black pearl farming here too and live on two settlements on opposite ends of the lagoon: Omoka and Tetautau.
Find out more about the islands in The Complete Travel Guide to Penrhyn.
More About the Islands of the Cook Islands
That’s it for our list of Cook Islands but just the beginning of the knowledge we have here on Cook Islands Pocket Guide! You might like to use these guides to explore more of the islands:
- The 5 Largest Islands in the Cook Islands
- A Guide to the Best Islands to Stay of the Cook Islands
- 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List
Finally, compare more of the Northern Group and Southern Group with The Complete Travel Guide to the Northern Cook Islands and The Complete Travel Guide to the Southern Cook Islands.