Love a Little Extra Paradise: The Outer Islands of the Cook Islands

If you are planning a visit to the Cook Islands and you are looking for something off the beaten path, consider one of the outer islands.

The CICC Church on Mauke, by Cook Islands Tourism

Mauke is “Akatokamanava” which means, “where my heart rests”, is a fitting name for this Garden of Eden. Often described as the “garden island” of the southern Cook Islands. The locals take enormous pride in their home gardens.

Hire a motor scooter or take a pleasant trek on the island’s 11.8 miles of flat coastal coral road.  About 300 people reside on Mauke, so passing motorists in the unsettled areas of the coastal road is highly unlikely. The small coves and golden beaches that edge the island are also unlikely to have anyone else visiting, so privacy and seclusion is pretty much guaranteed.

Mitiaro is a small southern island with many natural features and gentle, friendly people. The island offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves completely in to the island way of life. One of the most distinguishing features of the island is its two lakes – Roto Nui (Big Lake) and Roto Iti (Small Lake) both of which make up a large part of Mitiaro.  Keen hikers will love exploring the island, especially the stunning underground caves and clear lagoons. The 200 local residents fish, farm and live their lives as they have for the past 50 years. Mitiaro is an island that appeals to the independent traveler looking to sample traditional island life.

Fishing on Mitiaro, by Cook Islands Tourism
Mitiaro, by Cook Islands Tourism

Mangaia is the most southerly of the Cook Islands, and is believed to be the oldest island in the pacific. It is an ancient volcanic island steeped in legends and possessing serene, remarkable natural beauty. Unspoiled and unhurried, the 500 residents offers astonishing beauty and culture and totally off the beaten tourist track, leaving it unspoiled and completely authentic.

Mangaia, by Cook Islands Tourism

Manihiki is an atoll made up of a cluster of 40 tiny coral islets, which form a ring around a huge, clear deep blue lagoon. Providing a true escape from the modern world, Manihiki has pretty much remained at a standstill for the last 30 years. The island is the pearl farming center of the Cook Island, producing legendary black pearls. The deep clear waters is home to black lipped pearl shells which are harvested each year producing quality pearls for high fashion jewelry exported around the world.

Manihiki, by Cook Islands Tourism
Manihiki, by Cook Islands Tourism

Penrhyn is the northernmost island of the Cook Islands group that features an enclosed water lagoon that covers  90 square miles. There are two settlements on islets at opposite ends of the lagoon, Omoka and Tetautua.

Rakahanga has two main islands and seven islets surround the Rakahanga lagoon, which is picturesque and unspoiled. Access is only available by inter-island boat from its sister island Manihiki, situated 26 miles to the southeast.

Rakahanga, Cook Islands Tourism

Pupapuka is located 714 miles from Rarotonga is untouched and secluded. Its remoteness has helped keep the local traditions and culture unchanged for centuries.

Suwarrow is the first National Park in the Cook Islands and is uninhabited, except for two caretakers who live on the island From April to November. It is also an untouched breeding area for turtles, seabirds and crabs.

Englishman, William Marsters, who settled there in 1863 with his three wives, made the island of Palmerston famous. Sixty descendants live on the island, which has six lovely motu and a large blue lagoon 6.8 miles wide.

Suwarrow, by Cook Islands Tourism

Manuae is an uninhabited nature reserve,situated 62 miles south-east of Aitutaki. The stunning lagoon can be viewed from the air when flying from Aitutaki to Atiu.

Manuae, by Cook Islands Tourism

Takutea is home to numerous seabirds who thrive on the uninhabited island just a few miles northeast of Atiu. Permission for visits is required from the Trust Chairman and High Chief Rongomatane Ariki.

Takutea, by Cook Islands Tourism

Getting There

Air New Zealand offers a direct service from Los Angeles on Saturdays, returning back to on a Friday.  Air Rarotonga offers flights to some of the outer islands, with ferry connections on to some of the islands without an airstrip.

For more information about the Cook Islands, visit Down Under Answers.

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Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won't let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.

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