Last year on Cyber Monday, a deal popped up for a direct flight on Air New Zealand to the Cook Islands from LAX. It was under $400/person AND included the Skycouch (best thing ever!) so of course we booked, not really knowing anything about the islands or it ever being on our list of places to go. We finally went in August 2017 and had a blast! The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific but because you don’t cross the international date line, the time difference from LA is only 3 hours, making it a perfect destination. Our flight was at 11:30 pm both ways, so Milana slept the entire flight both ways, on the amazing Skycouch. If you don’t know what a Skycouch is, it’s basically just that, a couch. The 3 seats have foot rests that pop up, turning the row into couches. On our way there, the flight was practically empty, so the flight attendant gave us the couch in front of us as well, so we all got some great sleep before landing!
Now this is where you need to research. Both islands we visited had many hotels that weren’t kid-friendly and either didn’t allow kids at all or only kids over 12. In Rarotonga, we split our stay between the Rarotongan Beach Resort & Spa and the Edgewater Resort & Spa. While both were great, I would have much preferred to do our entire stay at Edgewater because of how kid-friendly it was, with a ton of activities for little ones.
At the Rarotongan resort, we had a villa with a king bed as well as a single bed for Milana. We also had a deck that was really close to the beach.
The beach here is beautiful, with so many fish right by the shore. Really great spot if you’re looking to snorkel right off the beach. This hotel has a decent size pool and lush grounds, filled with a ton of greenery. If you’re looking for an awesome snorkel mask for kids, I highly recommend the Octobermoon Full Snorkel Mask. The XS size fits young kids perfectly!
The second hotel we stayed at was Edgewater and we could have easily spent our entire time there! Super kid-friendly, with lots of kids, a great beach and great snorkeling. They had all sorts of kid activities throughout the day, as well as a very popular kids club. We don’t often use kid clubs but Milana loved this one and asked to go every day to play with her new friends. When we would come by early and ask if she wanted to leave, she’d tell us to go away because she was busy with friends.
Our room was beachside and overlooked the ocean. There was a pool with a small slide, perfect for little ones. And the grounds were beautiful, perfect for exploring!
The beach here was very popular for snorkeling. The hotel has snorkel masks and fins available for free to guests, which lots of people utilized.
Crab races are popular in the Cook Islands and one evening, the Edgewater held a crab race. Each crab has a number on its back and whoever gets to the finish line first, wins. People pay $2 to bet and the winner gets all of the money. It was super neat to see!
THINGS TO DO
You will need a car to get around the island! There are buses that run clockwise and counter clockwise, but they aren’t very reliable and we’ve seen people standing at the bus stop for close to an hour waiting for one. No thanks! So we rented a car that we picked up at the airport, giving us a chance to explore the area off the main drag. They drive on the opposite side of the road there from the US, so keep that in mind! One of the best beaches in Rarotonga is Muri Beach. You can park pretty much in front of any resort there, and just walk to the beach. It’s beautiful, not many people and perfect for kids.
There are also playgrounds on the island that are hard to miss if you are driving around. This one was very close to our hotel, in front of an apartment building which means lots of local kids played here.
The second playground we found was in the Avarua district, the main drag of Rarotonga. This is where you’ll find the most shopping, and a market that’s most popular on Saturday.
Right next to the playground is an ice cream stand, making it the perfect spot for families.
You will also find many pets on the island. They are the most behaved dogs and cats you will ever meet! They would politely sit and wait for something to drop from your plate. Milana loved seeing them all and wanted to bring them all home.
There are many dining options in Rarotonga, but keep in mind there are quite a few that don’t allow kids. Also, opening hours are odd at many of them, and some are closed on certain days of the week. So research before you head out! Saltwater Cafe is really good and overlooks the ocean. One of the most popular dishes on the island is fish and chips, which Milana thankfully really likes! It was really good here and they have good coffee drinks (something that is not easy to find on the island!). Keep in mind, most dinner restaurants require reservations that can be made the day of.
We also tried Vaima. I had the garlic shrimp, Dave had the seafood curry and Milana chose the pizza, after being fished out for the week!
One of the more popular ones was Mooring Fish Cafe. The food here is really good, and it overlooks the water. Great place to stop for some lunch! Of course fish and chips were on the menu so we had to try theirs. I had a BLT and Milana had a local chicken dish, from the kid’s menu. It had sweet chilis and an awesome sauce, she ate the whole thing!
The Edgewater hotel had the Spaghetti House on site so we had dinner there one evening. It was really good, so if you’re looking for Italian food definitely check them out!
One day while driving around and looking for a lunch spot, we stumbled up Cafe Maori. It had a cute patio and quite a few people dining there, so we decided to try it. At first, the menu didn’t look very appetizing since the majority of it was burgers. But I’m so glad we stayed because it was one of the best burgers we’ve ever had! They also had shakes in many flavors, which everyone was getting so we had to try one too. I highly recommend their banana shake! We had a little visitor join us at the table, can you spot who it is? (hint, it’s sitting next to Dave!) This was also the cheapest meal we had here, at around $5/burger so that was great! You will find that food here is really expensive.
If you’re looking for good coffee and a light meal, definitely head to Le Rendezvous cafe & bistro, located near the airport. This place is super cute with some really good coffee drinks, crepes, and snacks. Milana had a banana/nutella crepe, I had the ham and cheese croissant and a mocha. So good, with friendly staff. Highly recommend it!
On our last night, we had dinner at Kikau Hut. The food here is really good but the dessert is amazing! For dinner, I had a sundried tomato pasta that I shared with Milana. Dave had their ribs, which were really good. For dessert, we got the tasting platter which had a little bit of all their desserts. It was so good and a great way to end the trip!
THINGS TO KNOW
WiFi: We were worried about this, as Dave often has to work while we are away and we were told that it’s non-existent in the Cook Islands. That is not the case! Bluesky is their main internet provider. When you arrive, look for it in your wifi settings and purchase it that way. Then, you can use wifi wherever a Bluesky hotspot is available, which was basically the entire island of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. It worked flawlessly and we had no issues using it during our stay. Alternatively, if you have an unlocked phone, you can buy a sim card for $49 at any of the Bluesky shops.
Kids: As much as we enjoyed our stay, we have never encountered such hatred for kids! So many places don’t allow kids in their hotels or even just to dine at restaurants. I called to make a dinner reservation once, and they said no because we had a child but to give them our hotel name just in case. They called back a few hours later (couldn’t fill the tables!) and said we can bring her if we keep her quite. Um, no thanks! We’ve taken Milana to tasting menus that lasted over 3 hours, most recently she’s been to a birthday dinner for me with just adults that lasted close to 3 hours at a very fancy restaurants. She is not one to scream during dinner. But when they are so against them, we will not patronize them and give them our money.
Cost: Rarotonga is much cheaper than Aitutaki. If you’re staying here before heading to Aitutaki, buy your groceries before you leave the island. The prices are comparable to the US but triple the price in Aitutaki. They have everything you will need, so don’t worry about bringing anything from home.
Restaurant meals are very expensive on both islands. It was rare to pay less than $100 for dinner but the exchange rate is in your favor if you are from the US so at least there’s that!
Car Rentals: There are several car rental companies that operate out of the airport and we chose Island Car & Bike Hire. Keep in mind, you will be charged $40 if you pick up/drop off at the airport. We tried to reserve last minute, but each company said they don’t have cars available. We emailed Island (they have several locations on the island, not just the airport) and they brought a car to the airport for us from one of their other locations. So if you see that nothing is available, just email them and see what they can do! They don’t have car seat laws, or seat belt laws for that matter, so you won’t see them or many people buckled up in cars. We brought our mifold for the trip and it was the perfect seat for the islands.
Overall, the Cook Islands are a great destination with kids once you find the right hotels. There is so much to explore if you have a car. The beaches are gorgeous and you can always find a spot without any people. And given the 3 hour time difference for the West Coast US, it’s a much, much better option than Hawaii and much more beautiful! Check out my other Cook Islands blog post on Aitutaki.