The Cook Islands have on offer a choice range of handicrafts, jewelery, traditional and contemporary art & crafts, and range of clothing. The Cook Islands history of traditional arts goes back centuries and is an integral part of their culture.
The weaving of rito hats, as practiced by the women of the islands with intricately woven patterns along with the rito fans with their inlaid black pearl shell handles make wonderful souvenir gifts. The brightly coloured Pareus (sarongs) can be worn as a casual beach garment or evening attire when complemented with black pearl shell accessories (belts, bracelets or necklaces).
There is a thriving visual arts community that creates work that is a rich blend of traditional and contemporary styles. This is contemporary story telling at its best and truly an authentic souvenir. Galleries can be found around the main island of Rarotonga.
The hand stitched quilts known as Tivaevae, show case the creativity of the designer. Women would gather together socially and trace an outline of the leaves or flower patterns of interest onto a piece of cloth, then cut out the design and appliqued it to another piece of cloth. This method of cutting an overall design from a single piece of fabric is unique to Polynesia, and so the Tivaevae was born. Today Cook Island women hold tivaevae exhibits and competitions. The beautiful tivaevae’s can be taken home to use as part of your home decor or as a warm covering on cold nights.
We have Polynesian tattoo artists who specialise in traditional patterns and motifs or should clients choose to, they can draw their own designs. T’s Tattoos operates from his home on the back road in Aroa, Rarotonga. Bookings are by appointment only and T can be contacted by phone on +682 23576. Polynesian Tattoos run by Clive Nicholas operates out of a shop located at the Punanga Nui marketplace from Monday to Friday 9am – 4pm. Clive prefers clients book an appointment and he can be contacted on +682 53205.
Our local carvers still practice their wood carvings with traditional Polynesian motifs. The traditional wooden drums, tribal weapons like spears and other tools are adorned with decorative patterns, as well as the historical idols like Tangaroa, the god of the sea & fertility. These may be found at the Punanga Nui marketplace every Saturday morning. You can view paintings and wooden and stone carvings by a variety of local artists at the University of the South Pacific, the National Museum as well as the old Library and Museum Society in Takamoa.
Authentic handicrafts often come from islands that specialize in a particular crafts. Ornate shell, seed hatbands and ei (lei) come from Mangaia, while finely woven pandanus mats are a souvenir of Pukapuka. Tapa decorated with traditional cultural patterns, are made in Atiu. The most romantic souvenir of course is the cultured black pearl which can be bought from a number of local stores as well as at the Punanganui marketplace.
The black-lipped mother of pearl shell Pinctada margaritifera is a native of the South Pacific and thrives in the clear, unpolluted waters of the lagoons of Manihiki and Penrhyn in the Northern part of the Cook Islands. Black pearls derive their lustrous color from the grey fish-black nacre of the oyster shell. The price of a pearl depends on its quality and size. Pearls are graded by size, shape, surface characteristics, color and luster. They come in various sizes and shapes classified by roundness, teardrop or pear-shaped, button (round one side and flat the other), baroque (irregular) and circled (ringed).
Keshi pearls are formed when the mother pearl shell rejects the nucleus and only the donor mantle remains. The shell then forms a small, irregular seedless pearl. Mabel (mar-bay) pearls, also known as blister pearls, are half-pearls formed by cutting the nucleus in half and attaching it to the inside lip of the mother shell. They form oval, teardrop and heart shapes and often show the colors of the spectrum.
There is another extremely rare pearl to be found in the Cook Islands: the natural Golden Pearl (poe pipi). This is one of the few remaining types of natural pearls left in the world today. It grows in the lagoon of Penrhyn in the shell Pinctada maculata, the smallest pearl producing shell in the world. The pearl is seldom bigger than 8mm in diameter.
In Rarotonga, the main shopping area is located in Avarua, but small markets throughout the islands offer great souvenir gift- shopping opportunities and a way to enjoy the warmth and friendliness of the locals. Many small shops and galleries sell locally designed clothing and local musicians CD’s. One of the best places to find authentic Cook Island souvenirs is the Punanganui Market in Avarua.
Field HarvestingRarotonga offers a little of everything so once you have tried the umukai feasts you may like to visit some of the other restaurants. Restaurants range from gourmet cuisine to friendly island-style restaurants.
The overall quality and presentation of food in the Cook Islands is very high, and a variety of international dishes are available. Many restaurants have been influenced by New Zealand cuisine; however, an increasingly dynamic Cook Islands fusion style is emerging, including traditional dishes like Umukai, chicken, pork, fish and vegetables baked in an underground oven. Mitiore is grated coconut that is then fermented and flavored with an abundance of seafood and Ika Mata is a dish featuring marinated fish with lemon, coconut milk, and tomatoes.
New ventures such as the Plantation House Dinner and Progressive Dinner is a must do on your list. At the Plantation House Dinner you will dinner with a local family who cooks up a feast using all our local produce. The Progressive dinner is similar but adds a bit of a twist to your dinner. You will dine with one family enjoying a lovely entree, then move to the next family house and have your main course. Your final stop is with the final family who puts up a lovely dessert to top off your night.
Many wonderful cook books have been published with Cook Islands Recipes including The Flame Tree Cook Book, by Sue Carruthers; Cook Islands Recipes, co-produced by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture and more recently, Me’a Kai the food and flavours of the Pacific by Robert Oliver.
Excellent wines from Australia and New Zealand are available and the local breweries produce very popular beer.
Whatever style of cuisine you find tempting, you are sure to be impressed by the friendly, helpful service staff are more than happy to explain any dishes you might like to try.
Tipping is not customary, however if you feel you have received overwhelming service, feel free too.
Most restaurants are open for dinner from 6pm – 9.30pm.