Cook Islanders are some of the most fun-loving folks you will meet in the South Pacific, and you can easily catch their spirit. Every evening except Sunday is a party night -- especially Friday when the pubs stay open until 2am (they close promptly when the Sabbath strikes at Saturday midnight). As with their Tahitian cousins, the infectious sound of the traditional drums starts everyone dancing.
If Rarotongans aren't performing in a show, they seem to be dancing with each other at some of the most colorful bars in the South Pacific. No one ever explained to me why they call their tour-de-bars a "pub-crawl," although I assume it's because crawling is the method of travel after too many locally brewed Cook's Lagers. However you get around, you can pub-crawl yourself or take a Friday nightlife bus tour, which your hotel will book. The NZ$30 (US$24/£12) fare is worth not having to drive home after 2am.
The Friday night crawl begins -- and often ends -- at Trader Jack's Bar & Grill (tel. 26-464) at Avarua's old harbor, one of the best bars in all of the South Pacific. The island's affluent movers and shakers start boozing here after work.
Heading east, you can grab an outdoor beer and an ocean view at Whatever! Bar (tel. 22-299). It's behind TJ's (tel. 24-722), a disco which draws a sometimes raucous young crowd. The Trader Jack's folk then wander into the Stair Case Restaurant & Bar (tel. 22-254), an upstairs restaurant that has rock-and-roll music for dancing after 10pm and an island night show once a week.
Backtracking to the traffic circle, you'll come to The Banana Court (tel. 23-397), which for generations was the place to do your drinking, dancing, and fighting. It's now the big place to be on Wednesday night. Down the side street in Cook's Corner shops, the miniature Hideaway Bar (tel. 20-340) attracts a mature crowd of drinkers.
Near the airport are The Nu Bar (tel. 26-141) and the RSA Club (tel. 20-590), where the country's military veterans welcome everyone to drink and dance.
Don't Miss an Island Night
A New Zealander once told me, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that all Cook Islanders are deaf because they grow up 3 feet from drums you can hear from 3 miles away.
Danced to the heart-thumping beat of those deafening drums, their hip-pulsating tamure is very much like that in Tahiti, except it tends to be faster (which I found hard to believe until I saw it with my own eyes) and even more suggestive (which I had even more trouble believing). Indeed, dancing is high in the hearts of all Cook Islanders, and it shows every time the drums begin. Their costumes generally aren't as colorful as those in Tahiti but are as likely to be made of leaves and other natural materials as dyed synthetic fabrics.
Unadulterated Cook Islands dancing is best seen during the annual Dance Week in April or during the National Self Governing Commemoration celebrations in late July and early August. It's still good at "Island Night" feasts and shows at the hotels. Indeed, one or another will have a feast and show every night except Sunday. Although their dance shows are tailored for tourists, the participants go at it with infectious enthusiasm.
Get a schedule of island nights from Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, or check the Cook Islands News, especially the Thursday and Friday editions, and make reservations early. Ask the locals where the top troupes are performing.
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