Coconuts in the Cook Islands

Drinking from a coconutTravel to the Cook Islands, and there are a few things you’re sure to encounter:




And coconuts.

When I travel to tropical destinations, I know that I’ll be spoiled with fresh fruit and seafood, but the prevalence of coconuts at absolutely every turn in the Cook Islands was so overwhelming that I actually took notice.


One of the traditional Cook Islands dishes is ika mata, which is fresh yellow fin tuna lightly marinated with lemon, herbs and coconut cream. Besides being soaked in coconut cream, ika mata is actually sometimes served in a hollowed out coconut. We also ate coconut straight from the shell when we happened across one, as a side dish during breakfast and shredded on top of other fruits for a snack.

ika mata cook islandsDrink

When a coconut is cut open, clear liquid comes pouring out of it. For some reason, we call this coconut milk, though it looks more like water. Regardless, I’m not sure there’s anything quite as refreshing as coconut milk straight from the fruit. I had no problem tipping coconuts back and letting the liquid drip down my chin. On a few different occasions, I was given a coconut with a straw stuck in it. My only job was to enjoy it … no dribble required.


Guys who are skilled at climbing coconut trees just wrap their feet around the trunk and shimmy on up like it’s no big deal. Trust me, it’s a big deal, and it’s not nearly as simple as they make it look. To climb a coconut tree, you take a frond from the tree, tie the two ends together and twist it once so it’s in a figure eight shape. Then you put one foot in each loop and pull it taut against the outside edges of your feet. Hold onto the trunk of the tree and, pulling the frond tight, use it as leverage to shimmy your feet up with your arms.

I can say I learned how to climb a coconut tree, but I definitely wasn’t successful. I made it about a foot off the ground.


Most people shuck a coconut using a machete or some other sharp and heavy object. It’s a time-consuming process that involves peeling the husk off and cracking the shell of the coconut.

Or so I thought until I met Jay. No joke: This guy shucked an entire coconut for us with his teeth in just over two minutes. If you think that is amazing, you should know that the world record for opening a coconut like this was done in a fraction of this time by a woman.

shucking coconut with teeth

11 Responses to “Coconuts in the Cook Islands”

  1. John

    Climbing coconut trees seems like quite a work out…and it sounds a bit painful too!

    • JoAnna

      It looks so incredibly easy, but it’s not. Trust me, I tried!

  2. Abby

    I love how wonderfully tropical this post is. 🙂

    • JoAnna

      Tropics = coconuts and coconuts = tropics. They seem to go hand-in-hand!

    • JoAnna

      I just interviewed the CEO for ZICO coconut water yesterday. It is a huge craze right now!

  3. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    Love it! One of the highlights of Central America for me was drinking the juice out of coconuts that were opened up with a machete.

    • JoAnna

      I love it when coconuts are sold right on the beach!

    • JoAnna

      Yep! I have video of it but no good video editing software, so I can’t post it on the blog. Definitely something you almost have to see to believe, though!

  4. Robert

    Would love to visit the Cook Islands one day soon. The ika mata dish looks excellent. Thanks for sharing!


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