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Cook Islands, Fiji or ?

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We are planning a trip to NZ in Sept/Oct and thought it would be great to do a stopover on the way to do some snorkeling etc. We find that it is really inexpensive to get to Honolulu from Canada, thus shortening up the travel time and opening up the possibility of visiting some of the South Pacific Islands.
BUT
Which one? Money is an issue as we are retired and on a budget, so simple accommodation with access to a beach close by would be ideal. Thinking of $100 - 150 per night. Research has come up with some extraordinary places in Fiji but yikes the cost! It seems the Cook Islands are more viable?
Any thoughts or suggestions would be really appreciated.

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