Cook Islands Destination Guide
The Cook Islands is an island paradise in the South Pacific, encompassing 15 unique and equally beautiful islands. With as much space as Western Europe, but only 15,000 residents, the Cook Islands gives you that rare and wonderful feeling of being distanced from the world. Escape the thralls of every-day life with bright blue water, refreshing inland lagoons, true South Pacific culture and diverse tropical wilderness. With so much to do during the day, from deep sea fishing to mountain biking, and at night, from romantic dinners on the water’s edge to wild partying, there’s always a new adventure to be found. Yet you needn’t lift a little toe if all you want is to relax on the soft white beaches with a cocktail in hand. The picturesque surrounds, ever-changing days and of course the friendly locals make the Cook Islands feel like a home you never want to leave.
Whether you’re someone who likes to keep an itinerary or a free spirit who wants to throw away all plans while on your Cook Islands escape, you won’t be disappointed by this diverse country. The various islands host an array of attractions that suit all styles of travel, from adventurous and high-octane, to relaxed and cultural. For a great introduction to the country, start off with a tour through Rarotonga’s undeveloped mountainous interior with Pa, a genuine and charismatic Polynesian. Then head out onto the water with a lagoon cruise, snorkelling or scuba diving tour, or a whale watching boat tour. Take advantage of your newly acquired knowledge of the area by hiring a scooter to explore the back roads of the Cook Islands where you can meet locals and taste traditional South Pacific cuisine such as mahi mahi and wahoo sourced straight off fishing boats.
The Cook Islands’ cuisine offers unique flavours and smells that even the pickiest people salivate over. The reason behind this being the quality and freshness of the food – local fruits and vegetables are grown locally in rich volcanic soils, while all the seafood barely pauses from the fishing boat to the kitchen and onto your plate. The Cook Islands is also renowned for its lively nightlife and there’s an immediate sense of fun in Rarotonga’s open-air bars. Friendly atmospheres allow you to let go and lose yourself in the moment.
Choosing where to stay on the Cook Islands ultimately comes down to your budget and what style of oasis you prefer. There are many expensive hotels and resorts that offer the epitome of luxury, but you don’t need to spend a lot as even the cheapest hostels and hotels treat you to the country’s incredible beauty. Rarotonga has many regions with their own unique appeals. A lot of visitors, especially families, enjoy staying at Muri Beach, becuase it has a large lagoon that caters for kayaking, sailing and swimming. Arorangi delivers the best sunsets on Rarotonga along with many resorts and a range of restaurants. A sleepy island charm and pretty lagoons and beaches offering top swimming and snorkelling can be found at Titikaveka. Another of the islands, Aitutaki, offers a world-famous lagoon and lodgings only metres from the beach. Alternatively, you can stay at authentic homestay accommodation on the lesser-populated islands of Atiu, Mangaia and Mitiaro.
Shopping on the Cook Islands is a rather surreal experience. Instead of being hassled to purchase items, you’re the one rousing store owners from a snooze in the sun to buy their unique wares. This laid-back style makes for an enjoyable shopping experience that is more sociable than most other places in the world. You can’t negotiate prices, but you will find some of the world’s highest-quality black pearls for sale in Rarotonga. The Punanga Nui Market is held every Saturday in Avarua, where you can also find retail stores. Traditional Polynesian drummers and dancers provide entertainment as you browse through the local market stalls, finding island treasures such as clothing, jewellery, art and craft, and delicious food.
Cook Islands Like a Local
With such a wide variety of fresh local produce you can’t go past trying the national dish, Ika Mata – freshly caught tuna marinated in coconut milk, onion, tomato and a smidge of chilli. Take to the seas in a traditional canoe (vaka) and sail around the island of Rarotonga or across to Aitutaki under the cover of darkness. To top off your cultural experience, attend a local show of dancing and drumming, or learn to perform the same dances with fun lessons in Avarua.