Come to the Cook Islands and you'll find breathtaking beaches around every corner. But even in a tropical paradise, there are some places that are extra special. Here are six of the best.
Muri Beach, Rarotonga
Sitting on the edge of a lagoon on Rarotonga's east coast, Muri is one of the island's most popular destinations for great swimming, snorkelling and water sports. Young ones will love the safe and tranquil shallows, while bigger folk can easily swim across the bay to tiny Koromiri motu – or even wade there at low tide (reef shoes recommended). The majority of Raro's water sports companies operate out of Muri: whether you're looking to rent a kayak, sail boat or kitesurf board, or join a glass-bottom boat tour, this is the place to do it.
Aroa Beach, Rarotonga
A relatively undiscovered beach on Raro's southwest coast, Aroa has it all. With its sugar-white sand and azure water, Aroa is a fantastic place for swimming and sunbathing. As for snorkelling, this is widely regarded as the best spot on the island, with masses of marine life – brightly coloured butterflyfish, unicornfish and triggerfish, plus octupus and Moray eels – just a short paddle from shore.
Ootu Beach, Aitutaki
The stunning Ootu Beach lies at the southern end of the Ootu Peninsula, a thin stretch of land that borders the northeastern edge of Aitutaki's famous triangular lagoon. O'otu is the closest mainland Aitutaki's gets to the the perfect 'desert island' beaches of its offshore islands, and most locals agree that it offers Aitutaki's best swimming. One of the nicest things about Ootu? Thanks to its out-of-the-way location, it's often near-empty.
This tiny uninhabited island in the Aitutaki atoll has a starry history, having served as the location for both Survivor: Cook Islands and the British reality show Shipwrecked. It's not hard to see what drew the TV cameras: Motorakau is the picture-postcard version of a tropical island, all swaying palm trees and shimmering blue water. As with all islands in the Aitutaki lagoon, the only way to get to Motorakau is on a day cruise from the mainland. Most cruises will also make a stop at One Foot Island, below.
One Foot Island, Cook Islands
Another of the Cook Islands' utterly perfect islets, Tapuaetai – known commonly as One Foot Island – is a must-do day trip for anyone staying on Aitutaki. It's home to the famous One Foot Island 'post office' (more of a post box, really) where you can buy and send postcards and get your passport stamped as a momento of your visit. After that, you're free to roam. A walk around the island takes around 15 minutes non-stop, but the beckoning crystal-clear waters make it highly unlikely you'll manage it that fast.
For a magical, utterly secluded beach holiday, Atiu can't be beat. The Cooks' third largest island attracts few visitors, and with its 500-strong population concentrated inland, Atiu's 28 beaches are nearly always empty. The pick is Taungaroro, a dramatically beautiful place with powdery white sand, great swimming at high tide, and shallow seawater pools, or grottos, in the coral cliffs overlooking the beach.