Rarotonga is the gateway, once an almighty volcanic pyramid that has since worn down to razorback ridges with lush green foliage. Like other islands in the group, Rarotonga’s white beaches with sand as fine as powder stretch in to clear blue lagoons around the islands.
The capital of Rarotonga is Avarua, with many shops offering a wide selection of goods and souvenirs. One of the best souvenirs I found was the black pearl from the northern islands of Manihiki and Penrhyn. The Saturday Punanga Nui Marketplace is busy and colorful with stalls selling souvenirs, food and clothing. This is a great place to get a pareu (sarong) and handmade pearl shell jewelry.
With clear blue lagoons and the ocean surround the island, there is a myriad of water activities to fill your days. Swim or snorkel in the lagoon, go kayaking, fishing or perhaps see the reef from a glass bottom “submarine”. Or perhaps fill your days lazing on the beach and enjoying the perfect weather.
After a day on the water or relaxing, enjoy a great meal in one of the many restaurants that specialize in Cook Islands Fusion Cooking; a combination of European and Polynesian flavors. Buffet style dinners accompany dance shows that are a must for any visitor. The umukai (Polynesian feast), is baked in an underground oven and usually consists of chicken, pork, fish and vegetables. For breakfast, wake up to local produce that includes delicious ripe paw paws, mouth-watering mangoes, coconuts, pineapples and starfruit.
The entire island of Rarotonga is only 19.88 miles in circumference, making getting around easy. There are only 2 main roads on Rarotonga – you can circle the island on the Ara Tapu coastal sealed road, through the villages and past the beaches, or you can take the older inland road, which winds through fields of local farmlands. The motor scooter is a popular, fun way to see the sights. Bicycles, cars and jeeps are also available to rental. The “Cook’s Island Bus” service offers a convenient low cost method of transport, operating regular scheduled around the island in both directions.
Located an hour north by plane, Aitutaki is the pearl in the Pacific. Aitutaki is the 5th largest of the Cook Islands 15 islands, but it only a mere 7 square miles, and is home to about 2,000 Cook Islanders.
The highlight of Aitutaki is the spectacular turquoise lagoon and the sparkling white sand beaches. Rest and relaxation is the key on Aitutaki. Snorkel, dive, kayak or swim the exquisitely colored lagoon and its many dazzling white sand motus islets. Other popular diversions are kite surfing, bonefishing or lagoon cruises and getting your passport stamped on One Foot Island. A day spent hopping from the pure white motus sprinkled around the lagoon is one of life’s great memories.
There is no public transport on Aitutaki. You can either use a taxi to get around, walk or rent a car, scooter or bicycle.
The Cook Islands unit of currency is the New Zealand dollar, supplemented by notes and coinage minted for local use. The strengthening US Dollar makes a trip to the Cook Islands extremely affordable.
Air New Zealand offers direct services from Los Angeles to Rarotonga once a week, Sunday, returning every Saturday. Flight schedules allow for either a 5 night or 12 night stay using direct services. Alternatively, the Cook Islands are an idea stopover en route to Australia or New Zealand.
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