Many destinations in the world offer white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and an island lifestyle, but there is nothing quite like the Cook Islands.
Located in the heart of Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands is made up of or archipelago of 15 inhabited islands, spread over 849,424 square miles, located between French Polynesia (Tahiti) and Tonga. Settled by Polynesians, the islands have a population of less than 15,000, and are rich in culture, history, scenery and experiences.
The Northern Cook Islands consists of seven low-lying, sparsely inhabited coral atolls. The Southern Cook Islands comprises of eight elevated, fertile, volcanic isles and the capital of the Cooks, Rarotonga. The three most visited islands are Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu.
Rarotonga is the heart of the Cooks .There are no traffic lights, no McDonalds and no building higher than a coconut tree. Just 19.88 miles around, you can explore the island with the renowned bus service, which goes clockwise or counter-clockwise, by car or moped.
The first decision you will need to make in Rarotonga is how busy or relaxed you want your stay to be and there are many island experiences available. Romantic sunset cruises on board a catamaran, dining ankle deep in warm water lapping on a beautiful beach, or guided treks into the mysterious cloud mountains, to name a few options. Or simply take a walk along a beach and watch a golden sunset.
Unofficially know as Honeymoon Island, Aitutaki is less than an hour’s flight from Rarotonga. A triangular shaped reef encompasses the lagoon, home to countless varieties of brilliantly colored tropical fish and marine life living amongst massive coral heads. The stunning lagoon makes Aitutaki unrivalled in the Cook Islands for water activities but the allure does not stop at the water’s edge. Travel across the Lagoon to motu Tapuaetai (One Foot Island) which boasts the world’s smallest post office. You can mail your postcards and even have your passport stamped making a wonderful souvenir of your visit. Should you want an island to yourself for the day, a local tour guide can prepare a picnic and will “taxi” couples to a deserted motu.
There are few untouched places left in the world like Atiu, the third largest island in the Cooks. Estimated to be over eight million years old – the island is ancient, unspoiled, lush with dense rainforests and surrounded by dramatic coastal coral formations. The islands’ most interesting features are the many limestone caves: Anatakitaki is regarded as a national treasure with three caverns, stalagmites, stalactites, a fresh water pool and high chamber. The island’s small villages are located in the central plateau where the soil is rich and some of the best organic arabica coffee in the Pacific region is organically grown. The coastal area surrounding Atiu are made up of makatea (fossilized coral) which in some areas, forms sea cliffs rising to over 19 feet. Along the foreshore, you will find small beaches with startling white sand, tucked like little secrets in the makatea.
The Cook Islands are renowned for their vibrant culture and it is recommended that visitors include an island night during their stay. Traditional dancing and drumming performed by local dance teams are paired with a delicious buffet including many local dishes including ika mata (marinated raw fish salad) or sample a ‘umi kai’, a traditional method of cooking a meal in an earth oven.
Everyone from families to couples are catered for on the islands. Many hotels offer kids activities or kids clubs to keep the young ones occupied during the day while you can relax by the pool or on the beach. Accommodation varies from self-catering apartments and villas to boutique hotels, larger luxury resorts and several adult-only properties.
The islands boast a year round tropical climate, making it an idea destination to visit 12 months a year. Cooler months are May to October when temperatures are between 64ºF and 82ºF, summer temperatures range between 70ºF and 87ºF
The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar, which translates to great value when dining out or shopping. Be sure not to miss the Punanga Nui Cultural Market in the heart of Rarotonga. The markets are open daily except Sunday and you will find fresh produce, local performances, shell and pearl jewelry, woodcarvings and woven baskets.
For more information on the Cook Islands, check out Down Under Answers.
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Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.