The Cook Islands are a group of small islands in the South Pacific. It’s the ideal place to relax on the quintessential tropical paradise beach, but there’s a lot more to it than that. We visited Rarotonga (the main island), Aitutaki (honeymooners’ heaven) and Atiu (an island to yourself) and had three very different experiences. From scuba diving to mountain hikes to coffee plantations and burial caves there’s a lot to explore.
If you need convincing here are seven reasons to visit The Cook Islands.
1) Picture-Perfect Lagoon and Beaches
On our round the world trip we were in search of the idyllic beach with snowy white sands and crystal clear water, and it’s in the Cook Islands that we found it. Aitutaki’s turquoise lagoon is postcard perfect and as calm and clear as a swimming pool; it’s a wonderful place to swim, snorkel, dive and kayak.
The beaches of Rarotonga and especially Aitutaki are beautiful, but if you want a pretty cove all to yourself head to Atiu. The villages are located inland and the coastline is a string of deserted beaches for you to choose from.
2) Opportunities to Get Off the Beaten Track
The most visited islands are Rarotonga and Aitutaki but there are plenty of islands to explore just a 30 minute flight away. Atiu is the third most popular island, but when we visited there were only nine tourists on the island and numbers rarely get higher. It feels wonderfully off the beaten track, the locals are keen to chat with you and you have a choice of your own private beach.
We would love to go back and visit Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro where we would likely be the only tourists on the islands. Just a short flight and you get a South Pacific Island to yourself!
3) Wide Range of Activities
You could spend all your time in the Cook Islands just lazing on the beach but there are many other things to do. In the water you can snorkel, scuba dive, kayak and sail. One of the highlights of Aitutaki is taking a lagoon cruise and visiting many of the uninhabited motu or small islands that are scattered amongst the lagoon.
Back on land you can hike in the mountains or horse ride on Rarotonga; visit an island night to see traditional music and dance (and have a go yourself!); and visit coffee plantations, skull-filled burial caves and swim in underwater pools on Atiu. It’s easy to meet locals too: people stop you on the street to chat and on Atiu you can drink bush beer with the local men at a tumunu (jungle pub). On Sundays you can even attend church to enjoy the spirited singing.
4) Stress-Free Travel
The Cook Islands are very chilled out and incredibly easy to travel around. They are small (the biggest island of Rarotonga can be driven around in an hour) so there are no long bus journeys to suffer through. The local Maori people speak English and are very friendly and welcoming.
5) Great Place to Learn to Ride a Moped
There is no public transport on any of the islands except Rarotonga so the easiest way to get around is by hiring a moped. First you need to obtain your Cook Islands Driving Licence! This involved a simple driving test that is easy to pass with just 10 minutes practice on a moped. We had no previous experience but the islands are a great place to learn. The roads are practically empty, and on Rarotonga at least are smooth and straight. Take it slow and you’ll be fine.
Mopeding around the islands is a wonderful way to explore and get off the beaten track.
6) Easy to Include in a Round the World Flight
Getting to the Cook Islands doesn’t have to be expensive. Many round the world tickets allow you to include it as a stopover at no extra cost. Air New Zealand flies there from Auckland and Los Angeles so it makes a great stop between New Zealand and the USA.
7) Reasonably Priced
The Cook Islands is not a rock bottom budget destination, but it is far cheaper than other South Pacific islands such as French Polynesia or Hawaii. There are plenty of luxury resorts to blow your budget on but you can also find double rooms for US$50 in places like the wonderful guest house Are Mango on Rarotonga. Everywhere we stayed had a kitchen so you can keep costs low by self-catering. Flights between the islands cost about US$100 – $150 each way.
Yes, it’s more expensive than Southeast Asia but it’s worth a splurge for a taste of South Pacific paradise.
About the Author
Erin McNeaney and her partner Simon sold everything and left the UK in March 2010 to travel forever. They are currently exploring South America and writing about their travels at Never Ending Voyage. You can also follow their journey on Twitter or Facebook.