In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first trans-oceanic flight. This achievement in aviation made travellers confident about flying in airplanes and led to the growth of airline travel. In the nearly hundred years since Lindbergh took that flight, airline travel has become commonplace and most of the world is easily accessible. The destinations that remain unspoiled and isolated from the rest of the world are few and far between. The Cook Islands is one of those rare destinations.
Many people couldn’t point to the Cook Islands on a map. Located to the northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean, the Cooks consist of 15 iconic island paradises that lie genuinely off the beaten track. They offer the rare beaches where you can put your towel on the sand without risk of it touching another person’s towel. Travellers that have ventured here often speak about the lifelong connection they make on a first trip to the islands. That sort of connection transcends Instagram likes and passport stamps. It hews closer to love. Many of these travellers come back year after year.
The Cook Islands has all the natural beauty you’d expect of an island paradise and none of the excess. There are no brand-name hotels, fast food chains, buildings taller than a coconut tree – even stoplights. Most paradises that fit this bill would be hard to get to or uncomfortable to stay in. Luckily, the Cook Islands is neither. It sits in the same time-zone as Hawaii and lies about the same distance to the south of the equator that Hawaii is north. Every Saturday evening, Air New Zealand operates a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, so the nation is accessible.
The accommodations in the Cook Islands are made for all kinds of travellers. There are beachside bungalows, budget hostels, and luxurious resorts with private bars and beaches. You’ll find spas and fine dining restaurants and cocktail bars that offer the sort of indulgences you expect on a tropical holiday. Travellers can spend their days in all-inclusive resorts, cooling off with cocktails from a swim-up bar, or they can easily explore the islands and meet the friendly people that welcome visitors with open arms.
Although vacations to popular destinations can often be stressful, as merchants hound tourists to buy things and visitors have to jostle alongside other tourists to see landmarks and secure spots on buses, the Cook Islands is free of these problems. Visitors to the Cooks can leave their worries back home as they attune themselves to the peaceful rhythms of the islands. Whether relaxing on white-sand beaches, swimming through crystal-clear lagoons, or enjoying a night under the stars, a stay in the Cooks is carefree. It’s almost impossible not be at peace with the world during a vacation here.
The Cooks also reward people who are curious about the lives of others. In the Cook Islands, it’s easy to observe other people, ask questions, and learn about their ways of life. Locals are friendly and easy to meet. There aren’t many people on the islands and the locals are happy to share their culture with visitors. In fact, they love when visitors take to the island culture, adjusting to the Kia Orana spirit.
It doesn’t take long for travellers to see how much Cook Islanders love their islands. In the Cooks, land is inherited and impossible to sell; you can only lease it. Respect for ancestors, the earth, and the sea is paramount and central to the deep spiritual and cultural connection that guides life here. This connection to the land explains why gardens are so gorgeous, lawns are so well-kept, and the culture emphasizes environmental conservation at every turn.
In fact, the conservation of Cook Islanders has made international headlines in recent years. The Cook Islands recently declared half its ocean territory (which is twice the size of California) a marine-protected area. As well, more than half of the islands in the Cooks are fossil fuel-free, using solar power to generate electricity.
The pristine nature of the islands is important not only for the Cook Islanders, but for the visitors who are lucky enough to visit the nation and experience its breathtaking beauty for themselves. Experience this carefree and gorgeous nation for yourself. But remember to hurry. This best-kept secret of the South Pacific won’t stay a secret for long. See the Cook Islands before the rest of the world does.