The Cook Islands have long been the quiet achievers of South Pacific travel. While Tahiti continues to be the by-word for “tropical paradise,” and Fiji extends its warm “BULA” welcome to countless tourists each year, the Cook Islands are laid back and easily reachable, offering all the beauty, hospitality, and relaxation of the South Pacific in one beautiful package.
With fifteen islands occupying less than a hundred square miles in land area, dotted over almost 700,000 square miles of ocean, the Cook Islands are among the most widespread island territories in the world. There’s also not a single square inch of land between the Cooks and Antarctica, so when you retreat to the Cooks, you’re really getting away from it all!
That said, the modern conveniences are never far away. No destination in the South Pacific offers a shorter trip from the airport to the lagoon-side, so it takes no time at all to sink into vacation mode.
The entire circumference of Rarotonga can be circled by car in less than an hour, and be cycled comfortably in a day. That leaves plenty of time for lagoon and beach activities including diving, snorkelling, and fishing, not to mention enjoying the famous hospitality of the Cook Islanders.
Best of all, the Cooks are easily reached. Air New Zealand flies directly from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, with connecting flights to Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia. This makes a stopover at the Cooks one of the easiest additions you can make to a Downunder itinerary. Take a few days break from the long flight to Australia or New Zealand, or visit all three of these very different faces of the South Pacific.
Looking beyond Rarotonga, there’s Aitutaki, an island ringed by stunning natural beaches and coral reefs.
Snorkelling and boat trips are a fixture here, but Aitutaki is also a great island to explore on-land. Perhaps take a scooter (the local transport of choice!) to visit 1500 year-old sacred meeting grounds and coral walled churches.
Reality TV fans may also recognize Aitutaki as one of Survivor’s early settings. But don’t worry, the tribe here is in no hurry to force you out! In fact, there’s no hurry to do much of anything. The Cook Islands are famous for their combination of relaxed pace and smiling locals who are all too happy to share the less touristy treats. For example, it’s one of the few destinations where we recommend that non-religious travellers attend a church service, for the music, the cultural experience, and the sheer fun!
The Cook Islands has a modern Polynesian culture, yet traditional ways of life are well preserved. Though some new technologies have been embraced and techniques have been refined over generations, you can still find traditional music in many parts of the island (remember what we said about going to church?) along with hand-weaved, carved, or painted souvenirs. There’s also possibly no better place on earth to buy black pearl jewellery than in the Cooks.
The Cook Islands are the ultimate laid-back holiday, so much so that they’re increasingly popular for long-term stays. With lower accommodation costs – paid in New Zealand dollars – the Cooks are an ideal place to get away for a few weeks, months, or even longer. Simply rent an apartment at one of several resorts and guesthouses specializing in long-stays, and spend your days discovering the relaxed, yet vibrant lifestyle of the Cook Islands.
Get the latest travel trends & hear about the best deals on vacations around the world.
If you’re a Globetrotter, these are the newsletters for you!