Cook Islands Destinations
The beautiful island of Rarotonga is guaranteed as a authentic experience of Polynesian culture, Cook Islands style, in a setting straight from an old Hollywood film: no fast-food chains, no traffic lights, no giant tour buses. The land and the lagoon are the twin souls of Rarotonga and enjoying them is what Cook Islands travel is all about. A trip to this 91-square-mile, English-speaking island (which, like each of the 15 islands in the Cooks, has a dependent association with New Zealand) invites you to slow down as you drift lazily above vibrant coral and darting neon-hued fish and savor the sweetness of fresh-picked pineapple and papaya.
That’s not to say you can't get your heart rate pumping. Music and dance are second nature on Rarotonga and you’ll enjoy both during your resort’s Island Night, which showcases Polynesian culture and heritage in a mesmerizing celebration of beating drums and swaying hips. Cook Islands dancers are renowned for their speed and agility and you’ll be invited to join in, so limber up beforehand! Nature lovers can also get moving during a rigorous cross-island trek to the base of the Needle pinnacle with legendary herbalist Pa. Afterward, recover with a refreshing lagoon swim or a massage at your resort.
Resorts on Rarotonga offer a welcoming blend of traditional Polynesian décor (woven pandanus leaf, bamboo and floral-pattern quilts) and contemporary details and amenities. At mealtime fresh fish, straight from the lagoon to the kitchen and paired with local produce such as yams, taro and breadfruit are local favorites. Be sure to try ika mata (raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime juice) — but you can also enjoy a burger or pasta, too.
In the main town of Avarua, you’ll find the Te Punanga Nui market as well as a small number of shops, bars and restaurants, where you can browse for colorful pareus and luminous black pearl pendants. And on Friday and Saturday nights, check out the music scene — and experience life in the Cook Islands like a local.
Yes, Autuaki is a island, but more importantly, it's a lagoon—the kind of endless lagoon that’s a kaleidoscope of blues too numerous to count and too inviting to resist. Just seven-square miles, Aitutaki makes up for in pure relaxation and authenticity what it lacks in size. A visit is like medication for modern life. After a single trip to Aitutaki destinations around the globe will pale in comparison. That’s because there are only a few places where the purity and intensity of the color blue paint the horizon so completely. The lagoon surrounding this seven-square-mile volcanic atoll is a snorkeler, painter, photographer or daydreamer’s idea of perfection, so serene and sublime that at times it doesn’t seem real. Here, on Aitutaki, you’ll enjoy exploring the lagoon on a Bishop’s Cruise to picnic and snorkel from One Foot Island, one of the idyllic white-sand motus (small islets) that ring it, as you learn about local legends. Those who love the challenge of bone fishing can also indulge, while divers can head outside the lagoon to breaks teeming with tropical fish and reef sharks.
But Aitutaki travel isn’t just about the sea. Imagine relaxing in a hammock strung between two towering palms, enjoying a sunset massage with fragrant coconut oil, and experiencing a vivacious celebration of traditional song and dance that will have you on your feet and shaking your hips Cook Islands style. That is the essence of Aitutaki, an island whose 2,000 residents welcome you with greetings of kia orana and hold fast to traditions they are eager to share with anyone who stumbles upon their little slice of the South Pacific. You’ll hear how they are descendants of the famous seafaring warrior Ru and how Maungapu, the only hill on this otherwise flat island, was once the Raemaru Peak on Rarotonga until victorious warriors carried it here after a battle.
Here on Aitutaki, you will also find the Cook Islands’ oldest church and its only example of the resort architecture made famous by neighboring Tahiti: the overwater bungalow. Beach bungalows, hotel suites and luxury villas are also available. But no matter where you stay, no place is too far to explore — and when you come across school girls practicing their dance you can stop to watch and know that you’ve experienced tomorrow’s Cook Islands authenticity in the making.