Experience Rarotonga, Cook Islands: Jewels of the South Pacific
Book Rarotonga flights to visit this castaway’s paradise. After your flight to Rarotonga, dive straight into warm, translucent lagoons that teem with tropical fish. Look out for giant clams too – just don’t touch them if you value your fingers. Laze on powder-white beaches so deserted you'll feel like Robinson Crusoe. Hike rugged mountain trails and through dense tangled rainforest that's alive with local birdlife.
Immerse yourself in local culture on your Cook Islands holiday. Take a lesson in choral harmonies at church on Sundays – all the locals go and all the locals sing. Follow up with an umu (earth oven) feast of pork, fish, chicken and vegetables steamed for hours on hot volcanic stones. To market now, where stylish girls buy screen-printed pareu (sarongs) and learn a dozen ways to wear one, and brave boys embrace the recent revival of tata’u, the ancient Polynesian art of tattoo.
Back to nature
Walk on white coral beaches where palm trees lean at perfect 45 degree angles and trade winds cool the sun's tropical heat. Spot the rare Rarotongan flycatcher, or kakerori, with guide Birdman George on tiny Atiu, also known as 'land of the birds' for its prolific birdlife. From July to October, humpback whales make their slow leaps from the water just beyond Atiu's reef.
Cook Islands dancing is dramatic, an attack on all five senses. Think frenetic thigh beating, sensuous hip swaying, pounding drums and flowing flower garlands. You'll be expected, by the way, to join in at the end. The locals find this hilarious. Papa'a (foreign) men knocking their knees together generally make poor imitations of the big, bronzed local hunks. Girls – throw those hips as fast as you can.
Where? The Cook Islands lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii in the centre of the Pacific Ocean's Polynesian Triangle.
Getting about: Island buses circle Rarotonga every half hour. Rarotonga to Aitutaki is an hour by propeller plane.
Population: The people are Polynesian and number just 17,800. Most live in Rarotonga. Suwarrow, in the northern island group, has only two occasional inhabitants from April until October.
Did you know? Aitutaki, the second most visited island in the Cooks, has barely 18 square kilometres of land and more than 50 of incredibly blue lagoon.
Cook Islands Hotels
Our favourite resorts are delightfully laidback whether you go budget or barefoot luxury. Shower inside or out – depending on your mood – at Pacific Resort and Little Polynesian's private villas. Or go back to basics at Atiu Villas with rare kakerori birds as your neighbours.
Cook Islands Restaurants
Cooks by name, cooks by nature. Seafood is super-fresh in the islands, and there's quality lamb from New Zealand too. Don't miss local specialities like ika mata (marinated raw fish) and rukau (taro tops and coconut cream) – delicious.
Shopping in the Cook Islands
Bag a bargain pareu (sarong) at Punanga Nui Market. Or break the bank on a unique tivaevae (patchwork quilt) at the Atiu Fibre Arts Studio and rare black pearls from the outer islands. You really won't find these at home.
Cook Islands Nightlife
There's always an excuse to party whether you’re at an island night show on Rarotonga, trawling nightclubs or joining the tumunu. These bush beer clubs in Atiu start with a ceremony and end with a ukulele sing-along.
Cook Islands Attractions
The colours of Aitutaki's lagoon move from turquoise to aquamarine on a day cruise. Take a hike with Birdman George or the perennial Pa to get beneath the skin of the real Polynesia. Just don't forget your camera.