South Pacific - The Cook Islands

Trish Griffiths on 17 May 2009
Spread over an area equal to twenty-five percent of the USA, the fifteen islands that make up the Cook Islands offer everything you expect from your South Pacific Paradise.

We chose to visit the Cook Islands after a visit to New Zealand. The flight is 3.5hrs from Auckland, which then goes onto Los Angeles, so you could visit the islands after a visit to LA. We split our stay between the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki as we had heard about the beautiful Aitutkai lagoon. The Cooks Islands are also known for their laid back Polynesian lifestyle.

Rarotonga is the main island where all the international flights land. It’s also known as a high island as it was formed from a long-dormant underwater volcano. The island is not very big - we hired a car and it only took us 1 hour to drive all the way around. By the way, when you hire a car you are allowed to use your Driving License for 24hrs, but after that you need to apply for a ‘Cook Islands Driving License’ which is easy to get from the local police station for a cost of $20. There are plenty of nice bars and restaurants spread around the island, which is why it’s best to hire a car to make sure you sample the best of them. If you don’t want to drive though, you could join a mountain trek across the island (if you are feeling energetic), explore the marine life in the reef, or visit the picturesque villages and fantastic beaches. The cultural show, which is free of charge, is held on a Saturday morning at the town’s market and is very interesting and colourful. Make sure you try some local food – we tried IKA MATA – raw tuna, which is not as bad as it sounds. There are also many stalls selling local produce and wares.

We stayed at the Crown Beach Resort which is located on a perfect beach, and was ideal for snorkelling - we saw octopus, conger eels as well as millions of fish, all about 5 yards from the beach! This hotel is on the west coast, so also gave us the most amazing sunsets.

Aitutaki is located north of Rarotonga and is a 45 minute flight away. The island features spectacular lagoons that were created when the volcano's central peak fell into the sea. The island is well worth a visit for its natural beauty and tranquillity. If you don’t want to stay, although I cannot imagine why, you could choose a day trip by air which includes an island tour and lagoon cruise. Lunch is included and prepared while you relax, explore the coral or hand feed the fish. As a special treat, take a trip to one of the uninhabited islands, or motus as they are known, for that genuine cast away feeling.

Here, we chose to stay at the ‘Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa’ which is on its own island. This is truly paradise and our beach bungalow looked directly onto one of the lagoons. We relaxed and enjoyed the idyllic location by just chilling or kayaking, snorkelling and swimming in the beautiful lagoon.

Whilst staying in Aitutaki we chose a lagoon cruise that visited ‘One Foot Island’, where for a small charge you can get your passport stamped at the local post office – which is actually the only bar on the beach. The colours of the lagoons here are amazing, so many different shades of blue and magnificent and if you like snorkelling there is an abundance of different species of fish to see.

Accommodation on both of these islands range from basic to 5 star luxury, so they cater for everyone, and the currency is the New Zealand dollar. With regards the weather, the drier cooler season runs from April to November, and the warmer, more humid (and wet) season runs from December to March.

"No artist's palette could ever conceive of a more perfect, more luminescent turquoise than that of the lagoon of Aitutaki, arguably the most beautiful in the world." So Steve Davey has written in his book, "Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die".