Discover the Cook Islands (but beware, you will not want to go home)

Crystal clear beaches, exotic landscapes and an open and hospitable character are some of the ingredients of this paradisiac corner

If you take a map of the world and direct your eyes towards New Zealand, then you go up a bit to the Pacific, more or less to the east of Tahiti and to the southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, you can see 15 scattered islands in an area of 240 km² between of the great ocean. Rarotonga is your main island and capital of this wonderful country (yes, the Cook Islands is a country).

In fact, before us, about the year 1600, several Spanish conquerors passed there but finally discovered them in 1773 by Captain James Cook from the top of his ship. Actually not even disembarked. You may be so impressed by her beauty that she decided not to descend to the ground so as not to stay there forever. And he simply claimed his possession for Britain, just in case – I suppose – he did not find where to retire in the future.

How to get there today

As it is evident, the most advisable thing to reach this archipelago is to take a plane. Theirs is to fly from Spain to the United States, Australia or New Zealand.

Perhaps the most usual option is to go to Auckland (in New Zealand) and from there to Rarotonga, a route that takes 6 hours (in Air New Zealand, for example, the ticket costs around € 250).

When to go

In spring undoubtedly, between April and May (or October), since it is its dry season, it rains scarcely and the sun shines with more joy. The afternoons are a bit treacherous, really, and may exceptionally assail a fleeting storm and then the waterfalls intensely.

Oh, and the hotel theme?

To start with, to say that, although you can think otherwise, staying in the Cook Islands is not expensive at all. It is not one of those typical luxury exotic islands with hotels with exorbitant prices for boring millionaires. No way. They have modest little hotels next to the beach, the sea of pleasure, even bed & breakfast, hostels and hostels for the youngest.

Put on some music

If we had to choose a music or a theme that defines life in this country, it would be Everything is Gonna Be Alright, by Bob Marley. The truth is that if you are lucky enough to travel to the Cook Islands, this is how you will feel: everything will flow deliciously.

The houses cannot have more height than the coconut trees

It is no secret that some other holiday destinations have been affected by the abuse of the western way of life; its peaceful beaches have now been crowded with the avalanches of tourists and its lush forests have been replaced by mammoth buildings or skyscrapers. But in the Cooks no. You will not see them anywhere.

There is a law that prohibits building buildings higher than coconut trees. We are talking about a country with a lot of ecological awareness, completely protected areas (it has a reserve of billions of square kilometres), sustainable black pearl agriculture and with a goal of 2020 to use exclusively alternative energies such as solar or wind.

The whole island is a resort

Rarotonga has a circumference of only 32 kilometres, which means you can walk around the island in just half a day. It has an intimate and relaxed atmosphere, and nothing is too problematic. Almost no conflicts are generated.

And there are no reasons: the days are ideal: you wake up in a bungalow facing the sea, you take a dip in the ocean in the morning, you snorkel in the lagoon and later you have breakfast in a nearby cafeteria.

And at night, you hit a 5-star scenario at the Nautilus Resort Rarotonga on Muri Beach. To finish, the island has many bars and has a lively nightlife. If on any given day you have an internal problem, let him look.

One of the crystal clear beaches of the Cook Islands

They serve an exceptional craft beer

It seems that craft beer is becoming fashionable all over the world lately. And of course, also in Rarotonga. Matutu Brewery produces a beer that is to suck your whiskers. It is worth visiting their factory, which is owned and managed by the family, and where you can taste 3 types: the lager, the pale ale and the new draught.

Cooks Lager Brewery and The Tumanu Experience, which are also in Rarotonga, are must-sees. Traditionally, the beer of bushes was elaborated in the islands from oranges, bananas and hops. However, nowadays, the practice is only available in the ‘Tumunu’ (a kind of beer clubs) on the island of Atiu. It is a strong and full-bodied beer that is consumed accompanied by music, prayers and short speeches.

You can practice the best ‘ snorkelling’ on the planet

It is not an exaggeration. Look there are spectacular places in the world, nothing like the Cook Islands to put on a pair of goggles, a tube and some ducks and jump into the water to explore the underwater world. It’s a pass. You can go there – under the water – all the holidays.

Rarotonga is surrounded by a lagoon, bordered by coral reefs with calm waters to dive and dive without stopping (most places are accessible from the beach). On a good day, visibility can reach up to 60 meters deep.

Forget the neoprene and immerse yourself in the pleasant tropical temperatures (between 24 and 28 degrees) on the islands throughout the year.

But they are the vivid blue waters of the neighbouring island of Aitutaki where you will really be out of breath; assure the experts that it is the best lagoon in the world. Only 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga, this island is famous for the softness of its sand and the transparency of its waters.

One of the best ways to explore the Aitutaki lagoon is on a day trip aboard a traditional boat or vaka . And if you want to stay there for a day (it will surely come to your mind, do not hesitate), we recommend the informal luxury of Tamanu Beach Resort Aitutaki.

There are no traffic lights

Rarotonga has a population of just over 15,000 people and only a handful of cars on the road, so there is no need for traffic lights. The feeling is of freedom, speed and silence. No speakers

Touring the island is safe and relaxing since most people choose to move on foot or on one of the only two local buses on the island that pick up anyone at any time. Many tourists decide to rent a motor scooter, which is also an extraordinary way to venture freely around the island.

A typical resort of the Cook Islands

An island for travellers with an adventurous spirit

Although, as I have said before, the main attraction of the Cook Islands is its crystal clear waters, you should not leave aside its exuberant jungle. Its volcanic character creates a green and leafy vegetation of a very peculiar colour, emphasizing the fruit trees that of the tropical pineapple, the lemon or the coconut tree.

A must for the most daring traveller is the four-hour Cross-Island Track, which will take you through rugged terrain to reach ‘Needle’, a unique rock formation.

It still has a deep spiritual significance for the locals: in 2002, the Dalai Lama, after travelling there with “Pa” (a very respected elder on the islands), declared it one of the eight last energy points in the world.

The bike is another very popular activity. Or you can rent one and stroll peacefully through the streets of Avarua (the capital of Rarotonga) at a leisurely pace; or, for those who like something stronger, it’s worth the quad excursions.

Be careful, there are no snakes or spiders

The Cook Islands is home to a huge variety of marine life, tropical flowers and plants. However, there is no sign of snakes or poisonous spiders. There is no need to watch among the trees at every moment. Zero danger in that sense.

In fact, there are only six species of birds that are native to the islands, including the rare kakerori , which can sometimes be seen in the forests of the south coast of Rarotonga. It is also possible that you spot humpback whales as they migrate through the waters between June and September. While diving, you can swim next to a green, marine or hawksbill turtle, although the latter is now an endangered species.

You can snorkel with angelfish, butterfly fish and parrotfish. If you are interested in deep-sea fishing, we recommend a day trip on a boat: if you are lucky you could take a marlin, wahu , tuna or mahi-mahi .

You will not eat at McDonald’s

And it’s not because it’s forbidden or something similar. It is because there is not. There is not a single chain of fast food on the islands. Instead, you can eat a sandwich at a roadside market stall, or dine at one of more than 50 cafes and restaurants in Rarotonga, ranging from barefoot eateries to appropriate places for a romantic evening.

The food in the Cook is pure nature: tropical foods, freshly caught seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables such as taro, kumara, banana and papaya. A popular drink is coconut water (and cocktails). For something a little more traditional, the rori (sea cucumber) is eaten raw or cooked. And raw fish – called Ika Mata – is cured with lime, onions and coconut.

The lost island

Apart from Rarotonga and Aitutaki, the two main islands, the archipelago consists of 13 other islands. They are divided into two groups.

On the one hand, there are the southern ones, which are the volcanic ones: Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston Island and Takutea; and those of the north, low atolls like Manihiki, Nassau, Penrhyn Island or Tongareva or Mangarongaro, Pukapuka, Rakahanga, Suwarrow or Suvorov.

Anyway, the one with the most curious story is Palmerston Island. A freighter visits it every so often to bring supplies to its inhabitants (about 25) since it is lost in the middle of nowhere.

William Masters, a carpenter, decided to settle on the island, joined three Polynesian women and had 23 children, who have inherited the island. Perhaps that is the true spirit that attracts these Islands: their inescapable magnetism.

The inhabitants of Cook are very friendly

Unlike some places in the world where locals prefer to hide, the Cook Islanders enjoy any opportunity to mingle with tourists, get to know the culture of others and help selflessly when necessary. They are an easy and open smile. Boldly hospitable.

On Saturday mornings, a good plan can be to walk to the vibrant Punanga Nui cultural market, where you will find unique handicrafts, sarongs, black pearls and the talk of the people there, where a live and melodic music usually plays in the background. typical of the islands.

At night, Rarotonga comes alive with cultural shows, an attractive showcase of the native heritage played through songs, flames of fire and light tremors of the hip.

On Sundays, travellers are welcome to attend a church service; Most of the locals are Christians and the island is dotted with 24 of the white brick religious buildings.

The exotic flowers and exciting sounds of their beautiful hymns decorate the place, but beware: you have to dress with respect.

Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway with your partner, a place to rest and relax or a corner to explore both the land and the sea, the Cook Islands offer many options. The only problem, I insist on the warning: is that you do not want to go home later.


Source: La Vanguardia and Travelzoo