Simply spectacular Cook Islands

Written by Brooke Wilson

A question I am commonly asked in my line of work is where has been my favourite place to travel to? Right up there in the podium finish definitely has to be the Cook Islands.

With talk of international borders opening soon for tourism, now seems a good a time as any to start dreaming. Nestled in its own pocket of paradise in the Pacific Ocean, it’s easy to forget the rest of the world even exists.

Coming into land at Rarotonga, the largest of the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands, you will be blown away by the incredible turquoise waters and spectacular soaring mountain peaks. Often overlooked in favour of more ‘touristy’ pacific destinations, the Cook Islands offer a refreshingly laidback take on tourism. Here you won’t find big chain companies – no McDonald’s or KFC, no Hilton or Mercure resorts. To maintain the integrity of the islands, no building can be taller than a coconut tree. It is a far cry from many tourism hotspots looking to make big money.

A quieter modesty doesn’t mean a lack of things to do. With most accommodations right on the water, it is all too easy to walk right out from your room into the stunning lagoon. Calm waters and comparatively shallow depths make it perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, or even just for a swim. On land, hike up into the mountains on one of the many walks crisscrossing the island. By far the most popular option is to the base of ‘The Needle’, a sheer volcanic rock face and Rarotonga’s highest peak. But really, any mountain hike will reward you with spectacular 360-degree views. Adventurers can also hire e-bikes or 4WD buggies to explore the island, families can join in on island dancing, and shoppers can check out the Punanga Nui Markets for the world-famous black pearls.

By night, head over to the Muri Night Markets for a mouthwateringly delicious dinner, or to my personal favourite, Charlie’s Café, a charming little establishment set on the beachfront serving up amazing food and live music.

A trip to the Cook Islands wouldn’t be complete without taking some time to go explore the northern island of Aitutaki. A photographer’s dream and a swimmer’s delight, the spectacular lagoon is a sight to behold. A must do is to jump on board the Vaka cruise for a sun-soaked day of swimming, eating, and exploring the islets scattered throughout the lagoon, all while the lovely crew sing and play music. A quirky little bonus is a visit to One Foot Island, where you can get a stamp in your passport at perhaps the world’s most remote post office.

It would be all too easy to talk about the Cook Islands, but nothing would ever do it justice like seeing it for yourself. The friendly locals and easygoing lifestyle will wind their way into your heart and will stay there for years to come. Despite having been there before, would I go back again? In a heartbeat.