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Halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii lies a secret Polynesian paradise: the Cook Islands. The 15 islands in this Pacific archipelago are just 240 total square km. Size isn’t everything, though—there are plenty of hotels in the Cook Islands awaiting your arrival, and these tiny clusters of volcanic rock pack a big punch, with friendly, welcoming locals and unbeatable tranquil beaches. Aitutaki is even called “Honeymoon Island”!
You can’t argue with that, so you might as well book Cook Islands holidays right this second. We’re waiting.
Accommodation on Rarotonga or Aitutaki, the two largest islands, is easiest to come by and will be the perfect home base for day trips to the other islands, some of which are as uninhabited and remote as the Outback.
Takutea, for example, has incredible diving on its untouched reefs, but you’ll need to say “Kia orana!” (hello) to the High Chief and get permission to go there. Adventure lovers can check out Mangaia, the oldest of the isles and home to cliffs, caves and lakes, plus unique red volcanic soil and “tropical potatoes” for the taking.
Sticking to the two main islands also provides plenty of memory-making. Anyone can be a play-buoy with chartered boat tours and fishing trips; if you’d rather be in the water, snorkel with new fishy friends or soak up some vitamin “sea” as you splash in the waves.
On Aitutaki, visit the motus (small, palm-filled isles)—just make sure you’ve packed your sunnies, as you’ve never seen anything like these sparkling turquoise waters. Aitutaki’s motus are even TV stars (Moturakau) and award winners (Tapuaetai, or One Foot Island)!
Flights to the Cook Islands land at Rarotonga International Airport (RAR), and from there the local airline can fly you to most islands (for a price, of course). The flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki is about 45 minutes, and on either island, it’s easiest to buzz around on two wheels with a scooter rental. Neither island has stoplights or many paved roads, but Rarotonga does have bus service. Buses run on the one main road all the way around the island, so all you have to know is whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise!
It may be all about soaking up the sun for many travellers, but visiting Cook Islands hotels in October is a great way to see the residents’ pastimes that don’t include sun cream and margaritas. Love squash? No, not the gourd, the sport! Cook Islands locals “bounce off the walls” for it, especially during the Club Raro Open in October.
There’s another festival in October that’s not quite so adrenaline-fuelled. The Tiare Flower Festival is more about beauty than brawn, with multiple—yes, multiple—flower parades, the crowning of Miss Tiare and a Young Warrior competition. It may or may not involve a dance-off; you’ll have to see for yourself.
Have you ever seen a competitive canoe race? They’re huge here. Of course this means there’s a festival for it! The Vaka Eiva Festival brings hundreds of paddlers from all over the world to compete for the title of who can paddle the fastest. Get in on the action with Cook Islands accommodation near Avarua Harbour in November.
Places to stay in the Cook Islands are practically just a formality. In this true-blue tropical climate, you’re basically going to be outside all the time. Snorkelling, drinking on catamarans and just laying out in the sun totally count. But what if you want to work off all those pina colada calories? Get literally off the beaten path with a hike on Rarotonga.
The Cross-Island Trek isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s not as hard as its name implies. It’s about 10km, and you should go from north to south for the best signage. You’ll totally feel like Bear Grylls as you trek through the dense jungle, but be sure to bring plenty of water—you’re not actually a survivalist (at least, we don’t think…). Hope you’ve got accommodation in the Cook Islands awaiting your return, because you’re gonna be tired!
If you really just want an easy bushwalk so you can get back to the beach, book a walking tour at Takitumu Conservation Area, a rainforest reserve where you can see rare birds like the kakekori, which only exists on the Cook Islands. Can’t think that far ahead? Take time out at the picnic areas of Papua Waterfall before you get back to your beach chair.
Pro Tip: Bear Grylls isn’t the only person you might want to channel on your outdoor adventures. A little Sherlock Holmes detective work doesn’t hurt on this island. There aren’t a ton of signs, which honestly, just makes it that much more fun.
There aren’t so much things you must see on the Cook Islands as there are things you must do. And number one on that list is eat! Umukai is the islands’ traditional Polynesian feast, but it’s more than just food. There will be drums, and there will definitely be dancing. If you’re lucky, there will be imene tuki singing performances (this means “hymn of grunts”—which is bound to be interesting).
One thing that’s guaranteed is that you’ll get some of the best food in the Cook Islands, and also some of the weirdest. “Spaghetti of the sea” sounds nice, right? It’s sea cucumber, served with banana and lemon. How about a nice beverage made of oranges? Well, in tumunu, they’re fermented into a boozy treat. Yum! Don’t have an umukai at your hotel? The Over-Water Night Show & Dinner brings the heat…in the form of fire spinners!
Ready to get cultured while enjoying small-town kindness and gorgeous scenery (and who wouldn’t be)? One day in the Cook Islands is all you need—although we definitely recommend more than that. Wotif has the best selection of hotels and resorts around, so you can practise your fire spinning skills instead. You’re almost a pro!
Hotels in Cook Islands start at AU$187 per night. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.