The Best Kept Secret of Polynesia
The keyword for visitors to the Cook Islands is tranquillity. There are no high-rise hotels to be found, and very little fuss. It’s an ideal destination for travellers seeking more than the usual clichés associated with the Pacific, with every island offering its unique qualities for a truly unique holiday experience.
Rarotonga is the main island of the Cooks, a beautiful and tropical paradise, surrounded by a reef that shelters the lagoon. Come, enjoy and just relax, or take part in some of the great activities on offer
on the island. Go scuba diving or snorkelling, swim in the clear blue waters or learn from the locals how to open a coconut.
When you get enough of the beach for awhile, learn Rarotongan traditional dancing or how to make and ‘Ei’ (traditional flower garland), you can visit the Cultural Village or the National Museum or browse around the local food market on Saturday morning.
To See & Do
Diving is a very popular pastime in the Cook Islands, given they are the home of the famous black pearls. Many top quality dive operations are available for tourists, although it does pay to remember the closest decompression chamber is in Auckland New Zealand.
The amazing clear waters give an underwater visibility up to 200 feet, with spectacular canyons, caves and wrecks. Fishing is another huge sport and tours range from night fishing with the locals to serious game fishing.
The lagoon, no matter where you are, is perfect for snorkeling, even if you have never done this before. The area is a protected marine reserve, so it means fish are plentiful and easily found in the areas where reef rocks are close by. If you want to spear fish, you may be better heading out to one of the outer islands such as Aitutaki.
Humpback whales visit the Cook Islands (mostly Rarotonga and Atiu) from July to October and come right up to the reef which in places is just 10 metres from shore. The best place to view the whales is on the west coast of Rarotonga at Black Rock and on the north coast of Rarotonga.
Shopping is relaxed in the Cook Islands, with plenty of variety and great bargains to be had. The main shopping area is in Rarotonga, located in downtown Avarua. There are also a number of restaurants, clubs and bars overlooking the beach where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
Three concepts are particularly vital to the Pacific people, tapu, mana and custom. Tapu is generally given the term forbidden or evil, and every day life involves understanding what is tapu and how to avoid it and remove its effectiveness.
Mana refers to spiritual power - it is a quality possessed by all people, part hereditary and part achievement. Custom is a key element of traditional life. Custom evolves around the extended family and village, of sharing wealth, status and knowledge. The lack of personal property and personal space is a concept foreign to people from the Western world, and it has caused difficulties from early European exploration to modern day tourism and business.
Islanders hold on to a strict hierarchical system headed by hereditary chiefs (known as ariki in Cook Islands) and with commoners serving the good of the village. What unifies all cultures today is their strong belief in Christianity which plays an important part in the village community and national politics.
Another tradition widely maintained by all Pacific cultures is that of traditional dance, from hip-swaying erotic dances of the Polynesians to the more powerful war dances performed by Melanesians. Most dances are based on stories of bygone years, down through the generations.
How to get here
The airlines that have flights to the Cook Islands are Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia and Jetstar. There are direct flights from Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles with Air New Zealand and direct flights from Auckland with Virgin Australia and Jetstar. For more information on arrival and departures, please refer to the Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia or Jetstar websites and choose Cook Islands.