The incredibly remote, satisfyingly secluded, invigoratingly rich and enchantingly beautiful Cook Islands are a true utopia, and perhaps, the best kept secret of the Pacific. Scattered across the vast open waters of the Pacific Ocean are 15 tiny islands. The idyllic islands, in such a pristine, untouched shape, seem otherworldly – perfect, white sand beaches, glistening, azure waters, colourful coral reef and the friendliest of people.
The Cook Islands’ peaceful atmosphere and laissez faire attitude make for the perfect rest and relaxation holiday. Surrounded by nothing but natural beauty, bewitched by the ocean’s calming waters and enveloped in the rich, deeply rooted history of the Polynesians you will easily forget all of your worries as you adapt to the island life and let nature guide your journey.
Each of the islands, formed by volcanic mountains, has its own character and unique offerings. Rarotonga is the largest and most populated of the islands and the cultural, economic and travel hub of the Cooks. It is where most travellers spend their time, and for a good reason, as it is surrounded by picturesque beaches, active pursuits and social engagements. At just 26 square miles, the island is small, but its dense forest interior is home to dramatic rock formations, waterfalls and even ancient temples. The best way to take in the incredible sights is on a four-hour walk across the island.
For a truly fascinating and off-the-beaten-path experience, try venturing out to one of the farther islands like Atiu and Mauke.
Atiu, which means “land of birds,” is the third largest island. While it once was a haven for birds, numbers have dwindled in recent years due to predators. The island consists of old, out of the water coral reefs (makatea) and swamps surrounding a high plateau and limestone caves. The villages are small, the population nears that of 600 and Taro and Arabica coffee are the primary crops.
Mauke is the easternmost island. As with all the islands, life is simple here. Maire leaves are exported to Hawaii to be used in decorations, men often fish for tuna and carve bowls, flatware and sculptures out of white and black and red and brown wood. The beaches are excellent, however the waters are extremely shallow, and on occasion, there are whale sightings.
Here, water seems to control everything. The heavy rainfalls produce copious crops, while the oceans tides affect the intricate marine ecosystem and numerous aquatic activities. The waters surrounding the Cooks are ideal for snorkelling and diving. In fact, the area contains some of the best-preserved reefs and dive sites in the world. Locals and visitors alike, enjoy kayaking, surfing and sailing along the vast ocean. The island of Aitutaki is home to one of the world’s largest coral lagoons where brightly coloured fish and delicate sea creatures can be viewed.
In addition to the natural environment, the welcoming and easy-going attitude of the people, is what makes a stay in the Cooks so memorable. Strong cultural ties and time-honoured practices are shared with those who wish to learn. Atui is the best place to experience the traditional Maori lifestyle. The Cook Islands music and song is rooted in drums and exotically rhythmic dances. Handicrafts are also unique to the area. In addition to woodcarvings, the outlying islands still practice Tivaevae quilting. Many handicrafts can be viewed the museum and the Avarua market. Although geared for tourists, the Te Vara Nui cultural and informational experience consists of a guided tour and a performance, exhibiting history of the Maori and their traditional ways of life.
Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand, the Cook Islands are about as remote as it gets. The 15 small, yet immensely rich islands are a beach-lover’s paradise. White-sand and palm-fringed beaches provide the perfect rest stop for taking in the sun’s rays, exploring the rich underwater reef and admiring the exceptional beauty of the surrounding landscapes. From the country’s largest island of Rarotonga to the small neighbouring atolls to the north and south, everybody can find their own piece of paradise.
With stunning natural formations, a rich coral reef and a captivating culture, there is no shortage of diversions and excursions for visitors. Whether seeking a tranquil getaway, an adventure-packed trip or a culturally enriching experience, the Cook Islands have something for everyone. When you leave the charming isles, you are guaranteed to feel refreshed and revitalised.
Things to do in the Cook Islands
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The hot and tropical climate of the Cook Islands are highly conducive to outdoor activities. As a result, pack accordingly.
The Cooks are a beach destination. Therefore, beach attire and lightweight, comfortable clothing is highly advised. A warm sweater and a light, waterproof jacket are also good to have in case the temperatures drop at night or there is rain. It might be a good idea to throw in one smart outfit for dinner engagements or more formal locations.
Bring comfortable walking shoes and sandals. Sun protection is a must, even when it’s overcast. Prevent sun damage, bring plenty of sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and lip balm.
While many things can be purchased, some items to keep in mind are snorkelling equipment, beach towels, plastic or waterproof bags, a small torch and a pocket knife. A camera is a must-have, as are water sandals to protect your feet from the coral reef.
In addition to prescription medications, it’s a good idea to pack a first aid kit, anti-diarrhoea medication, pain relief medication, antibacterial cream and water-purification tablets and rehydrating solutions. Mosquito nets and insect repellent are also beneficial.
The sun-drenched, warm and unwavering temperatures of the Cook Islands make it a great year-round holiday destination. The seasons change ever so slightly, with the winter months (May to October) seeing temperatures ranging from 18°C to 28°C and 21°C to 29°C in the summer (November to April).
While humidity levels are not extremely high, the islands can receive heavy rainfall. Rainstorms are prevalent from December to April. However, they are very brief and will not ruin a day spent outside. The wet season (December to March) tends to be the hottest and most humid time of year and can receive about 25cm of rain each month.
The Rarotonga region remains consistently wet due to its higher elevation. The area can occasionally experience week-long downpours. Mangaia Island in the south tends to be the coolest, while the northern islands of Penrhyn and Rakahanga are the hottest.
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