Little specks in a vast seascape

The Cook Islands are a collection of hidden jewells.

Picture the most tranquil, picturesque experience surrounded by exquisite lagoons, beautiful marine life, local cultural traditions and luscious clear blue water and you have the hidden jewels of the South Pacific – the vast and unique Cook Islands, a trip of a lifetime.

The Cook Islands lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii in the South Pacific. Extravagantly beautiful, all 15 islands feature a collection of atolls, cays and volcanic islands boasting rare beauty, idyllic climate, warm hospitality - a place unsurpassed to other Pacific Islands.

If you are dreaming of a different travel escape to a tropical paradise - away from uninspiring, expensive locations – and sleeping in beautiful houses, resorts, bungalows or under the stars and immersing yourself into local activities, island culture and warm people, the Cook Islands are the most beautiful, remote islands.

The islands offer special treasure troves and cultural activities – every island opens its doors to a different cultural and historical tradition in addition to an island paradise.

For many eco-friendly travellers, the Cook Islands government and people pride themselves on conservation and Climate Change which is instilled on every island to protect the beautiful wilderness of the islands and the sea.

On the outer islands, the islanders live in much the same way as their ancestors – farming, fishing and trading with nearby islands.

Rarotonga and the outer Southern Islands

The beating heart of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga wraps you up on arrival with the warmth of the people and tropical sun. On arriving by plane into Rarotonga you have stepped back in time. Visitors are greeted with a little local airport, Polynesian smiles and the joy of a local man singing a Cook Islands tune, playing the Ukulele.

Rarotonga offers an abundance of beauty with crystal clear turquoise waters full of tropical fish swimming around the reefs and many traditional cultural and tourist activities including island night dance performances by the locals. 

Accommodation is unlimited from five-star villas and houses or for the budget conscious there is plenty of simple accommodation. Relish the local cuisine at the many restaurants and pick up some local fruit at one of the many stands along the main circular road.

Coconut palms fringe the beach that surrounds the entire island with luscious coves along the western edge including Muri lagoon and Tititakeveka with its boutique properties.

Snorkelling and diving form part of the natural past time at Rarotonga and the outer islands with most resorts, houses and villas supplying gear. For a cultural experience, try a typical island night performance or visit Highland Paradise which offers the traditional viewing of the Marae (secret religious gathering places).

A typical Sunday service at the main Christian Church on every island is something any traveller to the Cook Islands must witness. Cappello singing, women dressed in their traditional woven Rito hats and men in their Sunday best, flock into the churches across the nation and follow up with a typical Sunday family lunch for the remainder of the day. 

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Aitutaki is the crown jewel of the Cook Islands with its magnificent lagoon. An atoll with small islands, Aitutaki is a favourite destination for many. Aitutaki’s stunning lagoon features beautiful coral and sea life is unlike anywhere across the World. Experienced fishermen flock to Aitutaki in groups to try out their favourite pastime of bone fishing or deep-sea fishing outside the lagoon for Mahi Mahi or Marlin. Special cruises take groups or individuals for day trips on the lagoon to snorkel amongst the coral featuring large varieties of fish. You come away immersed by the beauty of this atoll.

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For centuries, this island was infamous across the South Seas for its warriors and constant battles, but these days it is better known as the most ecofriendly and environmentally minded of the Cook Islands. Like Mauke and Mitiaro, the island has dramatic natural features from volcanic hills and 1000-year-old rising coral forming a jagged makatea – coral rising reef. From deep underground caves and dense coastal forest with a blow hole and inland lakes, this is an island rich with wild rainforest plus a unique coffee plantation called Aitu Coffee. Aitu is famous for the unique bird life featuring the local Koru bird especially bread back into the environment. Tours are conducted by George the birdman who has been instrumental in bringing these famous birds back into existence. Other traditions include the Tumunu, a place where men meet to sort out their issues on the island with their special home-made brew. For the adventurous, the island occasionally hosts the annual pig hunt and occasionally George conducts a mud-crab hunt. 

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Extraordinarily pretty, Mauke is a rich garden island, abundant with flowers that grow wild and a place where locals take enormous pride in their garden homes. Mauke is justifiably known as the garden island.

The island consists of a central volcanic plateau surrounded by ancient old fossilized coral reefs - Makatae - raised over 1000s of years. Mauke’s main road circumnavigating the island features beautiful beach coves and lush vegetation, the only passing traffic are goats and pigs.

Being the most tranquil and quietest of the islands, it is the perfect place to unwind, step back in time, read a good book, walk around the island, ride your bike, explore the underground caves or simply laze on one of the secluded beach coves.

The deep underground caves and lakes are rich with deep clear pools and create a honeycomb effect on the island of Mauke.

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Another lush and beautiful garden and farming island is Mangaia. Stepped in history over 14 million years, Mangaia is the oldest island in the Pacific.

Like Mauke, Mangaia consists of a central volcanic plateau surrounded by ancient fossil coral reefs – Makatae – and has beautiful secluded beaches. Explore the many parts of the reefs and caves but make sure your host provides you with reef shoes as the reef can tear up your feet.  There are plenty of walks and very few people on this island.

Taro is a popular vegetable amongst the Cook Islanders and with a guide you may visit the many plantations available across the small isle.

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Previously only accessible to the truly adventurous, this stunning hidden treasure of island paradise offers beautiful and traditional homestay accommodation.  Sleeping in woven pandanus tree Kikau huts hosted by local Mitiaro families and listening to the waves breaking nearby, you step back in time and experience the customary living and kindness of the Mitiaroans. 

This is escaping to a remote island at its best and exploring the true Mitiaroan culture and island living, eating fresh fruit and fish, swimming and walking across the little beaches and coral reef and experiencing the spectacular underground swimming holes. 

Mitiaro is only 6kms wide – small compared to other islands. Flying into Mitiaro the view of the island appears deserted only showing swamps, lakes, plantations and a craggy, rugged terrain of a raised coral reef – a makatea – surrounding the island. Physically, Mitiaro is flatter than other Cook Islands as a result of a sunken volcano forming the swamps and lakes known as Te Rotonui (big lake) and Te Rotoiti (small lake). 

The Northern Islands 

Air Rarotonga recently launched chartered and private jets for adventurous people wishing to take a remote experience the Northern Group of the Cook Islands. Trips include Manahiki – famous for the black pearls - and Palmerston.