Fiji, Bali and Hawaii are on their way out. Say hello to the Cook Islands, the rising star of the South Pacific. Recently voted the #1 Hottest Destination to visit in the Sydney Morning Herald, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all tranquil lagoons and overwater bungalows. An undeveloped paradise of 15 tropical islands where secluded waterfalls tumble a short walk from sandy shores and the local culture spills out onto laidback streets, it’s as authentic as they come. Here are 10 fabulous reasons to visit the Cook Islands before everybody else does!
There’s no better feeling than squishing sand between your toes that’s white and being able to peer through the glistening waters so you know exactly what is (or isn’t) swimming beside you. The Cook Islands deliver exactly that. Picture-perfect beaches and lagoons fringed by swaying palms make for the ultimate slice of sand to roll out that beach towel, plonk a floppy hat over your face and soak up the sunny South Pacific rays.
The minute you step off the plane you’ll feel island time take over. Even on Rarotonga, the biggest island (which is still small), the chilled out vibes are impossible to ignore and will immediately zap any sign of stress. This relaxed approach to life makes travelling here incredibly easy and enjoyable. It also makes it a fabulous place to travel with young children or a group of friends at any age.
The Cook Islands may only be a small nation, but when it comes to food, there’s no holding back. Meal times are all about gathering together to share flavours, tell tales and laugh. Traditional dishes most commonly feature the fresh local produce and seafood direct from the sea to your plate. Taro and coconut cream are also favourites in the local cooking scene, while a swig of bush beer is the perfect antidote to the sunny days, brewed from oranges, bananas, paw paws or hop.
Cook Islanders are renowned for their friendly smiles and warm welcomes, their laidback approach and chatty nature. So if you’re a traveller who loves to strike up conversations with locals wherever you go – or if you need to ask for directions frequently – there’s certainly no shortage of willing locals to help you out. The local Maori people speak good English too, so language poses no problem.
It’s hard to resist the call of the drums, the swish of traditional dress and the mesmerizing tales of marauding tribes and seafaring pirates. The local Polynesian culture is fascinating in every form, and while there are some museums worth a look, the traditional music, dance and arts and crafts are a colourful sight to behold and the best way to feel the true rhythm of Polynesia. An ‘island night’ – similar to the Hawaiian luau – is the perfect way to glimpse the dazzling celebratory action in all its glory over a feast that’s just as authentic.
While it’s not the cheapest destination on the world map, when it comes to South Pacific standards the Cook Islands provide great value. Cheaper than destinations like Tahiti, Hawaii and French Polynesia, you can choose from a variety of accommodation options ranging anywhere from cheap and cheerful guesthouses to high-end luxury resorts. You can also generally fly between the islands at a decent price. Operating on the New Zealand dollar, it’s also pretty easy to figure out exactly how much you’re paying.
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Famed for its glistening black pearls, a string of the precious local jewels – or even just one signature pearl – is a wonderful reason to visit. Farmed in one of the most remote parks of the Cook Islands, around the Manihiki atoll, while they’re referred to as ‘black’ they actually come in a range of hues from blue and silver to green. Venture straight to the pearl farms or a retailer in Avarua for the best souvenir the South Pacific has to offer.
Getting off the beaten track is easy despite the small and compact size of each island. Even the third most popular island, Atiu, will leave you feeling like you’re the only tourist on the whole patch of land. So imagine then what it’s like to venture off to somewhere like Mangaia, Mauke or Mitiaro. Pure bliss and seclusion awaits.
If you see a beach and automatically think adventure – not relaxation – you’ll be pleased to know there’s plenty to discover once you duck your head beneath the water’s surface. Strap on some goggles and a snorkel to clearly glimpse the intriguing coral formations and colourful marine life. Float alongside friendly turtles or scuba dive so you can delve into the depths where rays and reef sharks lurk and hidden underwater passages, caverns and wrecks await discovery. If you’ve got young children in tow, you might prefer a scenic ride on the Reef Sub, the Cook Islands’ only semi-submersible cruise.
The excitement of a local festival is always a bonus on holidays and thankfully, the Cook Islanders love to celebrate. You may find yourself here in perfect time for the Rarotonga Gospel Day in July, the Te Mire Tama flower festival in October, or the Dancer of the Year event in May. The king of the local festivals though is Te Maeva Nui in July every year, an explosion of song, dance and national costume.
For the latest deals on travelling to the Cook Islands, browse our great range of offers online, visit your local Escape Travel or call 1300 556 855.