In the middle of the Pacific a group of tiny volcanic islands called the Cook Islands are spread across a huge expanse of ocean, over 2,2000,000 square kilometres. It rivals Tahiti for its picture-postcard-perfect turquoise lagoons and coconut fringed desert islands.
Famed Polynesian navigators, who sailed from Tupua’I, far away in French Polynesia first settled the islands in 800 AD and Captain James Cook – their namesake – later stumbled on them in 1773.
There are lots of fun things to do on the islands. Here are a few ideas.
1. Island hopping
On the main island of Rarotonga, explore Muri Lagoon with Koka Lagoon Cruises. While you’re waiting for your thatched-roof boat, have a swing on the huge rope swing and see if you can make it to the water’s edge. The crew will then show you where to find all the friendliest fish and giant clams before taking you to Rock Island to show you their coconut tree climbing skills.
On Aitutaki Lagoon the Kia Orana Cruise company can take you on a totally different island hopping adventure. Tour guide Captain Fantastic has plenty of stories of each little island’s history, walk from one island to the next in waist-deep water and get your passport stamped at tiny One Foot Island.
2. Get on your bike
There’s only one main road around Aitutaki and Rarotonga so it’s impossible to get lost, and while the interiors are a bit hilly, the coastal roads are flat and easy to cycle.
On Rarotonga you can take a guided cycling tour with Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours.
There’s a choice of tours, varying in length, and they usually include lunch and a swim. As the name would suggest, you’ll also hear lots of stories along the way about the local environment and culture. On Aitutaki, pushbikes (and scooters) are available to hire at most hotels and guest houses.
3. Find a view
The Cook Islands are volcanic, and Rarotonga in particular has a steep mountain at its centre, and while Aitutaki’s centre isn’t quite as high, there are still spectacular views from its highest point.
On Rarotonga you can drive most of the way to the summit, before putting on your boots and hiking to the summit of Te Rua Manga, or The Needle, at 413m, to take in the view. Climb down the other side towards Muri Lagoon where you’ll find the beautiful Wigmore Waterfall.
Aitutaki’s highest point is called Maunga Pu, and at 124m it’s a relatively easy climb, rewarded with 360 degree views of the island.
Prepare yourself to be blown away at the many talented musicians you’ll find on The Cook Islands. In fact you’ll be accompanied by music most places you visit. Resorts generally hold at least one cultural performance each week, and if you miss out on the show at your resort, visit the resort next door. If you’re lucky you’ll be given a drumming lesson, and asked to join in a traditional dance.
5. Snorkeling and Diving
Koka Lagoon Cruises and Kia Orana Cruise Company can take you on a guided snorkeling tour, or you can simply hire some gear and wade in off the beach.
The best place to snorkel in Rarotonga is a little patch of coastline across the road from The Raritongan Resort and the Big Fish Dive Centre. You can hire gear here, and it’s also a great place to learn how to scuba dive. The lagoon is only three to five metres deep, with little current and clear warm water. It’s dotted with pretty little coral bommies and teeming with tropical fish.
In Aitutaki, before you go exploring the clam farms in the lagoon, visit the Aitutaki Marine Research Centre to learn all about their conservation programs.