The Cook Islands are the quintessential tropical islands we all dream about when everyday life gets dull and boring – the sultry heat of a shimmering, golden sun sitting high in yet another perfect blue sky, the vibrant green fronds of coconut palms riffling in the gentle sea breeze, the pungent perfume of colourful tropical flowers wafting through the air. The Cook Islands is a garden of Eden, a place where life is lived in the slow lane, and each new day unfolds with the promise of yet another perfect day in paradise.
It is funny, but I have been asked where to find the Cook Islands by every person I have talked to about our island holiday earlier this year. It seems everyone has heard of the Cook Islands but not too many people – at least the ones I have spoken to – know exactly where they are or what is there to entice them to visit ... and there's plenty!
The Cook Islands is a group of 15 islands, some so small that you could hop over them. These gorgeous tropical islands are scattered over almost two million square kilometres of ocean and are around 5,000 kilometres or six hours flying time from Sydney, and even closer to New Zealand. Keep going, and you will end up in Tahiti. The two main tourist islands are Rarotonga where your flight arrives - a volcanic, jungle-clad island with high, craggy mountains that seem to plunge straight into a shimmering blue lagoon - and Aitutaki, recognised by lovers world-wide as a honeymooner's paradise.
A Cook Islands honeymoon, holiday or short break offers visitors a tantalising mixture of sun, sand and sea as well as a heartwarming peek into the island culture that has sustained their society through generations. It's a place where you slow down, take a deep breath and relax into "Island Time". Leave your watch at home and don't bother with your computer because the connections are terrible and ultra-expensive – in short, this destination gives true meaning to the word "holiday"!
You will not find the frenetic energy of Bali or Thailand here, and it's totally different from its Pacific neighbours of Fiji and Vanuatu. The Cook Islands most resembles the islands of French Polynesia, which isn't surprising seeing as that's where the original settlers came from. If you want quality time together peppered with a pinch of adventure and a potful of romantic dining options, this is the place to find it.
Once you have settled into your lovely beachfront accommodation (they are nearly all beachfront – isn't that fantastic!), pop down to the police station and get your driver's licence for $20 (a great souvenir), then hire a car or scooter and hit the road. There's one road that hugs the coastline around the island, and you won't have to stop at intersections and traffic lights because there aren't any. From the main town of Avarua, it takes only 45 minutes to travel right around the island, so it's easy to get to any location. If you don't want to drive a car or motor scooter, then avail yourselves of the local bus which runs regularly, clockwise and anti-clockwise, every day.
Stop off anywhere along the way for a swim in the lagoon on a deserted stretch of beach, or choose a beachfront restaurant and relax for a few hours over lunch or a beer. A couple of favourites for lunch are the Rarotonga Sailing Club at Muri Beach and Trader Jacks Bar and Grill right in town. For a romantic dinner you can't go past Tamarind House Restaurant – in my opinion, it's the best fine dining spot on the island. There's also a new, classy looking restaurant at the brand new Nautilus Resort at Muri Beach that wasn't open when we were there, but is now getting good reviews. The beachfront resort opens in August and by the looks of it, will be a stunning new addition to the accommodation options.
Music and dance are such a big part of the culture, and you will want to enjoy as much as you can while you're here. We highly recommend a Sunday morning service at one of the historic churches scattered around the island, because when the choir starts singing, your heart will soar as high as their harmonies. You are also invited to share morning tea with the locals, a great opportunity and a unique experience to get to know a little of the Cook Islands' culture. And don't miss the dance show at the Te Vara Nui Cultural Village; it's a great night out and I rate it as one of the best cultural shows in the Pacific.
The island of Aitutaki, nicknamed Honeymoon Island, should be part of your honeymoon or short break itinerary as it's probably one of the most romantic places on the planet! Even if you don't factor in a couple of days (and you should), you can still fly over for the day and enjoy a stunning cruise around Aitutaki's glorious lagoon to One Foot Island. Or, visit some of the motu (small islets) on the outer perimeter and feed the giant fish near Heaven Sandbar. Don't come all the way to the Cook Island's and miss this because it's unique experiences like this that holiday memories are made of.
If you're planning the ultimate island honeymoon, consider The Cook Islands' ... it is one of the most romantic locations you can find if a tropical escape is what you are looking for. Once you decide on The Cook Islands for your ultimate romantic escape, you simply must consider including a resort on Aitutaki for a couple of nights. It is easy to split your time between Aitutaki and Rarotonga and there is no shortage of accommodation to suit all budgets. We stayed at the incredibly romantic Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, situated on its own private island on the lagoon. Here, villas are sited right on the beach and there are even the quintessential overwater bungalows where you can dive from your balcony into the crystal clear waters of the lagoon ... this is pretty much holiday/honeymoon heaven.
For the best accommodation options check out our Cook Islands accommodation guide.
Island Nights are held at many resorts and shouldn't be missed as they are a window into the local culture. There's a wide variety of restaurants and cafes scattered throughout the island and of course seafood features heavily.
The Punanga Nui Cultural Market in the heart of Rarotonga, especially on Saturday which is the biggest market day.Here you will find local arts and crafts as well as fresh market food.
Get out on the water with Sail Rarotonga for a sunset cruise and a view of the island that's mesmerising. Snacks provided and BYO alcohol.
Navigating Pacific Skies is a special evening spent with Tua Pittman, one of Polynesia's finest sailors and navigators learning about navigating by the stars as you travel around the island, beginning with a restaurant dinner, drive around the island to view and get to know the stars, and ending with dessert at a private home.
Getting to the Cook Islands is easier now that Air New Zealand have a weekly flight direct from Sydney to Rarotonga every Saturday evening with connections through Virgin from all ports in Australia. If this doesn't suit you can fly from any Australian capital city to Auckland in NZ and then connect through to Rarotonga on Air New Zealand. Flights back to Sydney leave Rarotonga on Friday afternoon in time to make most interstate connections. You can also connect through to Los Angeles, California from Rarotonga so perhaps a combined island/USA honeymoon?