The Cook Islands seem to inhabit half the South Pacific. They’re so spread out that the casual visitor is extremely unlikely to visit more than a couple of the fifteen, but when you’ve made your pick, you’ll find they all offer their own brand of tropical paradise. Throw in aging, little-influenced cultures and the kind of outlook that makes you wish you weren’t born into modernity and you’ve got a rare destination well worth writing home about. If you can find the energy to pick up a pen, that is.
Most visitors land on Rarotonga, which is neatly sandwiched between near impenetrable jungle and typically picture-postcard turquoise seas. Dance the night away in an ecstatic haze of tribal culture, soaking up the beat of tribal drums after a sumptuous Umukai feast, explore the sweet-smelling rain-forests or take a glimpse into the expanses of the deep blue from the deck of a glass-bottomed boat, spine tingling as oversized fish flick against the glass.
While Rarotonga’s blissful in it’s own right, to feel like you’ve really ‘just been washed up’ you’re going to have to hit the smaller islands. In Aitutaki you’ll be greeted by an underwater garden full of unfeasibly hefty clams and rainbow fish, all tucked just under the surface of a colorful lagoon widely commended as one of the South Pacific’s most brilliant sites. On shore there are enough beaches to share that you might just find your own, and exploring the backstreets reveals coral-walled churches and ancient tribal meeting spots.
Atiu’s set of deep underground caves and soggy swamps draw in the nature lovers, while the spooky burial grounds give visitors a sinister taste of Polynesian culture and the potent coffee grown at the local plantations makes a perfect Sunday morning hangover cure. If you have plenty of time to kill, the black pearl fields of far off Penrhyn and Manihiki are a serious trek to get to, but rewarding in their ‘far from civilization’ isolation, while for culture addicts, Mitiaro offers the best in well-preserved villages and traditional lifestyle.
The Cook Islands are the kind of location where time passes all too quickly, and it’s easy to find yourself stepping back on the plane with the taste of your last Mojito still lingering at the back of your throat, and this south pacific paradise already a fading memory. It’s invariably divine, but try not to get tied to just one beach.