Friday, 24 October 2014

Why the Cook Islands Are Kick Arse

We are so lucky here on the east coast of Australia. We have some of the best beaches in the world, the rugged coastline is the setting for secluded bays, white sandy expanses and beaches with hardly a soul to disrupt the crashing of the waves. With all that glory who would need anything else but we Australians are a greedy bunch and in our backyard we are hiding the islands of the South Pacific, our own playground to escape to when the palm trees are calling.

I have had the privilege to travel to many of the South Pacific Nations, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island (technically owned by Australia) and as far a field as Hawaii but in my opinion the Cook Islands kicks all their tropical little butts.

From the moment you fly into the main island of Rarotonga you know you are in for a treat. Looking down on the tiny island surrounded by turquoise blue lagoons the first thing that hits you is the mountains. The centre of the island is dominated by rugged jungle like mountains with multiple peaks. Their dense foliage and vines tumble down the steep mountain faces and abruptly stop very close to the coastline. Snuggled at the base of the mountains is two roads, one entirely circumnavigates the island and predominantly features tourist accommodations, restaurants and a small township. Set slightly back from this is the inner road which houses the local dwellings. Amongst all of this there are smatterings of local chickens darting across the road and lazy dogs playing catch with the fish in the shallow waters.

Once you are on the island and have been greeted by Jake Numanga who has been strumming his guitar at the airport to greet new arrivals for twenty years you will head off on the main road that winds it’s way along the coastline to your accommodation. The Cook Islands have managed to stave off all major chain resort development and the accommodation on offer varies from holiday houses rented out by the locals to small resorts and bungalow style accommodation offering the amenities expected by tourists but with none of the commercial trappings.

The lack of sprawling resorts and commercialism is what I love so much about the Cook Islands. Fiji can keep it’s kids clubs, monolithic cement blocks of rooms and vast pools, a private bungalow built on the sand overlooking the white beach and crystal blue waters is all I need to be in heaven.

I recommend hiring a little car whilst you are there. Whilst the island may not be large you cannot walk to the restaurants or town from most accommodations. There are two local buses that run in opposite directions around the main road but waiting out in the sweltering heat for a bus that comes once an hour is not my idea of fun. The restaurants and attractions of Rarotonga are scattered around the island and the car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please as well as explore the inner road and try out various snorkeling spots. The speed limit is 40 km per hour unless you are on a scooter or motorbike in which it is 30km/ph so with most of the locals riding motorbikes you will invariably be driving around at 30 so there is nothing to fear.

The culture is typically Polynesian but with a strong New Zealand Maori flavour to it. The locals are laid back and relaxed and with the island being so small you can really get a feel for local living. In no way are you isolated in a tourist resort like you may be on the coral coast of Fiji. You will be out and about each day, you can pop into the local supermarket for snacks and ice cream, head into the local markets selling food and clothes on Saturday morning. I like driving the inner road to get an insight into local life, whilst there is no space for large scale farming you can see how the locals grow their own vegetables and tend to their chickens, pigs and goats.

Rarotonga doesn’t offer endless day trips and excursions, it is too small to have an abundance for tourist activities but there is enough to satisfy most. The snorkeling is protected by the reef and available right off the beach round a large part of the island. Whilst some of the coral has been damaged by tropical storms there are still some impressive formations and colourful tropical fish. For the more adventurous you can hike through the lush jungle in the centre of the island. There are also diving and fishing trips, polynesian dance shows, quad biking, 4WD tours actually the more I think about it the more that I realise what is on offer. I have also felt in the few years between my first trip there in 2008 to my second trip there in 2013 there was quite a big advance in the tourist facilities. More restaurants had opened and more tour operators had set up and all run by locals so it doesn’t have that overly “touristy” feel. It seems the locals were taking advantage of the increase in tourism since direct flights had been introduced to & from Australia which was nice to see.

If you are going to stick to the main island of Rarotonga then I recommend a stay of 7-10 nights or if  you are going to include Aitutaki which I hear is stunning you may want to extend a little. It costs approximately $300-$500 on top of your international airfare to get out to Aitutaki and once there most of the accommodation is more expensive than on Raro as it is aimed at the luxury market. I didn’t head out there in either trip as it wasn’t in the budget and I did feel I was so satisfied by my stay on Raro that I didn’t need to go further afield.

I do really think the Cooks is a hidden jem in the South Pacific I love it so much that myself and my husband got married there right on the beach. We selfishly didn’t invite any guests, our resort “The Palm Grove Bungalows” arranged the licence, celebrant, flower arch and bouquet at very little cost and we booked a private beachfront dinner at the Crown Beach Resort for sunset. It was magical.

I won’t go into comparing it to the other islands in the South Pacific. I do think the various island nations offer different things for different people but if you are after a holiday with glorious beaches, a real local vibe, charming local culture, easily accessible facilities, good prices and a getaway that will make you long to leave it all behind and live the island life then the Cook Islands is for you.

Originally posted on Friday, 24 October 2014 by


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