Cook Islands (source taken from Expedia)
Situated at the very center of Polynesia, the Cook Islands is an archipelago nation comprised of 15 islands. It is spread across an area in the South Pacific, three times the size of Texas.
Supremely beautiful with pristine white sands fringed by coconut palms, the Cook Islands possess a castaway island magic, and yet, is only a 4-hour flight from New Zealand. According to legend, these tiny islands dotted amongst the vast ocean, were discovered thousands of years ago by the very finest Polynesian seafarers. Guided by the stars and using other sophisticated navigation techniques, they landed their legendary double-hulled vakas and set about creating paradise.
Wind machineries arrived at the 19th century. They tried to ban the locals from what they considered to be ungodly traditions of singing, dancing, and drumming. Far from being weakened, the powerful beat of Polynesian culture, with its intimate connection to nature, was blended with its deep Christian faith. Today, the Cook Islands moves with a generous and gentle rhythm.
It is a rhythm you’ll feel as soon as you touchdown in Rarotonga, the largest island in the group. You could easily drive around the sparkling island in half an hour if you hurry, but that’s the charm of the Cook Islands. No one does.
Instead, slowly get lost amongst the pure, white coral sand beaches, considered by many to be the most beautiful in the South Pacific. The island is ringed by a reef creating a series of lagoons, many of which are perfect for swimming, boating, and snorkeling.
Take a safari tour inland where mountain trails criss-cross the volcanic center. And enjoy fresh tropical fruits like guava and jackfruit. Learn to open a coconut like the locals, or enjoy a locally brewed beer at the Matutu Brewery.
There is a saying in the Cook Islands, “Kiriti maro tai”, which means, “there is no such thing as a stranger”. Experience true Cook Island hospitality at a progressive diner, where you’ll be welcomed with a new course at three different island homes. Experience the magic of many different generations living under one roof. Be serenaded by ukuleles and guitars, and try ika mata, a local delicacy.
Another place you’ll be welcomed like family is in church, where you’ll find almost the entire population of the islands on Sunday mornings. Early missionaries taught English hymns to the locals who blended the words into their own style, creating a rhythm that sweeps up to the church rafters.
Just a 45-minute flight north of Rarotonga is tiny Aitutaki, perhaps the most beautiful of all the islands. Legend has it, that this island was settled by a famous seafaring warrior named Ru.
Visit O’otu Beach, the tranquil lagoon where he is said to have stepped ashore.
Discover more island history on a cruise, where the Aitutakian love of song, dance, and storytelling takes center stage. Snorkel in crystal clear waters amongst tropical fish and untouched coral reefs, and explore smaller, deserted islands and atolls.
Like many other Polynesian countries, the Cook Islands is known for delicate handicrafts that have been in integral part of the culture for centuries. Specialist stores throughout the islands offer fine jewelry made from local black pearls prized for their quality and luster. Or, visit a vibrant local markets such as the Aitutaki Markets to purchase beautiful hand-painted and string-printed silks and sarongs.
A little further afield is Atiu, also known as Enuamanu, which means “island of birds”. This volcanic island rewards adventurers with beautiful secluded coves and white sand beaches.
Hike through untouched tropical rainforests, and explore the Anatakitaki Caves as you try to spot the kopeka, a rare bird that navigates using echoes.
Another unique offering of Atiu is the fragrant, locally growed coffee, which has been growing in Atiu since it was introduced by the early missionaries.
Don’t leave this special island without a visit to the Rimau Burial Cave. It is easy to imagine the ritual drumbeats that helped lay to rest the spirits of the fearsome Polynesian warriors, who are believed to lie here.
It has been almost 250 years since Captain Cook became the first European to discover these islands. And yet, there is a gentle timelessness that endures here. So, come on discover the generous rhythm and warm hospitality of the Cook Islands for yourself.