It’s stretching poetic license to say that every tropical island is a paradise. In a search for superlatives, the description of a place being paradise should be reserved for a select few. I’m going to let you in on the reasons why the Cook Islands ARE a South Pacific Paradise.
1. The Cross Island Walk
The beauty of the Cook Islands is simply magical. One great way to explore this South Pacific paradise is to take the Cross Island Walk (also referred to ta the Needle walk), which takes about 4 hours. The trail takes you deep into Rarotonga’s lush scenery. It starts on the northern coast and leads you through the rich greenery all the way up to the pinnacle rock at the center of the island, called Te Rua Manga. From there you can take in some fantastic and far-reaching views. Then, the trail takes you back though the forest, with several scenic stops along the way. End your hike at Wigmore Falls, which are particularly beautiful after a heavy rain.
2. Aitutaki Lagoon
This lagoon is picture perfect in every way. The water is a calming translucent turquoise blue, and you can just chill on the beach or engage in any number of fun water activities, like kayaking, snorkeling or swimming. If you want to kayak, you might take advantage of one of the many tiny islands in the area. There are 21 of them, and if you don’t kayak don’t worry because some tiny islands can be visited on cruises and tours. The small island of Maina is home to a picturesque sandbar known as Honeymoon Island.
3. Cook Islands Cultural Village Tour
Within 5 acres of lush tropical gardens lies the Cultural Village, which gives visitors a real feel for the traditional island life. There, you will see how native people husk coconuts, cook, fish, carve, weave, and even dance. You may discover new health tips when learning about Maori bush medicine. See colorful textiles and energetic dances, and enjoy a variety of foods. Immerse yourself in the culture and the friendliness of the Maori people!
4. Aroa Marine Reserve
The sheltered waters of the Aroa Marine Reserve create excellent opportunities for snorkeling. Don’t know how? There are instructors that will teach you! The crystal clear waters are surrounded by an outlying reef and are home to angelfish, parrot fish, Moorish idols, and more. Off limits to motorized boats, the lagoon is safe for swimming and snorkeling with children and beginners. Want to stay above water? Kayaking is also very popular, as well and relaxing and enjoying the beach.
On the north coast of Rarotonga, you’ll find the capital of the Cook Islands, Avurua. This relaxed little town is friendly and welcoming, and visitors can visit the many shops, restaurants and tourist attractions it offers. For example, the Cook Islands Christian Church, built in 1853 out of coral, will exude lovely Maori hymns on Sunday mornings. The Cook Islands Library and Museum Society houses many rare books on the Pacific and on the cultural history of the islands. South of town you’ll find the Perfume Factory, specializing in products scented with local flowers. The Punanga Nui Outdoor Market offers mountains of mangos, pineapples, passion fruit, fragrant flowers, crafts and clothing, and is usually open on Saturday mornings.
Serene Arutanga is the main settlement on the island of Aitutaki. One of the main attractions is the Cook Islands Christian Church, built in 1828 and the Cook Island’s oldest. It’s arguably one of the most attractive as well, with beautiful stained glass windows and colorful carved wood accents. There is also a quiet harbor and a number of craft shops in the area. If you’re into fishing, the right hand side of the wharf hosts fishing contest that are open to the public.
7. One Foot Island
Also known as Tapuaetai, visitors are enchanted by their island fantasies coming to life. One of the most visited of the smaller islets (or motu), its pristine white beaches are outlined in swaying coconut palms. Beach lovers can simply bask in the sand and appreciate the unique beauty of the place, while sunning themselves or wading in the turquoise waters. Snorkelers will appreciate the crystal clear waters, allowing high visibility and great wildlife viewing. You can even get your passport stamped at the tiny post office.
This small village, located on the west side of Rarotonga, was the island’s first missionary village. Today, it’s the location of another of the Cook Islands Christian Churches, dating from 1849, and the site of a monument to the island’s first missionary, Papeiha. It’s a great spot just to bask in the sand and watch the sunset. Want to stay? Check out several of the quaint cottages for rent.
9. Avana Harbor
In the town of Ngatangiia lies Avana Harbor, a popular mooring spot for yachts. However, in the 14th century, this is where the Maoris first launched their twin-hulled canoes en route to what is now New Zealand. Today a historical plaque memorializing that voyage is visible, and because of this, Cook Islanders request that visitors don’t swim in the waters due to its historical significance.
Stunning scenery, pristine and beautiful beaches, friendly people, plenty to see and do: what’s not to love about the Cook Islands?