Crystal blue lagoons, day-long snorkelling, cocktails at sunset - this South Pacific haven is the ultimate honeymoon destination for any couple looking to explore island life or simply relax and do, well, absolutely nothing!
Often described as the hidden treasure of the Pacific, The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific Ocean, north-east of New Zealand, between Tahiti and Fiji. While visitors can spend their time holidaying around the 15 small islands, most choose to head to buzzing Rarotonga (home to the international airport) and Aitutaki, the pristine lagoon guaranteed to leave you breathless. And hey, if it’s good enough for Getaway’s Catriona Rowntree’s honeymoon, it’s good enough for us! Read on for a snapshot of the two most popular stops:
LANGUAGE: Cook Island Maori
CURRENCY: New Zealand Dollars or Cook Island Dollars (they’ll accept both)
LEARN THE LINGO:Kia Orana = Hi (or directly translated ‘may you continue to live’)
Meitaki = Thank you
‘Ine = Please
Ae = Yes
Kare = No
WHERE TO STAY:
Splurge: Sea Change Villas – Winner of the 2009 Air New Zealand Cook Islands Tourism Awards for best villas and suites, these Balinese-style bungalows are the ultimate. Each bungalow comes with a private plunge pool, but for the best view and the beach on your doorstep (literally!), it’s worth spending a little extra for one of the two beachfront villas. A one-bedroom beachfront villa will set you back around $715 per night.
Save: Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa – The sister resort of the breathtaking Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, the Rarotongan Resort is located right on the beach and offers a wide range of activities you’d want from a family-friendly resort. Best of all, if you’re heading to Aitutaki you can save some cash by booking a package deal at both their resorts. A beachfront room will set you back around $267 per night (low season).
Splurge: Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa – Getaway’s Catriona Rowntree chose this resort as her honeymoon spot, and it’s no wonder why – positioned right on the breathtaking Aitutaki Lagoon, it’s an idyllic piece of paradise at your feet. While this 5-star accommodation may be a little dated in décor (the Pacific Resort is a nicer option if décor is important to you) it’s the location that’ll have you itching to stay here. A beachfront bungalow will set you back around $420 per night (low season), or you can make like you’re in the Maldives and indulge in an over-water bungalow ($1085 per night, low season) as it’s the only resort in the Cook Islands to offer this feature.
Save: Paparei Bungalows – Located on the island’s west side and just a short walk from town, these bungalows offer a comfy holiday environment without a hefty price tag. Nicely decorated, each bungalow is completely self-contained, giving you that extra bit of privacy. A standard bungalow will set you back around $180 per night.
For some good pub grub, a casual drink with a nice view, or a fresh seafood platter for two, Trader Jack’s is the place to go. It offers a wide variety of food in relaxed and friendly atmosphere, all at a very reasonable price. For something a bit more up-market and fancy, Tamarind House is the ultimate in fine dining. And the best part is the gorgeous sunset view you get with your dinner is absolutely free!
If you want traditional Cook Island meals or freshly caught seafood, stay away from the big resorts - they mainly offer western food and don’t have a large range of fresh seafood (rumour has it the locals only sell to the locals!). So for a delicious seafood meal, head to Café Tapuna, an intimate restaurant located in the middle of nowhere! Ask for the rare coconut crab or fresh lobster. Samade on the Beach also offers a mix of traditional and western food for a reasonable price.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO:
1. First thing’s first – if you don’t plan to stay in Aitutaki, a day trip to the lagoon is an absolute must, so lock that in the minute you arrive!
2. Enjoy an island night – you’ll be treated to traditional dance (including male fire dancers) and an authentic Umu (earth oven) dinner. Most resorts hold these on site, but some take you out to a sacred site (Marae) and host them there.
3. Visit a Marae – an ancient, sacred sight where locals gathered for religious and social meetings. There are many located around the island.
4. Go snorkelling – The Cook Islands offer some of the best snorkelling in the world, and the friendly fish will always come to greet you. Take some bread (or a banana) with you to feed them - just watch out for playful nibbles on your toes!
5. Visit Punanga Nui Market – packed with fresh produce and local handicrafts, it serves as Rarotonga’s main market. While it’s open every day, Saturday morning is definitely the best time to visit.
1. Take a lagoon day cruise – it takes you around all the islands, including One Foot Island where you can get your passport stamped.
2. Enjoy an island night – you’ll be treated to traditional dance (including male fire dancers) and an authentic Umu (earth oven) dinner. Most resorts hold these on site, but some take you out to a sacred site (Marae) and host them there
3. Hire a scooter (or push bike) – a ride around the island (don’t worry, it’s only small!) shouldn’t take you more than half a day, if that. Make sure you stop at the top of Maungapu for breathtaking panoramic views of the island and lagoon.
4. Snorkel around the lagoon – there’s so much to see. From the tropical fish (again, take bread or a banana to feed them) to the giant clams. Amazing!
5. Hire a kayak – visit the many Motu’s (deserted islands) from the comfort of your own canoe. For extra romance, pack a picnic lunch and stay there ‘til sunset. Most resorts offer free kayak hire, otherwise visit Samade on the Beach for all your hiring requirements.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air New Zealand flies to Rarotonga via Auckland. But be warned - the flight back to Auckland leaves Rarotonga at 2am, so either plan a late night out or get to bed (very) early! Flight Centre flights start from:
Sydney - $825
Melbourne - $825
Adelaide - $1129
Perth - $1283
Darwin - $1311
Cairns - $1411
OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER
:: Take insect repellent everywhere you go. Mosquitos bite badly here.
:: Don’t drink the tap water
:: Avoid eating reef fish (such as parrot fish and snapper) as some of the islands have a problem with Ciguatera poisoning in the fish. Deep-sea fish like Mahi Mahi and Wahoo are fine.