When it gets grey and cold in the winter months, and Australians start dreaming of escaping to an island paradise, I doubt that the Cook Islands is what springs directly to mind. This could be because in the past you would have had to fly via New Zealand to visit these friendly Pacific Islands, however recently (and luckily) Air New Zealand have started offering flights directly to Rarotonga from Sydney.

Rarotonga is the largest and most populated island in the Cook’s. And when I say biggest, its pretty small. There is one road that circles the mountainous jungle centre, and it’s about 38kms to ride around Raro (as the kiwi’s like to call it) in a complete circle.  

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Lagoon Life

Welcome to Rarotonga

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The Cook Islands is a territory of New Zealand, and as such it uses NZ dollars, and the locals call themselves Cook Islands Maori. It is true, the locals look a lot like NZ Maori, but their culture is infinitely different. There are many “Island Nights” that can be enjoyed in Rarotonga, where you can be treated to the generous hospitality of the locals.

One of the best Island nights is Te Vara Nui in popular Muri Beach, where the story of Rarotonga is set in a beautiful tropical garden. Drummers and dancers with grass skirts, elaborate head pieces and tufted feet entertain in the middle of a lake filled with eels and Lilly pads. Guests watch from large decks over the lake, while being served traditional meals of barbequed fish and tropical fruit.

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Te Vara Nui

Welcoming You Into Te Vara Nui

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There is an extensive lagoon that almost completely encompasses the island of Rarotonga. It is an extremely safe swimming and snorkelling area teeming with sea life. There are giant clams and giant morays to be found, as well as sea snakes and puffers among a host of colourful reef fish. If you venture out past the wall of the lagoon, you can expect to see the likes of green turtles and lionfish.

One of the most beautiful beaches on the lagoon is Muri, which is adorned with three islands popping out from the azure water. The beauty of the area makes it a popular spot for weddings, so much so that one of the small islands has been named “Wedding Island”, which is not to be confused with the nearby “Mosquito Island” for obvious reasons. Local tour guides can take you out on the Muri lagoon in glass bottom boats if you wish to see the wonders of the reefs without getting wet.

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Muri Beach

Muri Beach

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Muri is also home to some of the best fine dining restaurants on the island. At the popular Pacific Resort, you can treat yourself to gourmet seafood dishes while digging your toes into the white sand. The Sandals Barefoot Restaurant is a lagoon side experience under a white tent filled with fairy lights and is just one of the amazing choices of places to eat in Muri.

The island of Rarotonga has a surprisingly high standard of offerings when it comes to dining out, from roadside gourmet burger shacks to five-star restaurants, there is a lot to choose from. Produce is all mainly grown on the island and it is fresh and tasty. The famous Saturday markets is a great place to buy and sample local grown produce and popular local “street food”.

Above all else, Rarotonga is best for relaxing. Everyone is on island time, and the locals have a very friendly laid-back attitude. For the best experience, hire a scooter so you can take in the sights and tastes of this beautiful place in your own Island time.

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Cook Islands History

Many Historic Buildings are Made From Coral

However, if its true solitude and relaxation you are after, you might want to consider a day or two out on one of the other islands in the Cooks. There are 15 islands spread out between 2,200 square km’s, and each of them are unique. If you are looking to get as off the beaten track as you can get, try one of the northern coral atolls, like the stunning Suwarrow or the mysterious Palmerston.

A shorter and perhaps cheaper trip would be to one of the southern group islands. Aitu and Mangaia have quaint villages with friendly locals, ancient churches made of coral and a rich and interesting history of tribal and western stories and traditions. Aitu is known as “bird island” and is interestingly composed of one village at the centre of the island with a circular ring of dense tropical forest encompassing it.

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Aitutaki

Whats Happening on Aitutaki? Nothing!

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The most popular island excursion is visiting an absolute pristine lagoon that owns the unofficial title of whitest sand in the world: Aitutaki. There is a singular luxury resort on the Island that is popular with honeymooners, but otherwise there really is absolutely nothing on Aitutaki except for sand, coconut trees and the incredibly picturesque waters and reefs. It really is the place to go if simply relaxing in the sun with hardly a soul to be seen is your idea of paradise.

Local airline Cook Islands Air flies daily to Mangaia, Aitu and Aitutaki making these incredible little Islands a perfect day trip to enhance your Cook Islands experience, or you can choose a 4 days, 3 nights island hopper package to make sure you don’t miss a thing. If you are looking for somewhere a little different to the tourist traps of Indonesia or Hawaii that has space to breathe and untouched places to explore, get the Cook Islands on your holiday radar and get a true taste of the pacific. You will not be disappointed.

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Flying into Rarotonga

Flying into Rarotonga, Muri Beach Lagoon and Islands in the Front.