Couple in WaterCook Islands Tourism
By Vickie Sam Paget

Tucked away between Fiji and Tahiti in the very heart of the South Pacific, lie the 15 divinely beautiful atolls, cays and volcanic islands that make up the tropical paradise that is the Cook Islands.

Look no further: this is paradise found. We’re talking picture-perfect translucent waters, stretches of sun-drenched sand and smiling, happy locals.

And the great news is that paradise really isn’t as far away as you may think. The Cooks are conveniently located on the eastern side of the international date line, which means that they are in the same time zone as Hawaii. When you consider that, the Cooks suddenly don’t feel so distant after all.

In fact, the Cooks are only nine-and-a-half hours from L.A. And as Air New Zealand’s weekly non-stop service to Rarotonga is conveniently timed so that you depart on a Sunday evening and arrive in the Cooks on Monday morning, you can even snooze your way to paradise.

PeopleCook Islands TourismGet Your Bearings
Rarotonga, the capital and the main island, is located in the south of this gem-like cluster of islands, as are Aitutaki and Atiu, the two islands that tempt the majority of tourists with their white sand shores.

Charismatic Rarotonga
Dominated by a once-mighty volcanic pyramid that has been worn down by time to a range of peaks and ridges, the lush island of Rarotonga is the cultural hub of the Cook Islands.

The 32-kilometre circumference of Rarotonga is surrounded by a sparkling blue lagoon and a fringe of pearly white sand that’s lined with swaying palms.

With not a traffic light in sight, the pace in Rarotonga is a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Canada. And getting around the island is certainly interesting. The island bus travels both clockwise and counter-clockwise around a road that circles the island, passing mammas and papas on tiny scooters – sometimes with more than one chubby toddler clinging on for dear life!

Adventurous Atiu
Atiu Island, also known as Enuamanu (‘land of the birds’) lies 187 kilometres north east of Rarotonga. The third-largest island in the Cooks is over eight million years old. It’s also an ecologist’s dream and a magnet for the adventurer.

On the edge of the island’s flat-topped central plateau you’ll find Atiu Villas, the island’s most developed vacation spot. You’ll also find 28 untouched beaches that are almost unvisited – except by those seeking a beautiful, secluded spot.

Beautiful Aitutaki
It’s believed that the islanders on Aitutaki are descended from Ru, a seafaring warrior who settled there with his four wives. Arriving during a full moon he was captivated by the reflections upon this vast tranquil lagoon and named his landing point O’otu, which means ‘full moon’.

Today Aitutaki is renowned for its extraordinary natural beauty and relaxed pace of life. Travellers come in search of the palm-fringed beaches that have been luckily spared from mass tourism.

Romantic Souls
When it comes to sparking the fires of romance, the heady mix of delicious seclusion and outstanding beauty on offer in the Cook Islands can prove to be a pyrotechnic’s dream.

Sparks undoubtedly fly for couples seeking adventure on Rarotonga’s safari tours, hikes and paddle board trips, while more relaxed love birds flock to Aitutaki to unwind on its white sand beaches and bask in the sun.

Both islands also provide excellent spots to tie the knot or renew your vows, and many resorts provide the services of a coordinator who can help to plan an unforgettable day.

Getting hitched in the Cooks is hassle-free, as couples only need to have proper documentation and be in destination for three business days prior to the big day in order to receive a marriage licence.

PaddlingCook Islands TourismPaddling In Paradise
Traditional island culture takes the spotlight each November, when paddlers and spectators gather in the Cooks for ‘Vaka Eiva’, the country’s annual outrigger canoe racing festival.

This is the event’s 10th year, and the week-long festivities kick off on November 22 at Avarua Wharf, Rarotonga with the traditional ‘Blessing of Canoes’ ceremony.

The ‘Charity Boiler Swim’ – where contestants swim around the shipwreck of Maitai, which is known as ‘The Boiler’ – draws a big crowd. And there are plenty of off-water activities too, so check out the Art by the Lagoon paddle exhibition, the traditional canoe carving displays and drumming and dance performances.

The week then closes with the most entertaining event of the festival, the ‘Muri Sprints’, where teams participate in 500-metre sprint races at gorgeous Muri Lagoon.

What’s Not To Love?
Yes, it all sounds so heavenly, but – as always when you’re choosing a holiday hot spot – it’s important to consider what may be missing from a destination…

The answer to that is simple: traffic lights, big-brand fast food restaurants and bland chain hotels. What will you find in their place? Unfathomably blue lagoons, white sandy beaches and friendly locals. Add to that the fact that there are no buildings that rise higher than the tallest palm tree, and it’s easy to see why you will not have to search far to find some peace and tranquility on the Cook Islands... Peace and tranquility will find you.

10 Ways To Make The Most Of Island Life

One Foot IslandCook Islands Tourism

RarotongaCook Islands Tourism

Fly FishingCook Islands Tourism

 

DancingCook Islands Tourism

 


Black PearlCook Islands Tourism

6. Travel Like A Local: Hop onto the Rarotonga bus. There’s no danger of getting lost as the buses are clearly marked ‘clockwise’and ‘anti-clockwise’, and every trip is an adventure.

 

FeastCook Islands Tourism

Nature WalkCook Islands Tourism

9. Relax And Recharge: With on-island treatments ranging from extreme body detoxes to coconut-infused body wraps, the Cook Islands are sure to melt your cares away.

CoupleCook Islands Tourism

 

RecipeSimone van den Berg/ShutterstockA Taste Of Paradise
A recipe for traditional Ika Mata, courtesy of Royale Takitumu, Rarotonga.

Ingredients:
2 to 3     pieces of fresh filleted fish – yellow fin tuna or wahoo works well
2     ripe tomatoes
Half     a green pepper
Half     a red pepper
Half     a yellow pepper
1     cucumber, medium size
Handful     fresh coriander
1 cup    fresh lemon juice
Half     an onion
3 cloves     garlic
1 cup     coconut cream
 
Method:
• Cut the fish fillet into small cubes (2 cm x 2cm).
• Dice vegetables in to smaller cubes.
• Put the fish cubes in a strainer and let cold water run over them for two to three minutes.
• Put the fish in a glass bowl and add half a cup of water with two teaspoons of salt.
• Let the fish sit in the salted water for five minutes and then drain the salted water. Do not add extra salt.
• Cover the fish with fresh lemon juice.
• Let the fish marinate in the lemon juice for 30 minutes or more. Place in fridge until ready to add the coconut cream and vegetables.
• Pour the lemon juice out and add the diced vegetables to the marinated fish.
• Add fresh coconut cream and stir until the fish is evenly covered.
• Season with white pepper and fresh coriander.

Cook Islands 101
• Getting There: Air New Zealand operates a weekly non-stop direct flight to Rarotonga from Los Angeles. The nine-and-a-half hour flight departs on Sunday evening and arrives on Monday morning. The return flight departs Rarotonga on Saturday evening just before midnight and arrives back into LA early Sunday afternoon. Alternately, you can combine a Cook Island vacation with a New Zealand or Australia itinerary.
• Time: There is just a three-hour time difference with the west coast of Canada.
• Currency: The Cook Islands’ unit of currency is the New Zealand dollar, supplemented by Cook Islands notes and coins minted for local use. These unique local coins and notes are not negotiable outside the Cook Islands, but they are keenly sought by collectors worldwide. Currency is easy to obtain via your local bank or through ATM in the Cook Islands.
• Business Hours: Most stores close by noon on Saturdays and are closed all day Sunday.
• Clothing: Although the dress code is informal, brief attire is not encouraged when visiting the town or villages. Nude or topless sunbathing will cause offence. A light sweater is advised for the cooler evenings.
• Language: Cook Islands’ Maori is the local language, but everyone also speaks English. Here are a few local words to try while you’re in the Cooks: Kia Orana (hello), Aera ra (goodbye), Meitaki (thank you), ae (yes), kare (no), tane (man), vaine (woman), manea (pretty/handsome), mataroa (happy), kai (food), teia ra (today), apopo (tomorrow), ra (sun), marama (moon).
• Local Air Transport: Air Rarotonga operates regular services to the southern group of islands, including Aitutaki. One-day lagoon cruise excursions to Aitutaki are also available. Services to the northern group islands are infrequent, so check with Air Rarotonga well before you plan to go. Charter flights can be arranged with in-flight catering and experienced tour guides. To save some money, Air Rarotonga flights can be booked in conjunction with Air New Zealand tickets.
• Driving: It’s not too difficult to drive in the Cook Islands as there is only one road around the main island of Rarotonga, which is roughly 32 kilometres in circumference and has no stop lights! Additionally, the smaller island of Aitutaki is easily navigated. Cars and scooters are available for hire. Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road and the speed limit is 40 km per hour in the town and villages and 50 km per hour outside of the populated areas. The motor scooter speed limit is 40 km per hour if you’re not wearing a safety helmet. Drivers of all vehicles are required to have a current Cook Islands drivers’ licence, which can be obtained from the police station in Avarua at a cost of NZD $20 on presentation of your own valid licence. If you hire a motor scooter, there is an additional charge of NZD $5 for a compulsory practical test. Your rental vehicle provider will advise you of the regulations.

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