Those travelers looking for an authentic South Pacific experience without the exorbitant price tag should look no further than the Cook Islands. A nine-hour flight from LAX (one weekly nonstop) made the main island of Rarotonga fairly easy to reach and well worth the trip.
Once a New Zealand territory, Cook Islands’ main language is English, and the exchange rate is quite a bit better than its cousin in Tahiti. Popular itineraries are 6-day or 13-day, limited by flight schedules. We opted for the longer stay, since it was our anniversary, and spent seven nights on Rarotonga and five nights on its sister atoll, the amazing Aitutaki.
The Muri Beach Club was a great choice for us: adults only, just 24 rooms and right on Muri Beach, the best on the island. From here you have easy access to the tiny offshore islets (motus), perfect for a kayak picnic, snorkeling and swimming in crystal-clear water.
Other activities on Raro include nature hikes with the intrepid guide Pa, visits to the waterfall and a myriad of water sports – diving, boating, fishing and surfing, to name a few. An inexpensive, reliable bus service makes transportation a breeze around the island. It’s virtually impossible to get lost since the island is round (the bus has only two routes, clockwise and counterclockwise!).
There are so many dining choices on Rarotonga, with restaurants for all tastes and budgets, and they even have decent nightlife on the weekends. “Island Nights” feature traditional Polynesian food and dance almost every night at a different location.
Landing on Aitutaki is like literally stepping back in time to a simpler way of life in a true island paradise. Here we opted for Tamanu Beach Hotel, another amazing little all-bungalow hideaway on a stunning palm-fringed beach, with top-notch snorkeling just steps from the sand.
The best way to see this tiny group of islands – home to one of the most beautiful lagoons in the South Pacific – is by booking a lagoon cruise. Here you’ll have a chance to snorkel, see giant clams, visit the ubiquitous One Foot Island (one of the most photographed beaches in the world) and have an authentic Polynesian barbecue lunch on an idyllic little island.
We loved the cruise so much, we did it twice with two different tour companies. Both had something different to offer, so we were never bored with the locations or activities served. Aitutaki also has some great places to eat; our favorites were Koro Café for lunch and the Boat Shed for an amazing seafood dinner and drinks.
After our two weeks in the Cook Islands, we came home feeling so refreshed, relaxed and renewed in our marriage that we will always hold that place close to our hearts.