Like jewels in the South Pacific, these fifteen idyllic islands lie in the centre of the Polynesian triangle flanked to the west by Tonga and Samoa and to the east by Tahiti and her Islands. They are spread over an area the size of Western Europe with a population no larger than a small provincial British town. There is no mass tourism here or high rise hotels - just an easygoing lifestyle where you will enjoy a warm welcome from the friendly Cook Islanders who will proudly introduce you to their paradise islands.
Geologically, the Cooks have an interesting diversity of island landscapes from the high rugged island of Rarotonga (which stands at 4,500 metres above the ocean floor) to the almost atoll-like Aitutaki. Rarotonga is the largest and most populated island - home to the main township of Avarua and the international airport. It is lush and volcanic - dominated by mountainous peaks from where dense rainforests cascade down to palm-fringed shores.
The island is completely encircled by a reef which harbours a lagoon of turquoise waters. These striking natural features make the approach by air a truly breathtaking experience - and from the moment you arrive, you will be captivated by the island’s undeniable charm and laid-back lifestyle - which possibly has a great deal to do with the fact that many visitors just simply don’t venture to the outer islands.
Despite being the largest of the Cook Islands (named after our very own Captain James Cook), Rarotonga is still only 20 miles in circumference; bicycles and motor scooters are one of the best ways to get around. There is also a regular round-the-island bus service which runs in both directions - you just flag it down and hop on and off as you please.
Those wanting to go exploring can join the guided cross-island walk or take a 3 hour 4WD safari through the mountains and rainforest. Keen horse riders will enjoy the riding trails through tropical plantations and past waterfalls where you can stop for a swim. Right around the coastline (settlement is mostly on the coastal fringes), the beautiful white sands have inspired the design of some wonderful retreats and unique beach villas - and a wide variety of water-sports are available at the beach.
It’s no secret that the South Seas produce the most sought-after black pearls in the world; the mysterious and beautiful Cook Islands black pearl is a ‘must-buy’ for anyone looking for a unique keepsake.
Fresh seafood can be enjoyed in abundance in Rarotonga’s restaurants. A number of the hotels and resorts offer a traditional island feast or ‘umu kai’ with accompanying dancing and drumming (the ‘umu kai’ is cooked in an earth oven filled with scorching hot stones - a similar concept to a maori hangi in New Zealand).
140 miles north of Rarotonga and famous for its large awe-inspiring aquamarine lagoon and pristine white sands lies Aitutaki. Aitutaki never fails to captivate even the most well-travelled of visitors. Enclosing the lagoon is a surf-topped coral reef and a sprinkling of coral islets.
Today, very little seems to have changed since Captain Cook and the great Pacific explorers discovered and charted these islands. Traditional Polynesian culture has survived and the Cooks also maintain strong ties with New Zealand. Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens and the local currency is the New Zealand Dollar.
The climate is tropical and generally pleasant year round - but the best time to visit is between April to November (the dry season) when temperatures range from 20° to 26° C. From December to March (the wet season) there is a greater chance of cloudy days and warm tropical showers. The wet also brings slightly higher temperatures (from 22°- 28° C) and you should expect high humidity in February and March.