Mmm, the South Pacific. Two words that have the power to conjure visions of palm trees swaying in the breeze, powder white sand, and azure-blue water that sparkles like an overpriced Tiffany engagement ring. The South Pacific is synonymous with paradise for good reason. This stunning part of the world is littered, literally, with hundreds of tropical islands just begging to answer your call for paradise.
Enter the Cook Islands.
The Cook Island’s main island, Rarotonga, easily offers up that island-paradise induced coma you’re seeking, then some. I like to think of Rarotonga as the quintessential island holiday. Not only does it boast unspoiled beaches that are so deserted you will be surveying the area suspiciously for what’s scared away all the tourists, there is also plenty to keep you occupied off the sand – not that I’m one to venture too far from the beach for too long.
The Cook Islands are gaining popularity faster than you can say ‘tropical island paradise’. And for good reason. My advice is to jump on the next flight to Rarotonga before it becomes too popular and finding your own slice of paradise there is reminiscent of the time you tried to find a spot to park your beach towel on Bondi.
Here are my top 5 things to do on Rarotonga when you get there.
Dive face first into one of the bluest lagoons on the planet
The lagoon that envelops Rarotonga is so blue you will think that Photoshop have figured out a way to digitally manipulate your eyesight.
If you’ve ever fantasized about swimming in an oversized aquarium you’re in luck. There are so many fish, of every size and colour imaginable, you have to physically clear a path as you swim. Ok, not really, but there are a lot of fish to keep you entertained as you float face down, snorkel and mask in place of course, in the lagoon. Floating spread eagle on your back works well too.
Tackle the Cross Island Track
This is a hike to challenge your legs, arms, and any other body part you may have to enlist to tackle the vine-laden jungle that blankets the island’s mountainous interior. Don’t worry, there are permanent ropes set up to help you along the way – and you’ll need them.
This hike is not for the faint of heart. It’s muddy, there are enough centipedes to form a small army, and you will wonder if you took a wrong turn on more than one occasion. The challenge is well worth the jelly like legs, and pain you will feel all over your body the next day though. The 360 degree view across the Pacific is spectacular. Plus, you’ll likely run into what could only be the world’s most daring stray-mountain-rooster near the top.
Visit Punanga Nui Markets
Unlike a lot of the markets on offer when travelling, Punanga Nui Markets are not set up purely for the benefit of tourists. Punanga Nui Markets is where the locals go to get fresh produce, brunch, and socialise.
Grab one of the delectable treats on offer to munch as you browse the beautiful selection of goods, such as hand painted sarongs, artwork, and locally made crafts. I can recommend the potato rounds on a stick, a fresh coconut water smoothie that will convert any smoothie naysayer, or one of the inventive, yet delicious, concoctions known as a ‘chicken pocket’, which is essentially just a burger bun cut in half, made into a ‘pocket’ and filled with lettuce and chicken.
Find your own piece of paradise on Titikaveka Beach
It is highly likely that you will arrive at this beach and it will be deserted. I have no idea why, as it is a strong contender for the most beautiful beach on the island.
Instead of trying to figure it out, just set up your towel under one of the palm trees that line the beach and enjoy the solitude. The powder soft sand and gentle lapping of the waves will lull you to sleep in no time.
Dance the night away at an Island Night
An Island Night is to the Cook Islands what a Luau is to Hawaii. Great food, culture, and dancing. What’s not to love?
There are plenty on offer but I recommend seeking out one of the smaller operations, such as the Staircase in Avarua. They put on a fantastic cultural show, and you can tell that keeping tradition alive with the younger generations is a high priority.
During the show you will be given a traditional Polynesian feast of pork that was cooked in an earthen oven, fried plantains, and taro root chips.
As an added bonus the bar here has a deck with a view over the water, which is a fantastic place to sit back and watch the sun disappear behind the Pacific before the show starts.
Insider tip: Make sure you get up early to take in the loveliness that is a sunrise in paradise, even if it’s just once. You won’t regret it.