There are countless ways to be charmed by the Cook Islands. Greta Kenyon took a trip out to discover just some of them…
This sometimes overlooked island has so much to offer and a unique charm all of its own. Perhaps less polished and definitely less touristic than some other resort destinations, Rarotonga still has everything you need for a fabulous getaway. And don’t worry, you’ll still get your fix of crystal clear water, white sand and swaying palms.
Expect to be welcomed off the plane in Rarotonga by a warm breeze and a heady mix of Cook Island music blasting from the airport speakers and from the one man ukulele band beside the entry doors.
Leaving the charmingly retro airport behind, drink in the brightly coloured houses (so many painted the same vivid shade of aqua you’ll wonder if the whole island went in on a bulk purchase), trimmed with blazing bougainvillea and set in a backdrop of lush tropical greens. Friendly chickens and dogs seem to wander freely, adding extra charm (watch the dogs fishing for their supper in the lagoon in the evening) and an authentic village soundtrack.
Rarotonga offers a great variety of accommodation from beach hut to five-star resort, so put down your bags, slip on your jandals and head to the beach – you’ll never be far from it wherever you are.
For us the Cook Islands ticks all the boxes – it’s postcard perfect and still has an untouched charm, it’s laid back and not too touristy, everything is easy and close, the flight time is short, they’re even on the same currency. And the best surprise for us was the consistent quality and variety of the food.
LBV was at the top of our breakfast list, the most wonderful French/Pacific-style café serving some of the best pastries, coffee and eggs. The coffee here is also excellent.
It’s not necessarily the first thing you’d think of or expect to find but The Rickshaw Vietnamese restaurant has some of the best Vietnamese I’ve ever tried.
For a sophisticated long lunch with a Polynesian flavour, I recommend sitting pool-side at the Nautilus, Muri Beach, overlooking the lagoon.
For fine dining, I couldn’t go past Tamarind House. Set in a beautifully restored colonial house and with a focus on Pacific flavours and fresh seafood, the cocktails, seaside setting and food are all excellent.
Visit Atutaki, a short 50-minute plane ride away from the main island. Atutaki is the ultimate tropical paradise, dotted with 5-star resorts and restaurants but still maintaining its rustic beauty and the ability to get off the beaten track and explore. This magical spot is often referred to as being one of the most pristine and beautiful islands in the world.
Hire a scooter or a car (choose one of the compact convertibles to feel the breeze on your face) and explore the main island. Rarotonga is small – you can drive around the entire circumference in about an hour, but we recommend making a day of it and stopping to explore the many beautiful beaches, gardens and one prized waterfall. Head inland to get a glimpse at real island life – much of the coastal real estate is holiday accommodation. And remember you’re on ‘island time’, so expect to drive at an average speed of 25kmph (avoiding potholes and aforementioned chickens and dogs), which is perfect for taking in the sights.
Visiting the weekly markets is a must. These are held on the waterfront in the main town, with local and international food, crafts, clothing and if you’re lucky, traditional dancing.
And of course there are all the normal resort-type activities on hand like snorkelling, diving, boat cruises, kayaking or one of my favourites, simply lying by the pool with a book.
Rumours is a beautiful luxury retreat in a garden setting with an award-winning spa, beachfront villas and lovely details such as handpainted dinnerware, canopy beds, private kayaks and breakfast delivered to your room. Perfect for a honeymoon or a small intimate wedding.
The Pacific Resort at Muri Beach has a great high-end Polynesian feel from the friendly service to the decor, plus a beachfront stone patio and marquee set in the sand for the ultimate romantic meal or sunset cocktail.
If you really feel like spoiling yourself head to the Atutaki Pacific Resort, with just 27 luxury beachside bungalows and villas, each with its own private sundeck, and a Bedouin style tent on the beach, surrounded by flaming torches, for very special dining experience. Both Pacific Resorts are perfect for weddings or honeymoons and can cater for small or large groups.
Nautilus Hotel at Muri Beach is one of the newest resorts on the island, and with just 17 premium villas (each with their own salt water plunge pool and large outdoor furnished deck that leads out to a private open-air shower and courtyard), a gorgeous restaurant and bar and breathtaking infinity pool, it’s a place that’s very hard to leave. Again this resort is perfect for a wedding or honeymoon.