Scattered over a vast expanse of empty ocean the size of Western Europe, the tiny Cook Islands is a castaway’s dream come true. If you’ve ever fantasised about escaping to a remote deserted island, far from the hustle and hum of the modern world, then look no further than these 15 fascinating islands, where you’ll find a thousand years of Polynesian culture sitting side by side with some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the South Pacific.
The jewel in the crown is Rarotonga, the largest island – a bewitching blend of craggy mountains, dense jungle and glorious bone-white beaches. Enjoy snorkelling in the cerulean blue waters of Muri Lagoon; travel back in time at The Cook Islands Cultural Village; explore Rarotonga's rich history and heritage on a circle-island tour; strut your stuff with the locals at an island night; sample the delicious local cuisine and divine fresh seafood – there is plenty of variety in Rarotonga.
The hook-shaped atoll of Aitutaki, the second most visited by tourists, sits at the top of one of the world’s largest coral lagoons, packed with giant clams and technicolour tropical fish, and ringed by smaller uninhabited islets, known as motu, around its outer edges. Snorkelling trips and boat cruises to the deserted motu are both popular activities, and there are plenty of soft, sandy beaches to seek out – but the island's rural back-roads are also well worth exploring, with many intriguing marae (sacred meeting ground) and some beautiful coral-walled churches to discover.
Then there’s the small, rocky island of Atiu, with its limestone
caves, coffee plantations and bush-beer drinking; the makatea islands of Mau’ke, Mitiaro and Mangaia, where traditional village life still predominates; and the far-flung black pearl fields of Penrhyn and Manihiki, which most visitors never get the chance to see. But don’t plan on doing too much. Time, like most other things in The Cook Islands, has a mind of its own. Days roll by with the island tides: one morning you’ll be exploring taro plantations, swimming in underground caves and dancing till dawn with the locals, and the next, a plane will be
waiting to take you home. Make the most of it while you can – paradise is a pretty tough place to find.
When to Go
The best times of year to visit are around the months of September and October, when there's a nice trade-off between warm temperatures and reduced humidity; March and April are also good months to come, as the cyclone season has passed and the skies are likely to be clear and sunny.
Our top picks for the Cook Islands
1 Aitutaki Discover the underwater wonderland of Aitutaki's
2 Atiu Seek out the underground cave of Anatakitaki, home
to the kopeka (Atiuan swiftlet).
3 Cross Island Trek For the active take this tour with the infamous Pa.
4 Cook Islands Nightlife Join in on one of the Resort run Friday
nightlife dinner and tour.
5 Black Pearls Visit a black pearl farm or museum or even better, go shopping for one.