We’ve rounded up five unique experiences on the two largest of the 15 Cook Islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
1. Experience the local way of life
The Cook Islands have a reputation as a warm and welcoming place. But joining a Progressive Dinner Tour in Rarotonga and sitting with locals in their own homes provides an authentic taste of that generous hospitality. The tour provides a glimpse of genuine island life not normally experienced by tourists, with the opportunity to enjoy three-course homemade meals at different houses across the island. Think local vegetables like taro and potato, fresh tropical fruits, salads and meats.
Many accommodation providers also offer evening entertainment where guests can feast on a selection of traditional dishes and enjoy cultural performances. Muri Beach Club holds an Island Night Extravaganza with traditional soulful song and dance performed by a local dance group.
2. Get active
For a small island with a border of just 32km, Rarotonga has a huge heartbeat. Find its pulse with a Storyteller’s Eco-Cycle Tour. In the company of a guide, you’ll ride off road, pedalling past crops of taro and laden mango trees with commentary that gives insight into the island’s rich culture and heritage.
A Sea Scooter Safari with Ariki Adventures provides the opportunity to experience the lagoon and the creatures that call it home. The scooters are hand-held devices that allow you to travel up to 4km/h underwater, effortlessly, with views of coral clusters and schools of bright, shimmering fish. Other common sights include the harmless reef sharks circling gracefully underneath and if you’re really lucky, the endangered Hawksbill turtle.
3. Find serenity
Enter the gates of Rarotonga’s tranquil Maire Nui Gardens and you’ll be met with an instant feeling of calm and serenity. The botanical gardens are seven acres of tropical bliss with pockets of cooling lily ponds framed with quaint wooden walkway bridges and dramatic mountain views. Rarotonga is already such a relaxing destination but the gardens offer a space to unwind completely. In the midst of this dense vegetation is Grill Café, serving fresh island food garnished with organic herbs and spices that are grown and harvested in the onsite gardens.
4. Unique stays
Built with the conscious traveller in mind, Ikurangi Eco Retreat is comprised of luxury glamping tents, each complete with a composting loo and an open air shower hidden beneath towering coconut palms. Ikurangi is the name of the mountain watching over Matavera Village on the north-east coast of Rarotonga and translates to ‘tail of the sky.' Visitors seeking white sand and aqua waters often overlook its dramatic rainforest terrain, its beauty is equally alluring. There are bikes available to guests if you want to explore the island, although it’s tempting to simply sit back and relax by the retreat’s pool or in the cool and comfort of your tent.
5. Explore further afield
Less than an hour’s flight to the north of Rarotonga is Aitutaki. One of the 15 clusters making up the Cook Islands, it sits inside a vast, mesmerising lagoon encircled by coral reefs and small, sandy motus or islets. A trip here wouldn’t be complete without exploring the lagoon. Opt for a kayak tour or join a cruise with Aitutaki Adventures.
Snorkelling is otherworldly here. It’s common to spot an octopus feeding among the coral or a turtle paddling below the surface. On land, the little island is home to a collection of shops and casual restaurants, accommodation, pristine beaches and the Maunga Pu mountain, who’s summit provides a spectacular vantage point across the dreamlike turquoise lagoon.