Making an island shopping list for your next vacation? Over the next few weeks, we’ll drip-feed you some fantasy island getaways you might like to add to it so let’s dream a little………
Two constellations of islands form the Cook Islands nation scattered like jade fragments across two million square kilometres of indigo Pacific Ocean. Flying into Rarotonga, the international gateway to the group, we land next to a shallow lagoon dotted with croissants of coral sand. At least that would have been the view if we hadn’t crossed the International Date Line and touched down to a cheerful ukelele welcome at 1am. First order of business: “remove all watches, you’re now on Cooks Time”.
I made a decision. Actually, I made several before arriving at Rarotonga’s Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa because this elite retreat’s a la carte menu of guest services tailors holidays just for you and once here, your personal concierge is just a dial tone away. Spread over two levels, our Beachfront Villa Suite has sun-splashed coastal-chic interiors and front-row seats onto opalescent Muri Lagoon. There’s a secluded private pool, a daily delivery of just-baked croissants and tropical fruits and with a private patch of vanilla sand just footsteps away, is an idyllic location to share a champagne brunch hamper under slender palms.
“The forecast predicts light breezes, let’s go,” says my island warrior prince eyeing the pair of tangerine kayaks parked on the handkerchief-sized piece of sand below. Avoiding the balletic manouvres of a windsurfing armada, we glide across glittering turquoise water to the uninhabited islet of Koromiri, a popular wedding spot for growing numbers of brides wanting to unleash their island princess fantasy. Paddling with the breeze, we drift towards a small motu known as ‘Divorce Island’ or what the local men refer to as ‘Freedom Island’, a green top-knot bobbing on an intoxicatingly blue canvas. Kayaking to the edge of the reef, we feel the power of the Pacific that froths into cappuccino-quality peaks before cascading into the lagoon.
Never Too Many Cooks
Riding ‘postie-bikes’ we explore the narrow road that traces the 32 km coastline before heading up the ancient Road of Toi threading past well-tended taro patches and hamlets engaged in time honoured pastimes, where master sculptors record local history and tattooists ink you with traditional designs. Towering above the island’s verdant hinterland, The Needle thrusts imperially upwards challenging all-comers to conquer its craggy peak. There’s highly collectible Pacific art to discover and black pearls to buy from the pearly kings and queens who trade in the fabled black beauties. No trip is complete without experiencing some old time religion and spine-tingling island hymns in one of the Cook Islands’ white coral Christian Churches. Hang with the locals at Trader Jack’s as the sun slips into Avatiu Harbour before deciding on a sand-between-the-toes casual meal or fine dining in colonial-style. On Raro, there are never too many Cooks!
Anyone looking for paradise can take down the sign – the position’s been filled. A 40 minute flight north of Rarotonga, alluring Aitutaki is seductive escapism of the first order, a tiny hook-shaped island on one of the world’s most spectacular coral lagoons that transfixes the eye as it transforms from dazzling turquoise brilliance by day to a moon-reflecting milky opalescence at night. If you can raise yourself from the hammock slung between two obliging palm trees, kayak to the outer reaches of the lagoon, snorkel among shoals of tropical fish and take a day cruise on one of the world’s most idyllically beautiful lagoons and maroon yourself on secluded motus where the South Pacific breaks like a heartbeat over the nearby coral reef.
Dancing with the Stars
The rhythm of life may be on a slow simmer on the Cooks but nightly cultural performances on the two major resort islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki can definitely bring it to a boil. Island Nights form the backbone to Aitutaki’s nightlife where Polynesia’s finest percussionists accompany local performers who dance under the stars. Locals flock to Samade on the Beach where, urged on by the chanting and hypnotic rhythms on mahogany slit drums, young warriors burst onto sandy stages, torch light flickering across oiled torsos, muscular legs grinding the coral sand to dust particles, grass skirts flying and pearl shells glistening.
So if you’re ready to mix up the ingredients for some Cook Islands’ magic, then drape yourself in a sarong, an intoxicatingly scented tropical ‘ei’ and you’ll be cooking on all burners!
Air New Zealand fly daily to Rarotonga via Auckland. www.airnewzealand.com.au
Air Rarotonga flies between Rarotonga and Aitutaki www.airraro.com
Aitutaki: For barefoot luxe, check out the beachfront bungalows at Pacific Resort, the Cook Islands’ only Small Luxury Hotels of the World property www,pacificaitutaki.com Etu Moana is a boutique gem on the edge of the lagoon www.etumoana.com.
For tourism information on the Cook Islands: www.cookislands.travel
Tags: Air New Zealand, Air Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Cook Islands Tourism, Etu Moana Aitutaki, Island Escapes, Little Polynesian Resort Rarotonga, Pacific Resorts Aitutaki, Rarotonga, Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa, Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa