Rarotonga 2

Cook Islands


In the Cook Islands, you don’t need a psychologist to explain people’s positive associations with all things blue. You simply look to the horizon, across a turquoise lagoon to where the inky indigo of the deep ocean beyond the reef meets an endless azure sky. Even when clouds curl around Rarotonga’s jagged volcanic peaks and the sea and sky turn the slate blue of its famous pearls, you’re wrapped in the island’s soft breezes and warm embrace of its people. With the major motu of the group’s 15 islands – scattered over two million square kilometres of the South Pacific Ocean. If you go no further than “Raro”, your tropical escape can be as leisurely or action-packed as you want it to be. The calm, balmy waters of the lagoon invite both beachside lounging and a dizzying array of water sports from snorkelling to kayaking, paddle boarding and kite surfing. Hire a car or scooter and tootle around the island’s 32km coastal loop, or tackle sections of the ring-road by bicycle. Whatever your form of transport, prepare to stop for swims, photos, roadside produce stalls (you are in pawpaw and mango country), and maybe a snack of ika mata – fresh fish marinated in lime and coconut. You’ll need a good-sized kete and an empty tum if your meanderings coincide with Saturday morning’s Punanga Nui Cultural Market in the township of Avarua or the Muri Night Markets about 12km to the east. Besides stocking up on fresh bananas, coconut, tangy passionfruit, avocados – and local handcrafts – try and fail to resist the


chicken rukau (taro-leaf pesto), or food truck specials like the Kai Guy’s burritos with crispy pork, quinoa and aioli, and Be Fruitful Raro’s lip-smacking ice cream. Happy hour might see you sipping cocktails on your hotel verandah, or thrilling to the hip-shaking, drum-beating storytelling of the magnificent Akirata Dance Troupe. Live-wire or laid-back, you’ll end your day lulled to sleep by the distant sound of surf crashing on the reef and the rustle of coconut palm fronds playing in the island’s tropical zephyrs.


Rarotonga keeps reminding you that two-thirds of the planet is ocean. And there are numerous ways to get on and under this otherworldly dement among them an Ariki Adventures Sea Scooter Turtle Safari. The name doesn’t disappoint. You really do get your own hand-held, three-speed underwater propeller, which allows you to safely snorkel in the currents of Avaavaroa Passage. It’s here, where the coral drops away into deeper, faster-moving waters, that large and surprisingly graceful green turtles and smaller, rarer hawksbill turtles congregate to nibble on algae and sponges, or loaf about on their coral couches. Stay alert, though, as you’re also likely to spot sleek reef sharks, eagle rays and giant trevally – besides the passing parade of small, colourful fish that swirl and dart among the corals like a cartoon channel on mute. Only one in 1000 turtle hatchlings makes it to adulthood, so it’s heartening to know part of the cost of your Aquaman adventure goes to Te Ara 0 Te Onu Cook Islands Turtle Conservation Society. For the even more intrepid, the Cooks’ key dive operators, Pacific Divers and Dive Rarotonga, are back in business, ready to guide you through a diving course to PADI proficiency or get the scuba-savvy out into coral terrain dives, canyons, drop-offs and drifts.



Photos of Aitutaki lagoon simply don’t capture its electric-blue expanse. No one seems to know quite how many square kilometres it sprawls across, except to note it’s more than 50 sq km and less than 75 sq km of loveliness. The Cooks’ second most populated island, that forms part of the encircling mow, belongs to an “almost-atoll” about 220km and a 50-minute flight from Rarotonga. If you’re not heading straight to a luxury resort for days of lagoon, beach and bure bliss, you’ll want to hop aboard an Aitutaki Day Tour – an air-minibus-catamaran experience that puts a whole new, sunny spin on living nine to five (actually 8am to 5.30pm from Ramo take-off to return). An hour-long tour of the island -complete with lively commentary – then deposits you on the beach to board the 21m vaka Titi-ai-Tonga for a leisurely loop around the lagoon, snorkelling in gin-clear water, island strolls, and a barbecue lunch of grilled tuna, bananas and eggplant teamed with a feast of local salad greens and fresh fruit. The cruise stops at several motu, some with histories that defy their small size; like Akaiami, which in the 50s was a stopover for Solent flying boats, operated by Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL).

Fish Feeding

Originally a mail service, the island-hopping Coral Route turned luxury for a few years, attracting famous passengers like Hollywood actors Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and John Wayne with its inflight silver-service and opportunity to visit some of the South Pacific’s most remote and beautiful islands. A decade earlier, writer James A. Michener was stationed in Aitutaki during World War II; it’s thought he drew inspiration from this and other wartime island sojourns for books such as Return to Paradise. When the vaka-master’s conch shell sounds, it’s time to return from a last dip in the lagoon — then it’s ukuleles out for a serenaded sail back to base.

Overwater Bungs


There are adventures to be had in Rarotonga’s lush, green centre. Rent bikes for a sortie through rainforest and plantations of taro, citrus, pawpaw and noni fruit. You could walk the 3.1km return Raemaru Trek on the west coast of the island for ridgeline views 350m above sea-level; if you tackle the 6km Cross Island Trek be prepared for a challenging climb to the base of “the Needle” (Te Rua Manga)

But for sheer, giddy, muddy fun, get yourself behind the wheel of a buggy with Jay and his Raro Buggy Tours team. Yes, there’ll be some island history and folklore colourfully explained by your guide, and a vast, abandoned luxury resort to inspect, with its Ozymandias back-story – but most of all there’ll be the thrill of ripping through giant puddles and getting splattered from ankles to eyebrows in mud. All the more reason for a zip up to Papua Waterfall, where you might find yourself wading in for a cool and refreshing end to another perfect Cook Islands day.

Needle Rarotonga

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