From the air, Rarotonga appears as a lonely speck in the ocean, covered in jungle and volcanic peaks. It makes a dramatic introduction to the Cook Islands, one of the last places on Earth to be discovered by Europeans.
If you are flying to New Zealand using national carrier Air New Zealand, stopovers are offered in Rarotonga, as well as Tahiti, Fiji and Western Samoa, making the Cooks ideal for two or three-centre holidays.
Exotic, tropical and disease-free, the islands are drawing honeymooners and older couples too.
Talpacific Holidays manager Hugh Packer said: “There is an increasing awareness of the Cooks in the UK. The market is growing, and will continue to do so for some time.”
Where to stay
The Rarotongan Beach Resort has apartments and villas on one of the best beaches in the South Pacific with lots of water-based activities, including snorkelling and a PADI dive centre. There’s a spa therapy centre and entertainment every Friday.
On the nearby island of Aitutaki there are two great resorts. The Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa is situated on the lagoon and has views across the water to tiny islands in the distance. It has white-sand beaches and is the only resort in the Cook Islands to offer over-water bungalows.
The Pacific Resort Aitutaki is the newest boutique property in the Cook Islands with 17 acres of tropical forest fronting a long white-sand beach. It has deluxe beachfront bungalows and a swimming pool in a dramatic location.
The lagoons of the Cook Islands are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, sailing, canoeing, kayaking – any kind of water sport you can think of. Outside the reef, you can try diving or deep-sea fishing.
Visit the Cook Island Cultural Centre to learn about Polynesian culture, including how to shell a coconut, cook in an umu (traditional underground oven) and dance Cook Island-style.
You can go hiking, climbing, horse riding or cycling in the interior – but take plenty of mosquito repellent.
The best place for shopping is in the town of Arorangi. The Cook Islands are famous for their black pearls, which don’t come cheap but are very reasonable compared with those sold in Tahiti or Europe.
Less outlay is required for colourful pareus (Polynesian sarongs), heady perfumes and handicrafts – woven pandanus baskets and hats are particularly good.
Even if you are not staying in Aitutaki, it is worth taking a day trip on Air Rarotonga to see – it has arguably the most beautiful lagoon in the world.
You can book a day trip from Rarotonga with a lagoon cruise, including snorkelling, lunch and a visit to One Foot Island, the only uninhabited island to have a post office. Send your cards from here and get your passport stamped, too.
Aitutaki lagoon’s fish will feed from your hand or nibble your toes and turtles will swim alongside you through the warm water. Look out for the Cook Islands’ beautiful blue starfish.
Even if you’re not a churchgoer, visit one for the Sunday morning services. The whole island gets dressed up and sings the most exuberant four-part harmonies imaginable.
Friday night is Island Night and there are great shows in many of the hotels- expect girls dressed in grass skirts and coconut shell bras and athleticism from men re-enacting their warrior traditions.
The locals who aren’t in the shows are likely to be down at Trader Jack’s or the Banana Court in town. Saturday night is less of a big night out as everything closes at midnight sharp.
There are some excellent restaurants – at the sailing club on Muri Beach or Liana’s both on Rarotonga – serving sophisticated dishes and wonderful fresh seafood.
There’s also an open-air cinema and a lot of ad hoc entertainment – especially if you’re lucky enough to be there for the Constitution Week celebrations (late July/early August), the Cook Island National Dance or Coconut Tree-Climbing competitions.
Connections Worldwide offers a seven-night package from £1,999 per person including flights, seven nights’ accommodation at the Manuia Beach Boutique Hotel in the Cook Islands, transfers and a 10-day self-drive itinerary of New Zealand’s South Island including car hire
Talpacific has three nights at the five-star SkyCity Grand Hotel in Auckland followed by four nights at the Claremont Country Estate
in Rarotonga from £2,999 per person including flights, transfers and continental breakfast
Audley Travel has a 12-night stay in the Cook Islands staying seven nights at the Crown Beach Resort and five nights at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, including flights, transfers and breakfast, from £2,755 per person next month.