By Adam Slingsby
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
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Whether you're setting out on a round the world ticket, looking for a great stopover or planning a little side trip from Australia or New Zealand, the Cook Islands makes a great destination to travel slowly in.
We love helping you work this stop into your ticket because we know from our own experience that once you arrive, you'll be guaranteed a really authentic South Pacific 'island-life' experience.
If you're wondering what's on offer if you visit the Cook Islands, we've asked our consultants for the highlights of their own trips. Find out what Sara, Adam and Sophie loved about their visits. Be warned: this blog features loads of blue-sky-blue-sea photos!
My first impression of the Cook Islands was flying into Rarotonga and I could see a lush tropical mountainous island jutting out of the sea, fringed with tropical beaches. And that was all before we reached the arrivals lounge where there were so many smiling faces waiting to greet us!
I stayed at Aunty Nou's on Rarotonga, a real local legend! She rented out some of the rooms in her house and had loads of mango trees, there was one huge fridge full of mangos and she was always encouraging us to eat them! She also invited us to a local celebration feast where everyone was in traditional dress and my friend and I were the only foreigners out of hundred's guests to be invited – real local hospitality!
I also flew out to Aitutaki and absolutely loved this island, a real tropical paradise where kids played cricket barefoot on the village green and blue starfish were dotted through the most beautiful tropical lagoons, this island is a must see if you can stretch to it!
The Cook Islands has to be one of the friendliest places I have been to, I was invited to a few locals houses, offered their rum, invited to church, hitchhiked around the island and was given more than my weight in mangoes!
My lasting impression would be when, upon arrival and after about 12 days at sea, I got to land and the first thing I saw was a little fish and chip stall selling fresh seafood! (bear in mind this was the first time I'd seen fish and chips in over 2 years!)
The Cook Islands are such a relaxed and fun place to visit – people are so friendly, and make you feel so very welcome. I stayed on the boat for the most part, but did a lot of exploring of the main island of Rarotonga by hitch-hiking and by moped – you can get round the whole island in about 50 minutes (unless you get lost in the hills around Te Aponga!) I LOVED Muri lagoon. Great swimming in clear water and options for kite boarding too.
Just North of Muri beach is a little reef break called Avana Harbour that has a pretty sketchy little wave that breaks over the coral reef. Intimidating but the locals are always at hand to goad/encourage you!
I'd always recommend this as a place to go, as it's just such a genuine pacific island culture and the vibe is brilliant!
I first visited The Cook Islands as a backpacker nearly 10 years ago. When I had an opportunity to visit again recently I jumped at the chance! My previous memories were of the beautifully quiet lagoon at Muri – although the backpackers there is being renovated, the lagoon is still as popular as ever, with plenty of activities to keep you from your hammock!
On my first trip, I remember extending my ticket twice and ended up staying for almost a month. We enjoyed the local lifestyle; Saturday morning markets, scooting around the island to different beaches and snorkelling spots, watching rugby being played and making friends with the locals.
Every night there is something going on – 'island nights' are fun with lots of music and dancing, along with taking the bus to town (Avarua) and having a few drinks with the locals by the harbour. Our days were spent eating fresh fruit, swimming and learning to dive, and just enjoying the slow pace of life. The Cooks were so different to anything I'd experienced before!
This time round, I also squeezed in a trip to Aitutaki. The lagoon here is even more breath-taking in real life; turquoise waters, brilliant snorkelling and picture-perfect islets and motus. It's a piece of paradise where time stands still, letting you unwind – in fact it can take a few days of practice to relax!
Rarotonga was our base for this trip, and it was as I remembered ten years ago; low rise buildings, friendly locals and a chilled out atmosphere. There's a great variety of places to stay and some lovely restaurants too – Vaimas was a particular favourite of mine. The UK winter is a great time to stopover – the summer months tend to be busier with more visitors from Australia and New Zealand. Who doesn't want to get away from a cold, grey British November?! The weather in the Cook Islands is ideal year round – blue skies and 22-26 degrees C as an average.
The island's interior is lush and mountainous – we met with Pa and took a nature walk with him. He showed me how I had to rub chillies onto my mosquito bites (to ease the stinging of course!) and we learnt all about the native fruits growing around us as we took in the wonderful views out to sea.
I also took a day trip to Mangaia, a much less developed island that was probably one of the best day trips I've ever done. No sealed roads or restaurants and a very basic infrastructure, but with lovely units to stay in, absolutely hidden away from the rest of the world. The island is full of caves for exploring and is completely untouched. A very special experience indeed.
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