10 rev­e­la­tions

Get to know the Cook Is­lands

Paradise - - Contents -

1It’s like a mini-Tahiti, mi­nus the price tag

Tall moun­tains, a green hin­ter­land, a blue la­goon and a fring­ing reef – Raro­tonga’s just like a smaller ver­sion of Tahiti, only with­out the prices. Tahiti is the most ex­pen­sive is­land in the Pa­cific, whereas the Cook Is­lands are rea­son­able (think $NZ5 for a beer, about PGK12). What’s more, the Cook Is­lands and French Poly­ne­sia share so many of the same char­ac­ter­is­tics – they have the same na­tional dish (raw fish cooked in lime juice with co­conut milk), the same kind of na­tional flower ( tiare tahit and tiare maori) and the same evoca­tive dance.

2It’s small and easy to nav­i­gate

Other is­lands through­out the South Pa­cific, like Samoa and Fiji, re­quire vis­i­tors to spend plenty of time in ve­hi­cles get­ting from at­trac­tion to at­trac­tion. Not Raro­tonga. It’s just 69 square kilo­me­tres, and you can drive around the whole is­land in 30 min­utes. What’s more, the speed limit’s a leisurely 50kmh, mean­ing it’s the per­fect place to hire a scooter. It also means the best place for sun­rise is no more than 15 min­utes from the best place for sun­sets.

The la­goon is home to a col­lec­tion of small un­in­hab­ited islets ( motu) you can travel be­tween on a day tour, or by char­ter­ing your own speed­boat.

3You’ll find the best sun­set bars in the Pa­cific

These are the sun­set bars of your imag­i­na­tion – the sort con­jured up in the pages of a Som­er­set Maugham novel (who vis­ited here in the 1930s). Try The Water­line (water­line-restau­rant. com), Wil­son’s Bar (cast­awayvil­las.com) and Aro’a Beach­side Inn’s Ship­wreck Hut (aroabeach.com/ ship­wreck _ hut.htm) along Raro­tonga’s west coast in the district of Ao­rangi. You can sit and watch sun­set with the lo­cals, while lis­ten­ing to lo­cal mu­si­cians. Happy hours make for cheap cock­tails and in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion, as fam­i­lies fos­sick for limpets on the reef in front.

4There are is­lands with no other tourists

You could spend all your time on Raro­tonga, but you can find is­lands where as few as 20 tourists visit all year, all within an hour’s plane ride. On is­lands like Mi­tiaro, Man­gaia and Atiu you’re likely to be the only tourist there. You’ll get an in­sight into tra­di­tional Poly­ne­sian fam­ily life. Raro­tonga’s sur­round­ing is­lands of­fer a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into how life was, as well as of­fer­ing per­fect un­crowded beaches, swim­ming holes, un­der­ground caves and rare en­demic birds.

5It’s one gi­gan­tic whale sanc­tu­ary

The Cook Is­lands sit in over two mil­lion square kilo­me­tres of Pa­cific Ocean – all of it clas­si­fied whale sanc­tu­ary. Be­cause the ocean be­side the is­lands slopes down dras­ti­cally, hump­backs swim ex­cep­tion­ally close to shore. On Raro­tonga’s north­ern coast­line you can see whales 100 me­tres from the beach. Or go on a whale-watch­ing boat tour (blue­wa­ter­tours.com).

6No high-rise build­ings or peak-hour traf­fic

There are twice-daily peakhour traf­fic jams in na­tions all over the Pa­cific and you’ll find high-rise ho­tels spread through­out the is­lands of Me­lane­sia and Poly­ne­sia. But not in the Cook Is­lands. The con­sti­tu­tion states no build­ing be taller than a co­conut tree – and there are no chain ho­tels any­where. And be­cause there’s no ma­jor ur­ban space, Raro­tonga is free of any peak-hour traf­fic – just keep an eye out for wan­der­ing pigs.

7.

Fish like the Poly­ne­sians

Go deep-sea fish­ing with lo­cals who shun tech­nol­ogy and use tra­di­tional tech­niques to lo­cate fish. So don’t ex­pect morn­ing tea and po­lite chat, this is se­ri­ous stuff and when the big­gest tuna, or mahi mahi, in the sea takes your hook, you bet­ter pull it in so you don’t dis­ap­point the lo­cals (fish­in­graro­tonga.com/Fish­in­gRaro­tonga.html).

8Cook Is­lan­ders are the ex­tro­verts of the Pa­cific

Eat­ing out is the na­tional pas­time in Raro­tonga – for such a sleepy place, Raro­tonga boasts the most lively bar scene of any­where in the South Pa­cific. There are beach­side bars all over the is­land, in­clud­ing the South Pa­cific’s most iconic in­sti­tu­tion, Trader Jacks (trader­jackscook­islands.com) built right on Avatiu Har­bour. You’ll also find some great restau­rants on Raro­tonga. Try Poly­ne­sian dishes with a mod­ern twist in an old colo­nial home on the la­goon at Ta­marind House (tamarindraro­tonga.com), a lo­cal favourite.

9You’ll find the pret­ti­est la­goon in the South Pa­cific

Bora Bora’s la­goon might hog the limelight, but Ai­tu­taki’s gi­gan­tic, equi­lat­eral-tri­an­gle­shaped la­goon has no five-star hide­away re­sorts, mean­ing vis­i­tors have open ac­cess to every cen­time­tre of the la­goon. It’s home to a col­lec­tion of small un­in­hab­ited islets ( motu) you can travel be­tween on a day tour, or by char­ter­ing your own speed­boat. You can sail or kite-surf be­tween the islets –the la­goon’s one of the world’s kite-surf­ing hot spots. The con­cept for Sur­vivor was born here with Bri­tish TV se­ries Ship­wrecked in 1999, and a se­ries of Sur­vivor was filmed here in 2006.

10It’s a div­ing hot spot

Be­cause the Cook Is­lands drop straight into 4500-me­tre-deep ocean, divers ex­pe­ri­ence some of the steep­est oceanic drop-offs in the Pa­cific. There are over 30 dive sites across Raro­tonga and Ai­tu­taki, which suit ev­ery­one from be­gin­ners to ex­perts, and most sites are less than 10 min­utes by boat. The wa­ter tem­per­a­ture sits be­tween 23 and 28 de­grees year- round, and wa­ter vis­i­bil­ity is usu­ally around 60 me­tres. You’ll see hun­dreds of fish species and over 70 types of coral (di­ver­aro­tonga. com, paci­fic­divers.co.ck). See cook­islands.travel.

Cook Is­lands land­scape ... a green hin­ter­land and tall moun­tains sur­rounded by the Pa­cific Ocean.

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