When my fiancé and I were planning our pretty epic honeymoon back in 2013, it’s safe to say we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We had 2.5 months and we knew we wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand. But that was it. So we decided to speak with one of STA’s Travel Experts (hi, Adam at London Victoria!).
Turned out for the price of a return to Auckland via Melbourne, we could get a Round the World ticket and head home via LA. Score. Then came the suggestion that made our honeymoon: “Air New Zealand do a twice weekly flight from Auckland to Rarotonga and on to LA – you guys could spend a week in the Cook Islands”.
Everything I knew about the Cook Islands until that point was acquired entirely from noughties TV show Shipwrecked (never saw it? I urge you to head to YouTube). A few minutes of Googling later, we’d established that the Cooks are made up of 15 islands nestled north of New Zealand, with Rarotonga being the largest and most popular and, basically, looked like paradise. It would be rude not to visit paradise given the chance, right?
1.You’ll time travel
Geeky fact time: fly from Auckland to Rarotonga and you’ll cross the international date line, so you’ll arrive in the Cook Islands before you left New Zealand. If that novelty factor alone isn’t enough to get you out there (and if not who on earth are you?) you’ll literally feel like you’ve stepped back in time once you’ve stepped off the plane. I can’t think of anywhere else on earth where I’ve felt like I’ve genuinely ‘gotten away from it all’. The smaller islands like Mitiaro have a population of only 180 and less than 10 cars.
2.The beaches look like this:
3.It’s just as beautiful under the ocean
Grab your snorkel, step off the sand and you’ll be treated to beautiful reefs, tropical fish, sea snakes (ugh) and even turtles if you’re lucky. Want more? Head deeper. The scuba diving off Rarotonga is hands-down the most incredible diving experience I’ve had. With 30 metres of visibility and beautiful, colourful reefs that have retained their beauty as the islands get far less divers than somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef.
4.The history and the people
The Cook Islands are great if your travel buddy, like mine, isn’t content with lazing on a picture perfect beach all day. I know. These weirdos do exist. The islands have a fascinating history – a visit to the Cook Islands Library and Museum is a good way to find out more about it – while the super-friendly local people can trace their ancestry back around 1400 years when the first Cook Islanders settled from today’s French Polynesia.
Also, don’t miss a trip to church. Seriously! Forget stuffy, quiet religious services – here it’s all about colour, passion and singing. The Cook Island Christian Church in Avarua has a service delivered in Cook Islands Maori and music to start your Sunday with a bang.
5.It’s not just resorts
What I loved about Rarotonga was that, despite it being the largest and most populous of the Cook Islands, it didn’t feel touristy or full of resorts. Unlike many tropical islands, you don’t feel obliged to stay in your resort: in fact, getting out and exploring is one of the main draws here.
A few tests and you too could look this good with a scooter.
You could jump on the Cook Islands bus (there are two routes: Clockwise and Anti-clockwise) which will drop you off anywhere you want, or for more flexibility you could hire a scooter. Heads up: if you do want to do the latter, you’ll need to get a Cook Islands driving license. Just take you own driving license to the police station in Avarua, pay NZ$20, take a small theory test and a short practical test and you’ll be the proud owner of your very own Cook Islands license, complete with dodgy photo. A much cooler holiday souvenir than a fridge magnet.