A beach vacation is often considered one of the most relaxing options for travelers who want to get away and unwind. Nothing beats sun-warmed beaches, refreshing ocean spray, and the quiet tranquility of nature spread before you.
These days, many of the best beaches have been discovered and often disrupted by towering hotels, crowded beaches, and dotted with litter; that much sought-after peace and quiet you expected is gone.
If you’re looking for an undiscovered piece of paradise to call your own – look no further than the idyllic Cook Islands. Located in the heart of the South Pacific, this collection of 15 islands offers quiet, golden beaches, breathtaking coral reefs, and hidden caves creating that unblemished slice of paradise you’ve been dreaming of.
Named after the famous British explorer Captain Cook who discovered the islands in the eighteenth century, The Cook Islands are separated into two areas; the Northern and Southern Cook Islands. The Northern Islands are closer to the equator and more difficult to travel to, so most travelers focus on the Southern Cook Islands. The Southern Islands include the three biggest and most popular destinations: Aitutaki, Atiu, and Rarotonga, each with their own unique personalities and must-see sights.
Rarotonga is the capital of the Cook Islands and is the quintessential South Pacific Island – with soaring mountain peaks spilling down into rich rainforests and exquisite palm-fringed, sugar-sand beaches. The island is fantastic for exploring on foot, so definitely take advantage of the path that connects the south side of the island with Avatiu valley, which passes the Te Rua Manga, the needle-shaped rock that soars over the rainforest. If you would prefer something more vigorous, hiking to the top of the flat-topped mountain Raemaru provides amazing views of the entire island of Rarotonga.
Like many of the Pacific Islands, Rarotonga is a top-notch destination for a myriad of water-based activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing. Tropical fish are abundant all year round, and the best time for diving and snorkeling is from July to October, when pods of whales are passing by the islands. Water temperatures in summer are around 80F, so a 3mm wetsuit is all that is required for diving expeditions. For land lovers – there are plenty of activities including hiking, quad and buggy tours and cycle tours.
A trip to Rarotonga is not complete without traveling across to Aitutaki. This small island offers turquoise lagoons, coral reefs and glistening beaches. A popular wedding destination, Aitutaki’s lagoon is spotted with bright orange coral just under the surface, and the burst of the sunset reflecting off of the waters of the lagoon with the silhouettes of the bride and groom create stunning wedding photos. Of course, the island is also a popular honeymoon spot, with its warm and quiet atmosphere, quintessential beautiful Cook Island beaches, and amazing marine life to swim with and explore. There is also the wreck of a cargo freighter, ‘The Alexander,” which ran aground in the 1930’s, perfect for exploration by divers. Much like Rarotonga, Aitutaki is fantastic for underwater exploration, but with fewer people and a more tranquil isolation.
The island offers plenty to do, both in and out of the water. Besides diving and snorkeling, there is plenty of both game and fly fishing, and competitions are held regularly and open to the public. Try golfing on the local 9-hole golf course, near the coast and coral reefs; this golf course is unlike any you’ve played on before. Take a picnic on the beach after dark, and stargaze under the blanket of a brilliantly spotted sky.
Atiu is the 3rd largest island and is less of a beach haven and more of an adventurer’s getaway. Instead of snorkeling and diving, the island is full of hidden caves and lush rainforests, making it ideal for those who want to immerse themselves in the surrounding nature without a snorkeling mask. If you’re a birdwatching enthusiast, then during your trek through the rainforests you will be able to spot White Capped Noddys, Great Frigates, and Brown Bobbys on the island. The abundant flora on the island creates the ideal environment for birds to thrive and grow, making it a treasured location for ornithologists.
The caves and caverns on Atiu are spectacular, but none as amazing as Anatakitaki, a multi-chambered limestone cavern. The cave is surrounded by local vegetation and banyan roots, shrouding it in mystery. Inside each chamber, stalactites and stalagmites soar from floor to ceiling or vice versa. At the bottom of the cavern is a freshwater lake that is safe to swim in, and many visitors enjoy doing so by the candlelight. The caves are also known as the “Kopeka Caves”, named after an incredibly rare bird species that lives only in the caves on this island and navigates through the pitch dark by echolocation, much like a bat.
To learn more about the amazing Cook Islands and Down Under Answers, visit them online at www.duatravel.com.