Travel Spotlight… Cook Islands

Adventure? Check. Relaxation? Check. Beauty? Check. Paradise? Check check check!

1 month Discovery Channel

It’s no surprise that the Cook Islands are making a big promotional push of late: it’s the perfect holidaying spot for Aussies and New Zealanders looking for relaxation, adventure, nature, and everything in-between. The commerce is quaint, local, and inexpensive; the views and landscape are so spectacular, you’ll be convinced you’re viewing CGI; and it’s close enough to jet across for a long weekend, should you be short on time and money. There are also a number of islands — as the name suggest — meaning repeat visits offer up a new experience every time.

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See: The Highland Paradise Cultural Centre on Rarotonga is atop a winding jungle road, and boasts views of the entire coastal perimeter.
Eat: The Muri Night Market is great for sampling a number of local treats: from coconut desserts, to seafood nibblies.
Drink: Join the locals for the nightly ‘tumunu.’ Rough translation? Bush beer session!
History: Visit the Cook Islands Christian Church, built in 1828 and overlooking stunning coastal views.
Relax: Sit by Avana Harbour and watch the bright, brilliant ‘vaka’ — Polynesian boats — as they leave for the ocean or sail into the harbour.
Adventure: Atiu Tours will help you explore sub terrain caves, cutting through thick jungle vines like an ancient warrior.
Shopping: The Punanga Nui flea and street markets are where you’ll pick up locally-crafted souvenirs and bright clobber to boot.
Art and Culture: The Aitutaki Punarei Cultural Tours will give you a crash course in the area’s impressive pre-Christian art and cultural history. 


Okay, so it’s quite obvious by the name and location that you are spoiled for choice when it comes to coastal paradise relaxation when in the Cook Islands, but what if that’s not at all your idea of a great holiday? Well, the same untouched terrain that makes chilling out so heavenly also makes it the perfect playground for high-octane adventure.

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The entire Rarotonga coastline can be walked in under two hours, but within that area there are numerous adventures to be had. Waterfalls and rivers can be kayaked, guided mountain climbing treks and forest hikes are available, and buggy-style off-road vehicles can be hired cheaply if you wish to hoon around the circumference of the island.

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For a mix of adventure and education, take a mountain-biking tour which hits all the main points of interest – all anchored by a well-informed and cheery guide who will fill your brain with facts and your legs with aches.

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Atiu has to be seen to be believed; an ancient untouched relic that provides the islands’ closest link to the prehistorical past.

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Home to both a coral reef of unmatched beauty, and a lava strewn wasteland that reminds us of the visceral ways in which we should respect and fear nature, the island is quite tiny — the smallest of the Cook Islands — but the thick and treacherous terrain means you’re best to join one of the numerous tour groups and receive expert navigation of the place to avoid getting into any dangerous situations.

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There are underground caves to explore, thick swabs of jungle to swarth through, and once you’re well and truly spent from all that adventure, a 19th century drinking ritual to partake in with the locals: the nightly ‘tumunu’ which roughly translates to “bush beer session”. After Christians forbade the manufacture and consumption of a popular local brew in the 19th Century, enterprising locals simply took to the bush and concocted their own variety, made from oranges. It’s delicious, and will have you beaming brighter than the oranges it’s made from. Beware though, it’s quite alcoholic!

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Not surprisingly for an island paradise, it’s the fresh local produce that most tantalises visitors, be it seafood plucked from the ocean mere hours earlier, or a selection of local fruits, diced, spliced, and pureed into numerous forms. You can find a smorgasbord of treats every Saturday on Avarua, at the Punanga Nui Market.

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If you wish to stick to island tradition, you cannot pass up the ika mata — lime-drizzled raw fish with a coconut marinate — with a side of cooked root vegetable such as taro, kumara, breadfruit, or boiled green bananas (opt for the tuna sashimi if you find the taste of fish a little too visceral).

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There is plenty of local fruit on sale, and given its abundance, you can dine on both fish and fruit for a pittance. For a more hearty meal, there is roast pork, a plethora of baked goods, and numerous similarly meat-and-bread heavy stalls. The entire area has a family atmosphere, as these businesses are all locally ran, often by entire families, with mum and dad preparing and cooking, while the juniors serve and man the stalls. It’s quite lovely.

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Posted by Nathan Jolly