In Travel

A Luxury Guide To Exploring The Cook Islands

When you think of luxury escapes in the Pacific, French Polynesia and Fiji are often the first places that come to mind. Yet, there’s another destination that deserves to be on that list – one offering the beauty and romance of its rivals with none of the crowds: Cook Islands.

Located midway between New Zealand and Hawaii, Cook Islands offers everything could want from an island getaway and a whole lot more. Jungle-clad mountains and crystal-clear lagoons, rustic beach shacks and romantic five-star villas; it’s a low-key island gem where there are no traffic lights, no McDonald’s, and no buildings higher than a coconut tree. Less than four hours from Auckland, Cook Islands is the escape you’ve been dreaming of.

Where to stay

The Cook Islands is home to 15 beautiful tropical islands, however most of the luxury resorts are focused around two in particular: Rarotonga, the main island and primary entry point into the Cook Islands; and the intimate and remote Aitutaki, which was praised by Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler as having ‘the most beautiful lagoon in the world’.

Nautilus Resort, Rarotonga

Also located on the south-east coast of Rarotonga is Nautilus, an eco-friendly 4.5-star beachfront resort which looks out to palm-studded Ta’akoka Islet. Each of the resort’s 17 villas features seamless indoor and outdoor living, a salt water plunge pool and outdoor deck with undercover gazebo that leads out to a private open-air shower and courtyard.

Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Aitutaki

The most highly awarded property in the Cook Islands, Pacific Resort Aitutaki is a chic five-star escape where time just melts away. Voted the ‘world’s leading boutique resort’ no less than six times in the World Travel Awards, the absolute beachfront hideaway is home to 27 luxuriously appointed bungalows and villas, a tranquil day spa, pool bar and restaurant.

Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, Aitutaki

The only Cook Islands resort with overwater bungalows, this magical four-star hideaway is situated on Motu Akitua Private Island, gazing out across the gorgeous Aitutaki Lagoon. Wake up to the sound of the water lapping at the villa, and then jump directly from your deck into the turquoise waters below. The intimate resort features a range of beachfront bungalows and villas, together with a sublime day spa and restaurant.

Muri Beach Club, Ratotonga

Centred around Muri Lagoon, this adults-only resort is ideal for water-sport lovers, with wind and kite surfing, sailing, kayaking and boating on offer – not to mention the beach front only metres away. Settle into a shaded deck chair on the sand, or sip cocktails by the Rarotonga’s largest pool without fear of being splashed by a rogue cannon baller.

Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa, Rarotonga

Situated on the south-east coast of Rarotonga, Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa is a glamorous five-star beachfront resort with 13 luxury villas and uninterrupted views of Muri Lagoon. Taking full advantage of the tropical climate, each of the beautifully styled villas features a free-flowing design and individual pool, as well as easy access to the white sands of the lagoon. All villas have a kitchen, plus you can have gourmet hampers delivered to your door or a personal chef come to your villa and create a delicious Polynesian feast.

What to do

Scenic flights with Air Rarotonga

An aerial view of Pukapuka (aka Danger Island) Photo:  Air Rarotonga

To help you appreciate the jaw-dropping beauty and diversity the Cook Islands has to offer, Air Rarotonga offer a regular schedule of day tours and sightseeing flights in high wing Cessna aircraft, which are perfectly suited for viewing and photographing the inland valleys, emerald islets, turquoise lagoons, and fringing coral reefs. With a maximum capacity of just two passengers, it’s an intimate way to experience this pristine island utopia.

Scuba diving and snorkelling

A turtle in the Cook Islands Photo: DivePlanIt

Steep drop offs and walls of coral, shallow lagoons and a myriad of rainbow coloured fish; Cook Islands is a true paradise for divers and snorkellers with temperatures from 23°C to 28°C and visibility up to 60m. There are more than 30 dive sites to choose from across the islands, with something for beginners right through to advanced divers.

Cruises on magical Aitutaki Lagoon

Just a 50-minute plane ride from Rarotonga, Aitutaki is an island every visitor to the Cook Islands needs to explore. Day trips are an easy option, but you really should spend a couple of nights if you can. Bishop’s Cruises offer fabulous catamaran tours of the lagoon, giving ample time to soak up views of palm-fringed beaches and explore the magical islands.

A taste of island culture

There are no strangers in the Cook Islands, only friends you haven’t met. Polynesian culture is alive and well and the locals are more than willing to share their heritage. You can find a number of galleries and museums across the islands; however, most resorts will also have a cultural night with drumming and dancing a big part of the fun. Another good way to meet the locals is to hire a scooter and explore some of the beautiful backroads and villages.

For all its beauty and charm, the Cook Islands still flies under the radar. Yet, if you’re willing to take the road less travelled, it’s a paradise which truly offers something for everyone.

Need an excuse to get away? To celebrate The Upsider’s first birthday, we’ve teamed up with Cook Islands and Muri Beach Club Hotel to offer the ultimate holiday to the Cook Islands. Enter here

Published 11 September, 2018