The Vaka Cruise on Aitutaki. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism
The Vaka Cruise on Aitutaki. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism

Visit the Pacific’s best-kept secret

THE electric turquoise waters of the small island of Aitutaki emerge suddenly from the vast deep blue of the South Pacific Ocean after a short 45-minute flight from Rarotonga.

From the air, the view is breathtaking. The pristine lagoon, with long stretches of white sandy beaches surrounded by coral reef, provides a tropical oasis from the waves.

It's also an oasis from the real world. A place where the fast-paced pressures of daily life disappear. Moments seem to last longer. There's no need to rush, relaxation and reconnection are the priorities here.

With a population of about 1000 residents, Aitutaki is the third largest of the Cook Islands but at times it feels as if you are the only person on the planet.

The beautiful Tamanu Beach Resort sits on the edge of the lagoon and offers an authentic Cook Islands experience, while also delivering touches of luxury.

In between kicking back in your sunlounge underneath swaying coconut palms, snorkelling in the lagoon and enjoying slow walks on the beach, the toughest decision you will have to make is what to eat for lunch from the resort's restaurant.

Once the desire to get out and explore hits, there are plenty of things to do on the island.

At the top of the list should be the Vaka Cruise. The award-winning Vaka Cruise takes guests on a day tour of the pristine lagoon, while providing an entertaining and informative cultural journey through Aitutaki's history.

The musical talents of the boat's crew and a delicious barbecue lunch are highlights but there is no doubting the natural beauty of the lagoon is the star of the show.

If the view from the air is breathtaking, the wonder up close from the water is simply spectacular.

The volcanic outcrop known as The Needle in the centre of Raratonga. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism
The volcanic outcrop known as The Needle in the centre of Raratonga. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism

The highlight of the cruise is the journey to the pristine One Foot Island at the outer edge of the lagoon.

It is here the boat stops so guests can explore the coral reef below … with a giant surprise in store.

As the boat approaches the snorkelling destination, dark shadows begin following the boat. A school of giant trevally eagerly await our arrival in what we are told is the only place in the world you can swim with prized game fish.

There's an authenticity about the Cook Islands. The smiles on the faces of the friendly locals are genuine and from the moment you arrive in Rarotonga, the biggest of the 15 islands, you are made to feel welcome.

Greetings of Kia orana (which means hello and can also be used to say thanks) can be heard wherever you walk and the smell of freshly cut frangipani flowers fills the air.

On Rarotonga they say the whole island is like your resort. And they are right.

With only one main road that circles the island, it is easy to wander freely and experience all that it has to offer.

Situated on the southeast side of the island, the Nautilus Resort is the perfect base from which to explore Rarotonga. But be warned, you will find it tough to leave.

A room at the Nautilus Resort, on the main island of Rarotonga. Picture: Nautilus Resort, Rarotonga
A room at the Nautilus Resort, on the main island of Rarotonga. Picture: Nautilus Resort, Rarotonga

The elegant villas feature their own private saltwater plunge pools, outdoor decks and undercover gazebos to perfectly complement the luxurious interiors

With the resort's main infinity pool overlooking the crystal clear lagoon, kayaking, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a bar and restaurant right on you doorstep, the hours easily drift by with the tide.

But getting out and seeing more of the island is definitely worth it.

The easiest way to get around Rarotonga is with a hire car or moped but Storytellers bicycle tour is a great way to see the island and learn a bit more about how the locals live.

The guided tour from "Uncle Jimmy" takes you through the winding back roads of Rarotonga, visiting family farms, tasting local produce and taking in the sights.

For the more adventurous, Pa's cross-island trek involves a three-hour mountainous hike through the jungle to the top of The Needle - the island's volcanic heart - and while some level of fitness is required to make the trip, the views of the island are spectacular.

When the sun sets, the best place to soak up the culture of the Cook Islands is the Te Vara Nui Village night spectacular, one of the most popular experience and for good reason.

The winner of the people's choice award at the 2018 Air New Zealand Cook Islands Tourism Awards, the entertaining show by flaming torchlight takes the audience on a historical journey through music and dance.

The Te Vara Nui cultural show. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism
The Te Vara Nui cultural show. Picture: Cook Islands Tourism

Finding a good feed is also never a problem in Rarotonga. From beachside cafes where the famous fish sandwiches are bigger than your head (seriously) to more refined resort dining, there is something for everyone.

The Cook Islands are popular with honeymooning couples as they provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway.

But it is starting to emerge as a genuine family holiday destination for anyone wanting to experience a tropical paradise without the tacky touristy facade.

From pristine coral lagoons to cloud-covered mountain adventures. Relaxing under palm trees on sun-soaked beaches to sensational cultural experiences.

The Cook Islands are the South Pacific's best-kept secret. A place where breathtaking natural beauty and friendly locals combine to deliver a truly great holiday destination.

 

The writer travelled courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism and Air New Zealand.

 

BOOK IT NOW

 

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand flies non-stop once per week from Sydney to Rarotonga. One-way seat fares from $392 (inclusive of taxes). Connections to Aitutaki are available with Air New Zealand's codeshare partner Air Rarotonga.

STAYING THERE

Rarotonga - nautilusresortrarotonga.com

Villas from $625 a night

Aitutaki - tamanubeach.com

Villas from $455 a night

THINGS TO DO

Vaka Cruise - thevakacruise.com

Te Vara Nui cultural show - tevaranui.co.ck

Eco cycle tour - storytellers.co.ck

Pa's trek - pastreks.com

 

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