The Cook Islands are well-known for being the closest you can get to paradise on Earth, yet you might have to Google exactly where and what they are. Fifteen islands and a total land area of just 240sq km make up the blissful Cook Islands, while the idyllic climate makes us want to go right now, this minute.
Every photo reveals an unspoilt paradise complete with beachside bars, good looking locals and endless sands. But what else have the islands got to offer us gap year folk?
1. They are a haven for divers
The crazy canyon, cave and wreck diving are among the best things to do on the Cook Islands. Warm water temperatures, brilliant visibility and vibrant corals make this the perfect place to practice your deep sea diving, however good you are.
2. The locals make cool stuff
Locally made handicrafts like the woven rito hat (made from coconut palms), the pareu (wrap around skirt) and the black pearls will all go down well with your friends back home. Or just treat yourself – you deserve it.
3. Adventure seekers will love them
With kayaking, horse riding through the Papua waterfall, surfing and sailing on offer there’s no chance of boredom on the Cook Islands. Don’t leave without trekking the ancestral warpaths of Rarotonga or windsurfing on Muri Beach either.
4. Eating a lot is inevitable
The clue is in the name – the food in the Cook Islands is legendary. As soon as you get stuck into the Polynesian cuisine – think AIka mata, a popular and tasty marinated fish dish with a Tabasco kick – you’ll find it hard to leave. Make sure you join in with an Island Night to try the national specialty: Umukai. An ‘Umu’ is an underground oven made in a shallow pit with volcanic rocks placed on a fire. The food is then wrapped in banana leaves and placed on top of the hot stones. Sand and dirt is then piled on top to trap the heat while the food boils, smokes or steams before the big reveal and you get to gorge.
5. Aitutaki is the most stunning beach
Think ‘Cook Islands’ and you think ‘beaches,’ but one of the best kept secrets in the Cook Islands is the beautiful island of Aitutaki. The turquoise lagoon, white sands and thick palm forests make for an incredible backdrop for your trip.
6. The markets are crazy fun
Punanga Nui Cultural Market in Avarua is the big one; selling locally grown, tasty fruit, seafood, flowers and crafts as well as hot food and some cool clothes too.
7. You can go whale watching
The great Humpback whale migration happens from July to October in the South Pacific, making it the perfect time to visit. The whales are found so close to the shore that you can watch from the beach, or for a more intense experience jump on one of the charter boats and experience the beauts in the sea.
8. Deep sea fishing is a must
Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the best places to play fisherman. Cast off and hook some marlin or tuna beyond the reef in the deep sea via charter boat, or have a go at the light tackle sports fishing. It’s possible to see wahoo, barracuda, dolphin fish, yellowfin, skipjack tuna and sailfish as well as bonefish, trevally, cod and snapper.
9. The lagoon cruises are beautiful
Choose a boat with a glass bottom and you can experience the beautiful marine life from the comfort of a cruise. Island hopping is a great idea; check out Captain Tama’s Lagoon Cruizesat Muri Beach in Rarotonga as they’ll throw in some snorkelling gear too.