I told you it wouldn’t be long until the next OS adventure, and the next stop was the stunning Cook Islands!
This trip came to me as a prize that I had won through the ‘Treasures of the South Pacific’ road show. A touring product information evening that features the national tourism bureaus from most of the South Pacific Islands. As a travel consultant, you attend loads of these product nights during the year, and to get you there they entice you with finger food, an open bar & some lucky door prizes. It must have been my lucky day as an all-inclusive, trip for 2 to the Cook Islands was the grand prize ( a step up from the usual giveaway of a few sarongs, a day tours or a hat), and it just happened to be MY business card that was pulled out of the box.. YAY! (I never win ANYTHING!)
So, it was off to the Cook Islands and despite taking a little bit of convincing, Scott (My BF) was happy enough to tag along. He’s decided to brand himself as the official ‘executive producer’ of MyTraveLust, helping me to experience all of these wonderful properties and destinations. Plus he’s starting to earn his keep by stepping up as my personal photographer (as I’m really not into taking ‘selfies’ HaHa).
Rarotonga (the capital of the country) is a 5 & 1/2hr direct flight from Sydney (Thanks Air New Zealand), and my first impressions were WET! It just happened to be pouring with rain upon our arrival, but thanks to the arrangements made by our property the Muri Beachcomber resort (http://www.beachcomber.co.ck/), we were able to check straight in. So, the wet weather forced us to have a little snooze and catch up on some sleep that the time difference robbed us of.
Not the kind of people to sook about the weather, we took a break in the rain as a sign to get out there. We grabbed ourselves a scooter, and hit the road (the one main road that circles the island), but it took exactly 10minutes for the clouds to open up again, and we we’re soaked through! We ended up being the only tourists (or anyone for that matter) on a bike, in the rain, but if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, so we pushed on. We were headed to the Punanga Nui CulturalMarket (which are held every Saturday) but due to the rain they were closed. Oh well! A lazy afternoon, and evening ensured, and we were amped for our trip over to the much anticipated island of Aitutaki the following day. (We’d be back to explore more of Rarotonga after 2 nights on Aitutaki)
Air Rarotonga flew us across, and flying in over Aitutaki is a site to be seen. The Island is surrounded by a Reef of the most spectacular ‘blue’ colour you’ll ever see, and with the sun shining over us it was a picture perfect welcome.
Our home away from home for 2 nights was the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa (http://www.aitutakilagoonresort.com/) the Islands premium resort destination. Set privately on a lagoon that is consistently voted as one of the world’s most picturesque, you step onto your beachfront villa to take it all in, and it’s easy to see why. Crystal clear turquoise water, white sand and cartoon like palm trees, gently swaying in the breeze. There were day beds and hammocks lining the shore, enticing you to take a load off, and plenty of smiles from the staff to welcome you to their home. We were in paradise!
Aitutaki itself is the 2nd most visited of all of the islands, and although it’s small in size, there is plenty on offer. We spent our days paddling around the lagoon on the stand up paddle boards or kayaks. Exploring the island by motor scooter (including an off road expedition to the peak of the island, for a panoramic view of the surrounding reef), and feasting on freshly caught seafood from one of the cute little fresh fish restaurants like the ‘Boatshed Restaurant’ or Café Koru (which also happened to serve the BEST baked coconut cheesecake I’ve ever eaten!)
As for activities, if you are into diving (like us) then you MUST let Onu from ‘Bubbles Below’ take you out for the day. Onu is a local owner / dive operator who takes pride in his business, and has plenty of dive experience. He is fully accredited and knows the best places to see. We were lucky enough to dive with some huge Green Sea Turtles, Reef Sharks and Spotted Eagle rays, and can truly say that It was one of the best dives I’ve had the pleasure of doing. The warm tea and cheesy toasties after the dive we’re a nice touch too. His site is http://www.diveaitutaki.com/ if you want to check them out.
Other than busying ourselves with the various activities that interested us, there were also Lagoon cruises, Fishing charters, Island hopping tours and much much more to keep you occupied if you desired, although there really isn’t anything wrong with claiming a hammock, and reading your favorite book under the palm trees. (Oh, and lucky for Scott the Billabong Australia team were staying at our resort and doing a swimsuit photo-shoot on site, so he was able to catch a glimpse of a pretty model here and there too. Lol)
Aitutaki is like a dream come true, and no trip to The Cook Islands would be complete without a visit. A week, a night, a day … I can assure you the extra expense is worth it!
After 2 nights in paradise it was time to head back to Rarotonga, and this time we stayed at the Crown Beach Resort and Spa (http://www.crownbeach.com/). Located on the sunset coast of Rarotonga, and set on 5 acres of manicured gardens, it’s an all villa property, offering the perfect balance between resort and private luxury. The staff were welcoming, friendly and accommodating, and you truly felt as though nothing was too much trouble.
With 2 full days in Rarotonga to utilise, we did another dive trip and took on the cross island trek. This time the dive was with Dive Rarotonga http://www.diverarotonga.com/ who were also a great company with qualified staff, reliable equipment and a great knowledge of the dive spots. Here we were able to dive with more reef sharks, and the notoriously ill-tempered Trigger fish (though, the two we met were more like puppy dogs, chasing us to play with them).
The Cross Island trek was 4 hrs of hiking and took us to a lookout point at ‘The Needle’, a unique rock formation high above Rarotonga. While the trek itself wasn’t overly challenging for us (especially after having completed the trek to Mt Everest base camp last year), there were definitely some tricky sections in the wet and the bruises on my butt can still prove it.
The view from the top was pretty cool, and gave you an awesome panoramic view of the Island. We did the trek ourselves due to our limited time frame but it you have a few days on Rarotonga, I’d suggest that you engage the services of Pa, a local guide (http://www.pastreks.com/pas-cross-island-trek-walk-rarotonga.htm). His tours are supposedly legendary in Rarotonga, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to experience the trek with him, but all in all it was a great day spent exploring the flora and fauna of the area.
There are many more Rarotongan experiences that we sadly missed out on due to our limited time frame, but to give you a glimpse there are plenty of wonderful cultural shows that you can catch if you are wanting a sneak peek into the Polynesian way of life. There are more lagoon and reef cruises to get you out there, without necessarily having to get wet. More fishing charters and snorkelling trips too, and plenty of Eco tourism adventures if you want to see how the Cook Islanders are trying to preserve their natural surroundings.
As for food on Rarotonga there were a couple of stand outs. Moorings Fish Café was suggested to us by our dive guide (and I later realised It’s voted #1 on Trip advisor for food on the island). They prepare the menu daily based on what seafood they were able to catch that morning on their daily fishing run. The women running it were so friendly, and even offered to let us come back the next day to pay as we’d been caught without enough cash! Ummmm, what the? Loved it! https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mooring-Fish-Cafe/292444140776946
Another favourite was the Waterline resort and Bar which offered a rustic nautical themed dining area, overlooking the stunning white sands and sunsets of the Island. You could feel the love and attention that the owners had put into the space, and the food was delicious with a beautiful variety of seafood and other local delicacies. Definitely worth a visit or two, and you can even dine on the beach with the sand between your toes…bliss! http://www.waterline-restaurant.com/
Lastly there was also the yummy Kikau Hut restaurant. Here it was the people that really stood out. Big smiles and a genuine interest in ensuring that you were perfectly accommodated, and I think it was on our last day in Rarotonga that this became evident, when the host who had served us at the restaurant a few nights before, literally stopped us on the street for a chat. She’d remembered us, and taken the time to stop and wish us a safe journey home. Amazing!
All in all the Cook Islands proved to be a stunning holiday destination, and it’s not just because of the spectacular scenery. It really was the people that made all the difference, and it’s safe to say its one place in the world where you know that the smiles are 100% genuine. So, If you are looking for a beach break, a honeymoon destination or just somewhere to relax and unwind…. This is it!
Thanks to Cook Islands tourism for sending me to such a stunning part of the world, and all of the properties that hosted us during our stay. I feel grateful every day to be working in such a wonderful industry, which has certainly evolved into a lifestyle, and not just a job.
Stay tuned for a more in depth review of the properties, and some of my hot tips for making your Cook Islands holiday unforgettable! If you have any questions about this or any of the other destinations I’ve visited, please feel free to get in touch.