South Pacific Paradise
Global Traveler|January/February 2021
Escape to the unspoiled beauty of the Cook Islands.
EUGENIA LAZARIS
Modern advancements in travel and tourism leave few places on this planet remote and removed from modern society, but the Cook Islands manage to maintain unique culture and history while preserving stunning natural beauty. Not yet affected by the ravages of overtourism, this Oceania archipelago offers visitors a glimpse into a bygone era when life was less complicated and people focused on family, community and quality of life. Adventurous travelers willing to make the trek to this Polynesian gem will find a stunning world of timeless beauty awaiting them.

Deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the Cooks consist of 15 separate islands broken into two groups, southern and northern. The biggest and most commonly visited, Rarotonga, home to the capital of Avarua, makes a solid starting point for your foray into the Cook Islands. Rarotonga itself offers an impressive array of entertainment and adventure options, but the smaller islands feature their own natural beauty and fascinating local culture.

Rarotonga, the most commercial of the islands, boasts a plentiful selection of boutique resorts, restaurants and modern amenities all while maintaining a relaxed style synonymous throughout the islands. Cultural centers like Te Vara Nui Village are designed to offer guests an opportunity to learn about local history and culture during the day, culminating in a dinner show complete with traditional music and dances after dark.

Kayaking, diving and snorkeling are extremely popular in the waters surrounding the islands rife with underwater sea life. More than 70 species of native coral and hundreds of species of colorful reef fish make their home in these waters. Enjoy some of the best snorkeling off Muri Beach on Rarotonga’s southeasternmost point and off Aro’a Beach on the southwest side of the island.

On each of these islands — surrounded by the jewel-toned blues of the Pacific Ocean — lush green vegetation crowds right up to the sandy shores of beaches dotted with traditional thatched huts. Thriving jungles blanket the mountains of the interiors, and the small towns that crop up throughout have a laid-back vibe that captures the essence of the island lifestyle. Low-lying buildings (never taller than the treetops), a smattering of power lines and the occasional bus or car among the more common scooters prove the only clues to modern civilization in this island paradise.

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