I don’t want to write this article, uh uh, no sirree. There are some secrets better kept to one self and the kiwis have been keeping this one to themselves for decades so why should I share it?

Three words. The Cook Islands.

Google them. I did, after searching for flights home from a ski season in the USA back to Australia. Fiji I knew about as a tropical stopover, Hawaii, of course, but how could I honestly have not known that you can fly direct from Los Angeles to the Cook Islands then direct from there to Sydney? Well, I know now and so do you.

The Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands. Rarotonga, the main island, has an international airport. No big deal you say, until you fly in low over a crystal blue lagoon surrounded by reef at the end of the runway. One of the most beautiful descents going. There’s nothing like the sight of a beach after weeks of snow to get an Aussie’s taste buds drooling, and nothing like tropical waters to soothe those weary ski boot feet.

The vibe

Rarotonga is the kind of place where feet are bare by day and formal attire is considered a pair of flip flops (except Sundays, but more on that later), where mopeds and bicycles are the popular choice of self transport and where the bus route signage simply says Clockwise or Anti Clockwise so you know which way around the island you’re going.

The circumference of the island is only 32 kilometres and the entire island is accessed from an outer circle road.

The Cook Islanders are super friendly and all have kiwi accents. There’s an intense pride in the island and you won’t find any rubbish on the side of streets. You will find immaculate landscaped gardens on the inner island road where the locals live so make sure you take a left if you’re going anti clockwise around the island, or a right if, well, you know the drill.

Getting around

If you want a moped on Rarotonga you’ll have to hand over $90 and get your Cook Islands motorcycle license. Just head down to the police station and fill out a multiple choice written test. Trust me, it’s easy, if you can’t answer what does a red light mean then you shouldn’t even be behind the wheel of a Tonka Truck let alone a two wheeler.

Then you’ll do a practical which involves swirling around cones on a netball court. After that you can rent a moped for around $20 a day or if you prefer four wheels then grab one of the compact cars on offer.

Where to stay

We stayed on Muri Lagoon on the east side of the island. It’s got a sheltered sandy beach and most accommodation has direct access to the water. The sun rises on this side of the island so you can expect some glorious colours at dawn.

If you have some cash to splash around and want romance then try the Te Vakaraoa Villas on the beach at Muri for a tropical style love den hide out.

The south coast line is more remote, more laid back (is that possible) and has some intermittent sandy beaches and plenty of accommodation from bungalows to villas to resort style. The western coast line provides incredible sunsets but the beaches are lined with coral and reef so are not as swimming friendly.

The north east and north is where you’ll find the main town, Avarua, and the airport.

It’s worth getting a couple of families together and getting some villas. I bedded down for five nights at the stunning Crystal Blue Lagoon Villas. There are four villas, each two bedroom, three bathroom. The two at the back have lagoon and pool views, the two at the front have direct beach access.

All are private and self contained and also have BBQs and lounges to lose yourself in on their decks or courtyard and all have full use of the Instagram worthy infinity pool. It’s walking distance to the night markets, there’s cafes at the end of the driveway and a bakery across the road. Bliss.

What to eat

I have to be honest, you don’t come to Rarotonga for gourmand fare. But you will get a decent flat white and pastries.

Best bet is to head to the night markets, grab some local fare at a market stall and pull up a seat at the communal tables. You’ll meet locals and tourists and get a full meal for under $20. Seek out Tuhe Piho and his healthy stall with smoothies and coconut water and fresh fried noodles and tell him we sent you. The man has a smile to fill an airplane hangar and a heart twice as wide.

Do head to The Mooring Fish Cafe. A colourful bungalow serving fish, fish and more fish in buns, wraps, salads and on a plate. You’ll find it near the wharf.

Do also head to Charlies cafe, a shipping container come beach hut for fish and chips, chicken burgers and house made sweets. You can hire kayaks here too and have a paddle around the lagoon.

Try Vili’s Burger Joint for roadside burgers, Whatever Bar for locals and live music, Trader Joe’s because it’s famous, Nautilus Resort and also Sails at Rarotonga Sailing Club for ‘finer’ dining.

Where to drink in the sunset

When the sun starts to set pull up a stool or a hammock at The Shipwreck Hut Beach Bar at Aro’a Beachside Inn, order a jam jar cocktail and prepare to chill out to the sounds of a local band as the sun dips below the pacific.

What to do

Lie down. Relax. Be still.

When you’re done with that rent a paddle board and SUP around the lagoon. One of the most peaceful ways to start the day paddling over crystal waters with colourful fish. Don’t like to stand up? Then grab a kayak. There are plenty of places to rent both if your accommodation doesn’t have any.

Hike the cross island trail. Take water, lots of it, and put aside a few hours. You’ll head up hill through jungle and quite the climb before hitting the peak below the jutting rock for glorious views. The daring who are not afraid of heights can go higher with the help of chain ropes. Then take the trail back down to the other side of the island. Well worth it. Go on your own or take Pa’s Treks.

Take a Storyteller Eco Cycle Tour 3, 4 or 5 hour bike tour around the island and experience the authentic Rarotonga visiting local artisans, local farms, swimming at secluded beaches and be enthralled by the stories told by the guides. Great for families through to full MTB adventure types.

Sing on Sunday with the locals. The Cook Islanders love their Sunday church and dress in white finery with spectacular hats to worship in their church of choice. Guests are welcomed so take a pew and prepare to be blown away by the singing.

Stay afterwards for morning tea and a mingle.


If you are lucky, and I mean truly truly lucky, your dates may just co-incide with a Charlotte Piho Workout on Water SUP Yoga retreat. Before you freak out, you don’t have to be good at SUP or Yoga as she will teach you. You get to hang with other like minded people, SUP the lagoon at sunrise and sunset, swim with turtles, trek the island, snorkel off a wreck, have delicious healthy tropical fare prepared for you and enjoy the company of the divine Charlotte and her father, Tuhe who is pretty much an island god. I did it, I’d to it again and then I’d do it again.


What can we say about Aitutaki other than go. Take a day flight or stay a couple of nights, either way, do not leave the Cook Islands without visiting this incredible atoll. The entire ‘island’ is basically a giant lagoon with an outer barrier reef. Motu (tiny islands) dot the lagoon and manta ray, giant trevally and colourful friends cruise the waters.

Take a full day Vaka Cruise on the coolest boat with local island guides, a delicious BBQ, plenty of snorkeling, stops at One Foot Island, explore the island that Survivor was filmed on, swim with giant trevally and sip fresh coconuts as you cruise azure waters under the sun.

If you do stay overnight then head to the Pacific Resort for a cocktail with a stunning sunset. Bed down at Tamanu Beach Resort for direct lagoon access, balmy sunsets and rustic barefoot chic villas. Dine at Cafe Tupuna, a family run local restaurant where tables are perched on a floor made of sand and with fresh fish caught daily. Aunty runs the kitchen and her extended family work the floor.

Getting there

This is the best bit. If you’re on your way to the USA or Canada to ski or on your way back from a snow laden holiday you can stop here and still fly direct to or from Sydney (yep, no need to go through Auckland). Air New Zealand fly from Sydney to Rarotonga and from Rarotonga to Los Angeles. Yes, you can thank me later, I didn’t know either. But now I do…

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