Surrounded by a coral reef, Rarotonga is the largest and most populated of the Cook Islands, without being at all crowded or even that large (it’s only 20 miles round, so you’ll find it very easy to get about). Head down to the south-eastern corner of the island for Muri Beach — the lagoon here has some of the clearest water you’ll ever see, and is a lovely spot for swimming, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding. We also recommend visiting Te Vara Nui Village on the beach, where you’ll be able to meet local Maori people and immerse yourself in their knowledge and rich history during their Cultural Village Tour. Finish your evening here with a tempting buffet dinner and overwater night show filled with first-class musicians and dancers. Away from Muri Beach, there are plenty more secluded beaches and reefs brimming with colourful marine life including sting rays and turtles. Enjoy scuba diving and kitesurfing, or head further out on a catamaran or kayak to admire the island from afar. Rarotonga is also a volcanic island with dense rainforest and craggy peaks at its centre — go hiking, borrow a buggy or hop on a quad bike to explore the sweeping interior.
In 1821, Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to embrace Christianity after the arrival of Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society; nowadays, it’s most associated with luxurious and intimate escapes. While Rarotonga is volcanic, this much smaller and quieter island is mostly made from coral atoll, with a superb leafy interior which slopes down to golden beaches and a lagoon five times the island’s size — enchanting honeymoon territory. Make the most of your sublime surroundings by snorkelling, lapping up the breathtaking blue waters on a leisurely lagoon cruise or diving off the drop-off, where you could cross paths with manta rays and sharks. We love One Foot Island, too — legend has it that this untouched islet was named such after a man saved his son from an attacking tribe by hiding him up a coconut tree, making it seem like there was only one set of footprints in the sand. With its warm sapphire water and smatterings of swaying palms, the picturesque beach is a multiple-time winner at the World Travel Awards and is great for a day trip.
Where are the Cook Islands?
The Cook Islands are a collection of 15 islands between French Polynesia and Fiji in the South Pacific Ocean, north-east of and in free association with New Zealand. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the two most popular islands (the majority of the population lives on Rarotonga). As of 2017, the Cook Islands are also home to Marae Moana, the largest multiple-use marine protected area in the world which aims to counter issues such as overfishing and coral reef damage.
GMT -10 hours
New Zealand dollar and Cook Islands dollar
Rarotonga 22 hours
Cook Islands, Maori English
Visas are not required for UK passport holders