Oliver’s Trip to the Cook Islands
All international flights into Rarotonga, and all flights into Aitutaki are met by a representative of Cook Islands Tourism, in Rarotonga it’s the Kia Orana Ambassadors such as Aunty Nan, who are on hand to help clients with any queries whilst making sure everyone has somewhere to stay. There is also a guy singing traditional island songs in the baggage collection area! As you would expect the airport is on the small side and whilst we were fast tracked through by Aunty Nan the rest of the flight had to wait a good while to be processed through customs as there was only 2 desks to service all 250+ passengers. On the flip side the bags arrived very quickly! Once through with bags all transfer vehicles are waiting right outside arrivals and are either provided by our ground agents or the resorts directly, and take no more than 20 minutes whereever on the island clients are staying.
The beautiful island of Rarotonga, just 32km around, is home to the capital of the Cook Islands and the main population centre, but still remains very unspoilt, no traffic lights, no chain retailers and no building taller than the tallest coconut tree! Rarotonga has it all, jungle clad mountains perfect for exploring, picture perfect white sand beaches all surrounded by a sparkling lagoon filled with exotic marine life. Like everywhere in the Cooks the locals are very friendly, the pace of life very relaxed and the food fantastic. Rarotonga is perfect for people looking to get out of their hotel and explore, whether its snorkelling, diving, hiking, biking, fishing, quad-biking, SUP-ing, sailing, learning to play an instrument, eating, drinking or taking in the local culture, there really is something for everyone on Raro!
Just a 45 minute to the North of Rarotonga you arrive on the stunning paradise island of Aitutaki, completely different to Raro, Aitutaki is a collection of 15 islets sprinkled across a huge lagoon (which itself is similar in size to the land mass of Raro!). Aitutaki is the South Pacific at its most beautiful. Picture the Maldives are you won’t be far off! Aitutaki is much more low lying than Raro although on the main motu (islet) there are some hills (especially where the Pacific Resort is) which give the scenery some added interest. As you might expect the lagoon is the focus of all activities on offer on Aitutaki
Where to stay?
If time allows stay on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Day trips are available from Raro to Aitutaki but don’t allow you to appreciate how beautiful and relaxing it is. Nowhere is far away from anywhere in the Cooks so location is of less importance. As a general rule the hotels in the Cooks are small scale, both in terms of room numbers and facilities, adult focused, and locally owned. There are no international chains in the Cooks, a lot of properties are individually owned and run, the major exception to this is the Pacific Resort Hotel Group who operate the Pacific Resorts, Little Polynesian, Te Manava and Moana Sands hotels. Rooms are generally very spacious and often follow the US/NZ/Australian trend of having small kitchenette facilities. All but 1 of the hotels we visited offer a tropical breakfast (basic continental) and charge for any cooked items. In fact, most things beyond the cost of the room are charged for, WIFI is always an additional cost, as would be any early check in / late check out.
Rarotonga – My go to properties would be –
Luxury no budget – Nautilus Resort– All pool villas (17) classes itself as 4.5 star, but as one of the best we saw could easily be lead in 5 star.
Luxury on a budget – Crown Beach Resort– Very solid adult only 4-star with some beautiful pool villas (which I stayed in), the only hotel we came across which offered a complimentary hot breakfast! I stayed here.
Family friendly – Pacific Resort Rarotonga – A very good 4/4.5 star offering a great range of facilities and is one of the few properties on Raro which actively cater to families.
On a budget – Manuia Beach– A good 3/3.5 star option which is very popular with the British market, spacious nicely appointed units lead down to a beautiful beach, pool and nice sand floored bar/restaurant. The hotel also offers a programme of complimentary activities such as learning to play the Ukulele. I stayed here.
Aituktaki – My go to properties would be –
Luxury on a massive budget – Aitutaki Escape– With just 3 beautiful pool villas Aitutaki Escape is all about a personalised stay and service. It is big bucks though, $1500++ per night although long stay pay deals are available
Luxury – Pacific Resort Aitutaki– A sprawling hill side property with great views over the reef side of the island, it’s very much the go to luxury resort on the island, very much honeymoon/anniversary territory. I stayed here.
All-rounder – Tamanu Beach– A solid 4-star option able to cater for couples and families with a range of accommodation options.
Points to be aware of
- Wifi is exceptionally expensive in the Cook Islands, no hotels offering it without additional charges, and mobile coverage is limited.
- Banks/money – The New Zealand dollar is the currency of the islands and there are a number of branches of New Zealand banks such as ANZ on Rarotonga along with a good number of cash points which accept UK cards.
- All the services such as water, electric etc are up to New Zealand standards, water from the tap is drinkable (most hotels UV filter it to make sure) and New Zealand/Australia angled 3 pin sockets are in use.
- Breakfasts – the majority of hotels only offer a tropical (continental breakfast) and charge for cooked items, so can be quite limited.
- Early check-in / late check-out are available but will always be charged for.
- Chickens! Rarotonga in particular is home to huge numbers of wild chickens (apparently they are good for eating mosquitos and other bugs) and of course where you have chickens you have roosters, and these guys like to tell you the time, a lot, and at any time of the day! You get used to them eventually!
- Dogs! Rarotonga again is home to lots of dogs, none of them are stray, but they are given free reign to explore so will often be found swimming in the lagoon, walking the beaches and wandering across roads. They were very friendly and well fed but not everyone’s cup of tea!
- The Cook Islands is really centred on getting away from it all, the pace of life is very slow and as such things close early with most bars/restaurants closed by 9pm, with the exception of the party bus and its nightclub on Raro which is open to 1am once or twice a week. Likewise, a lot of shops and facilities are closed on Sundays. Alcohol sales are also restricted on a Sunday (outside of hotels).
- Cook Islanders are fantastically friendly people, very family orientated and church is very important.
Oliver November 2018