I’ve been obsessed with this South Pacific wonderland since I first visited in 1999, returning every second year since I had my first-born. Measuring a tiny 32km in circumference, the main island Rarotonga is surrounded by a lagoon which makes it the perfect destination for water sports, while the relaxed pace of life on the land lends itself to glorious, lazy days with the kids.
Whenever I’m in town, the following are always on my list.
Hire a convertible
First port of call straight after check-in, is hiring an old-school convertible from Island Car Hire, which has three locations dotted around the island. We always get a Nissan Cabriolet which is practically rusty from so much love and wear, but roomy enough in the back for the kids and all their gear. Then it’s a simple matter of dropping the top and spending our days lagoon-gazing with the wind whipping through our hair – even in the rain.
Watersports at Muri Lagoon
I’m not the sportiest of people (hence the gorgeous shot of the hot models below), but the sheet-like, azure waters of beautiful Muri Lagoon inspire me to hire a kayak most mornings and spend the next hour (okay – 30 minutes) gliding my way over a labyrinth of brightly coloured fish and coral. There are plenty of other water sports options of course, such as windsurfing, snorkeling and glass-bottom boating but in all my years, I’ve found Muri to be best kayaking spot with kids in the world.
Coffee at The Sailing Club
It almost goes without saying that coffee in most South Pacific destinations is nothing short of diabolical. Coffee at The Sailing Club is as close as it gets to Australian standards, plus it has a hell of a view of Muri to boot.
When I first read about progressive dinners (eating in local homes) I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea. What if they didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom? What if you didn’t like their food and they got offended? What if they were serial killers? I went along anyway and LOVED IT. Entrée and wine at the first host’s home, followed by a large meal full of local dishes at the second host’s, and then some more wine and dessert at the third host’s. At each stop, the hosts were affable and I came away from the experience with a new appreciation of the local cuisine and respect for their high level of hospitality.
Go to church
Now I’m not one to normally recommend such things but any visitor to CI should experience a local service at least once. Just picture a sea of friendly faces with song in their hearts (and lungs) and bright flowers in their hair, and you almost feel the hair on your arms stick up from the feeling of joy and love within the church. Amazing.
Go Putt Putt
Rainy day? Head straight over to Coco Putt and play a round of mini golf in the rain. Yes, it’s Putt Putt like it is anywhere else in the world, but the kids will love it and you’ll find the dense forest surroundings and light rain mist after a hot day refreshing.
Hit up the markets
Whether you’re in the market for some relishes, sarongs, pearls or just fancy a meander, the local market Pununga Nui is best visited on Saturday morning when it’s at its liveliest. Open from 6am to about 11.30am or so, it’s best to get there as early as possible before the floral wreaths sell out.
See a movie with a difference
There’s seeing a movie at an Event cinema with its comfy seats and air-conditioned comfort, and then there’s seeing a movie at Empire Theatre. With its tin roof and hordes of cats wandering between your legs while you try to get into a blockbuster, it’s an experience worth having – just to say you have. The last time I went, I tried to watch a horror movie on a particularly rainy night and all I could hear was rain pelting down on the tin while the occasional cat jumped on me. It added to the suspense.
Eat like a tourist – and a local
Don’t believe what they tell you about island cuisine (although it is true what they say about papaya – even your scrambled egg will come with papaya), the food at CI is great. I always alternate between Tamarind House, Flame Tree and Windjammer (although I prefer the first two), with the occasional lunch at The Sailing Club. When we’re having a night in however, I love to peruse the local eats table at Wigmores Supermarket where traditional home-cooked meals are dropped off late morning. They’re left to sit all day on the tables so you want to get in early and be sure to pick up some arrowroot. Yum!
Ok, it’s not in Rarotonga, but well worth the short plane journey over to the tiny, picturesque island of Aitutaki (also known as the second most visited island of CI). Once there, book yourself onto one of the traditional Vaku Cruises, which take the better part of a day and take in such as sights as One Foot Island.
HOTEL RECOMMENDATION: Nautilus
The newest luxury resort on the island, Nautilus is located at Muri Beach, and features hotel suites as well as two- and three-bedroom villas each with their own private saltwater pool. Unlike most high-end resorts in the Cook Islands, young children are warmly welcomed with a full kids concierge service. Rates start from$NZD650 per couple, per night.
For current Cook Islands specials, visit Cook Islands