Most of my Cook Islands Idyll was spent splendidly on the “main island” of Rarotonga: an idyllic base indeed for enjoying all the warmth and wonder that a trip to the South Seas should involve.
Below is a look at some of the highlights of my Rarotonga visit – with respect to bookable activities and purchasable experiences. But more than the immense fun had on tours, during shows, in restaurants, and so forth, what I loved most about my time in the Cooks was simply the chance to engage with some of the friendliest and funniest folks I’ve ever met (seriously, everybody was a natural frickin’ comedy) and to embrace fully that “away from it all” feeling that I (and I imagine you) so long to tap into when abroad.
Oh all that and spotting whales while just hanging out. I had three casual humpback whale sightings over my weeklong stay. I saw one whale ridiculously close to shore while on a drive around Rarotonga my first day; another as I stared mindlessly out to sea while lying in bed in my beachfront suite at the first resort where I stayed on Rarotonga; and one while peering out the window during an inter-island flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki.
Anyway, here’s that list of highlights …
Cook Islands Museum of Cultural Enterprise – Te Ara
Te Ara is a fairly new museum and a really great starting point for discovering the unique history of the Cook Islands and for browsing locally made art, craft and food.
Find out more at the Te Ara Facebook page:
Cook Islands Whale & Wildlife Centre
Another handy little venue for discovering what makes the Cooks so special, the Whale & Wildlife Centre offers an especially kid-friendly and hands-on opportunity to learn about the islands’ natural history and their marine species. Try to plan your visit to coincide with a stonefish feeding. The feeding I witnessed was at 11am. You won’t be disappointed.
More at cookislandswildlifecentre.com.
Highland Paradise Cultural Centre
Dinner and a show, both big and traditional: that’s the ticket at this upland attraction with commanding views over much of the island and its mountainous terrain. Guests are greeted with a welcoming ceremony followed by a bounteous feast accompanied by loads of dancing, live music and drumming.
Details at highlandparadise.co.ck.
Celebrated Cook Islands artist Michael Tavioni has an open studio (next to the Whale & Wildlife Centre) where guests can shop for authentic carvings and other works and even take a class with him to make your own tiki carving, bowl, drum or ukulele as a souvenir to take home. You’ll see Mike’s art across Rarotonga with major pieces on public view at the campus of the University of the South Pacific and the Punanga Nui Market.
Michael’s website is miketavioni.wordpress.com.
Listent to my podcast interview with Mike here:
Raro Safari Tours
Big Matt and Mr Useless run a heck of an island tour that shows some of the best beaches, vistas and traditional religious sites on the island, much of it off-road and accessible only with 4X4 vehicles, plus a tasty lunch and a musical performance.
More at rarosafaritours.com.
Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours
My ride around Raro with the Eco Cycle Tours was scenic, fun and informative. The route was pretty easy with lots of treats to eat along the way (mostly picked from trees on the side of the road). Bikes were new and top of the line. Tour guides Uncle Jimmy and David were super friendly and knowledgeable. Their tag team deadpan comedic delivery of jokes intermingled with insights about island life and culture was a bonus! I highly recommend this tour!
Find out more at storytellers.co.ck.
Titikaveka Cook Islands Christian Church
Attending Sunday morning service at this church meant deeper immersion into local culture and the chance to listen to some beautiful hymns sung en mass and a capella in traditional Maori language of the islands. Tourists are encouraged to visit this and other churches on the island.
Details at cicc.net.ck.
Mooring Fish Café
My gigantic “F.O.B.” mahi and lime mayo sandwich from Mooring Fish Café was by far the yummiest best meal I had during my trip. It was hard to beat the converted cargo container’s lagoon side location next to Muri Beach and the laidback atmosphere (with speedy and polite service!).
Visit the eatery online at themooringfishcafe.com.
Little Polynesian Resort
Staying at this small scale, locally owned, adults only luxury resort on Rarotonga’s southeastern coast was an absolute delight. My favourite aspects of my airy private bungalow were the outdoor shower and bath and the ocean views admired from the bed. Breakfast beside the saltwater infinity pool, pleasant and helpful staff, the beautifully appointed beachfront location
It was so quiet, serene.
For further details about this Small Luxury Hotels of the World member go to pacificresort.com/little-polynesian.