Exploring the Untouched Cook Islands
Seeing only my footsteps on the beach with no one in sight in the middle on the Pacific Ocean is the secluded magic found in the unspoiled Cook Islands
Article by Rachel Ritfeld
After a long but luxuriously restful flight in Air New Zealand’s business class direct from Los Angeles, I landed in the Cook Island’s capital island, Rarotonga, in the South Pacific Ocean. Their airport is beautifully quaint and a few steps later after collecting my luggage, I was outside and welcomed with a beautiful flower necklace.
During the half hour scenic journey to the southern tip of the island, where I was staying, I was amazed at how peaceful and untouched the local way of life has remained over time. There is a rule that prohibits building taller than the tallest palm tree protecting the natural landscape as much as possible.
As a tropical fruit lover, I gazed with great admiration at the lush green vegetation. The fruit trees contained the biggest coconuts I had ever seen alongside tall and proud papaya trees with an abundance of fruit.
Sea Change Villas is located in the little village of Titikaveka. I was mesmerised by the incredible panoramic lagoon views from my beachfront villa, elegantly decorated, complete with its own private pool. The lagoon looked quite shallow so I quickly changed into a bikini, of course keeping my flower necklace on, and I went for a walk, curious to see how close I could get to the reef. Such pretty coral scattered around with multicoloured schools of fish and a few sapphire blue starfish that took my breath away – and then I dropped my phone in the water while attempting to photograph them. Epic fail!
Sails Restaurant on Muri beach has such a varied menu, I indulged on a tasting menu of succulent parrotfish, salt and pepper squid with tamarind sauce, prawn pasta, it was so delicious that I had lunch there twice more during my stay, I was never disappointed.
The Raro Mountain Safari Tour quenched my thirst for adventure with an epic four wheel drive inland tour. First stop was the Papua waterfall before heading into the mountainous Avatiu Valley, passing plantations and historical villages to reach the island’s needle shaped peak, Te Rua Manga. This summit is accessible to hikers on a three hour Cross Island Track connecting the south and north of Rarotonga.
That evening I was looking forward to dinner at the night market to check out the local nightlife. However, I accidentally stepped into the wrong taxi. Halfway through the journey, I noticed that the driver kept calling me “Claire” and when we realised he’d picked up the wrong person, we laughed it off. The driver was decorated chef, Philip Nordt, who owns a lovely boutique hotel with a glorious little restaurant called On The Beach. It is customary for restaurants to pick up and drop off their guests from their hotels. He was so kind and funny that he invited me to have dinner with his family on the beach. I truly had the best evening, we never stopped laughing, it felt so spontaneous and the food was delicious. This experience truly captures the essence of the local people, very hospitable and welcoming, warm and kind. Their spirit is reflected in their common greeting which you hear everywhere: “Kia Orana” meaning “may you live a long and fulfilling life.”
I’m obsessed with markets, all markets; farmers markets, tourist markets, I love them all. Taxis can be expensive but you can flag down the local bus anywhere, which only goes in two directions: clockwise or anti-clockwise. For just 5 NZD per bus journey I recommend visiting the town of Avarua’s “Punanga Nui Market” for quaint souvenir stalls and delicious food. Michele’s cafe serves the best “Ika mata ta’akari” which is a local speciality of fresh tuna sashimi, lime, coconut milk and vegetables.
After a few glorious Raro-days, I was ready to explore the unmissable Aitutaki which is one hour’s flight away. Did you know that the Cook Islands consist of 15 islands, spread over 2.2 million square kilometres? Me neither… mind blowing!
Upon approach I couldn’t believe the aerial view, the bluest lagoon surrounded by the brightest white sand. With a population of less than 3,000 people, Aitutaki consists of one main island called Arutanga and a few further uninhabited islands you can reach by boat.
My beachfront room in Tamanu Beach Resort was the perfect photoshoot setting, so I called the photographer and channeled my inner ‘Moana’ on the beach. This resort has canoes and paddle boards dotted along the beach for guest’s use. I borrowed a canoe and soaked up some rays while I paddled to the giant clam that lives in the middle of the lagoon. For dinner I went to Aitutaki Resort and had the best seared tuna of my life! I am not normally a tuna fan but this was from another world, the pumpkin soup, home-made bread, everything was delicious.
The Vaka Cruise in the magnificent Aitutaki lagoon is recommended as it is a replica of the type of ship the Polynesian voyagers took to explore the Pacific Ocean. But because we had some photoshoots and filming scheduled, we took a little private boat to not disturb other guests.
As soon as the deserted Honeymoon Island was in sight, I was intrigued to experience being the only person an on island so I stepped off the boat and walked the rest of the way in the water. Reaching the shore was so liberating that I started singing and skipping on the brilliant white sand… and why not?
And so my week in the Cook Islands came to an end. It was restful and exciting at the same time. I also found the idea that I was literally on the other side of the world thrilling. With my wanderlust fuelled, I’m excited to share my next adventure with you….