Just 9-hours from Los Angeles (that is just 1-more hour than to Tahiti!) and you have arrived to the Cook Islands, a South Pacific “Dream Destination!”

While not as well known as Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea, the best known islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki of the Cook Islands offer more intimate experience of lagoons, beaches, and dining experiences than their more well-known cousins.

The Cook Islands, while an independent country, is closely aligned with New Zealand. Rarotonga is an excellent stop over to or from travel to New Zealand. I particularly enjoy a warm stopover in the Cook Islands during a skiing trip to the South Island of New Zealand from mid-June through end of September.

Even more popular is to have your dream wedding on a romantic beach in the Cook Islands and have your honeymoon in New Zealand! This is most popular in October to December (Spring) and March to June (Fall).

Here is some quick information on Rarotonga (this week) and Aitutaki (next week), the two most visited islands in the Cook Islands courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism.

Rarotonga – Tumutevarovaro

Rarotonga is the vibrant center of the Cook Islands and is where government resides. Circular and only about 20 miles in circumference, it is dominated by high mountain peaks which rise to 2145 feet from which lush rain forests cascade to the sea. These forests provide a dramatic backdrop to a palm-fringed shore. The island is almost completely encircled by a reef, which harbors a lagoon of clear turquoise waters and many inviting white sand beaches. Beyond the reef, the blue of the ocean provides a vivid contrast in colors and a bountiful supply of fish. Diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing are activities while in the islands.

There are two main roads on Rarotonga – you can circle the island of the Ara Tapu sealed road, through villages and past beaches; or you can take the older inland road, Te Ara o Toi, which winds through the fields of taro, pawpaw (papaya), bananas, and local farmlands.

The motor scooter is a popular, fun way to see the sights; however bikes, cars and jeeps are also available from local rental agencies. The “Island Bus” offers a convenient, low cost, and very local way of visiting the island. This bus operates on a regular schedule around the island, in both directions. It will pick you up and set you down anywhere on request.

Avarua is the main town on the island and the commercial center of the Cook Islands. During business hours, it has a friendly, bustling atmosphere together with a good selection of shops, banks, cafes, and visitor facilities. Do not forget to visit the local Saturday morning market in the main Park of Avarua. The market has food, vegetables, meats, souvenirs, carvings, flowers, and great photo opportunities.

There are many traditional Cook Island Polynesian dancing and singing shows around the island, usually in one of the larger resorts after a large buffet of local foods.

Sometimes known as “The Lost Village,” Highland Paradise is a cultural feast of Cook Islands entertainment and spiritual experience. Amongst 25 acres of highland gardens and views, you will experience drumming, singing, dancing, weaving, carving, medicine making, story telling, umu feasting (underground oven) just as they were more than 600 years ago on this very spot!

Sundays are a day or worship, family time, and relaxation for the islanders. You can take this time to visit a local church, they would love to have you as their guest, or just enjoy the time on a beach to relax.

Avatiu Harbor, a short walk to the west of central Avarua on the north coast of Rarotonga, has a constant stream of activity with private yachts calling in from all parts of the world, fishing boats, diving charter boats, inter-island freight ships, and cruise liners.

Rarotonga’s beautiful lagoon is sheltered by the reef that encircles the island. The lagoon offers a host of activities from wind and kite surfing, sailing, snorkeling and glass bottom boat tours. The open sea beyond the reef has great game fishing and diving. On land, there is trekking into the mountains to learn about the topography of Rarotonga, learning the plant life of the island and how these plants were used for dyes, medicines, and food. Historical walks and tours are also available to experience why Rarotonga is considered the launching off point of the Polynesian canoes that, at the end of their journey found New Zealand and the Maori people there.

All international flights arrive at Rarotonga Airport, situated about 8 miles from Avarua town.

The optimal months to travel to the Cook Islands is from April through October.

Next time we will talk about Aitutaki.