Cook Islands shimmering gems
Cook Islands shimmering gems
Cook Islands shimmering gems


LITTLE specks in a vast seascape, the Cook Islands are a collection of 15 atolls, cays and volcanic islands, and extravagantly beautiful.

They are a Gauguin palette of handsome Polynesians, craggy mountain peaks, dense jungles, turquoise lagoons fringed by reefs and some of the best white-sand beaches imaginable. 

TripAdvisor has just released its travellers' choice survey of the top beach destinations for 2012. It ranks three Cook Islands beaches among the best 10 in the South Pacific, up against those of Tahiti and Australia. Judged by fellow travellers, five Australian beaches and one in Fiji made the list. The winner, if you can afford it, was Tahiti's Bora Bora.

But it was the three lesser-known gems of the Cook Islands that raised many eyebrows.

The beaches around the lagoon on Aitutaki scored second place. On the main island of Rarotonga, Titikaveka Beach ranked No.3 and Arorangi No.10. And there's a range of affordable accommodation at each.

Titikaveka stretches around the southeast corner of Rarotonga and is home to out-of-the-way boutique properties such as the elegant Little Polynesian Resort or self-contained villas at Royale Takitumu and Makayla Palms. 

Coconut palms fringe the beach on the edge of the magnificent lagoon, where local fishermen wade waist-deep every day with spears and nets almost to the line of surf breaking on the outer reef. 

Over on the west coast, it's much the same story at Arorangi, but there are also larger resorts such as the Edgewater, Sunset Resort and Crown Beach Resort, with arguably Rarotonga's finest dining at its Windjammer Restaurant. 

While spas, sun and sand are reason enough to visit, Rarotonga is more than just a pretty face.

There are enough activities and cultural experiences to keep you entertained for well over a week. Almost every resort has its own island night with electrifying drum and dance routines.

The best cultural shows are at the award-winning Highland Paradise Cultural Centre, set in an ancient mountain village at Arorangi, and the over-water spectacular at Te Vara Nui at Muri Beach, on the east coast. 

For a more intimate cultural experience, join one of the extraordinary progressive dinner tours, which take you into the private homes and lives of ordinary Rarotongans, like the "Coconut Irishman" Danny Kelly and his wife Jayne, who produce entrees that include lime-marinated raw fish, breadfruit, taro and pawpaw.

Main courses, usually based on seafood, pork and chicken, are presented at a hillside mansion owned by empty-nesters Pae and Kafo Tuteru, who are happy to detail how they met and fell in love.

Desserts come courtesy of Tom and Lorraine Marsters, as Tom recounts the womanising antics of his great-grandfather and Cook Islands legend William Marsters. 

Take a walk with the extraordinary Pa Teuruaa, a 72-year-old guide who bounds up mountains steering walkers on half-day treks across the island. The former champion ironman turned alternative herbalist has sun-bleached dreadlocks, wears a red sarong, travels barefoot and swims 2km around the lagoon every day. 

If it's Saturday, head for the Punanga Nui Markets in Avatiu before the tourist hordes arrive about 9am. You'll find good coffee, kebabs, freshly baked coconut buns, pawpaw smoothies and other Rarotongan breakfast goodies, clothing, fresh local produce and unusual souvenirs that include some beautiful handmade ukuleles. 

On Sundays, don't miss church, especially the many Cook Islands Christian churches, where you'll not only be welcome but you'll also hear some of the most harmonious singing in the world. 

Aitutaki lies about 200km north of Rarotonga, a gorgeous half-atoll. Air Rarotonga flies there and offers day trips but once you see it, you won't want to leave.

Accommodation ranges from inexpensive beachfront lodges through the mid-range Tamanu Beach Hotel to the luxurious Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and the mega-luxury Pacific Resort. Doubles range from $50 to $700. 

Don Watt and his son Jason run Aitutaki Fishing Charters and they'll take you outside the reef into the open sea for a half-day fishing expedition.

If you prefer your seafood on a plate, try Tupuna's Restaurant for fine dining on a raked coral-sand floor. The mud crab and coconut crab are to die for.

Explore Aitutaki lagoon on a Bishop's Lagoon Cruise. It includes snorkelling and visiting the outer motus (islets) such as Honeymoon Island, Moturaku, Akaiami and One Foot Island, where lunch is served in their hut on what some reckon is the second-best beach in the South Pacific. 

The writer was a guest of Cook Islands Tourism Corporation (see and Virgin Australia (ph 13 15 16 or see


Event Details
Event Date: 23/05/2012 - 23/05/2099
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Name: David May
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