WHY THE COOK ISLANDS
This website has a very strong link with Oceania.
It happened to me so many times to quickly rotate the globe and then stop it with a finger.
For some strange reason (perhaps simply by statistics, since the blue planet is covered for about 70% by water) often the finger ends up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.
Looking better, it can happen to “touch the ground” of a small island/atollo of which you do not even know the existence.
So I decided to go to some countries in Oceania.
The most difficult part of organizing a trip to this part of the world, especially for those with little time and lots of curiosity, is to choose where to go.
There are in fact hundreds of islands that make up the 25 or so nations that can be visited in this area, occupying almost a third of the earth’s surface.
I wrote the list of all the nations first and I inquired about the reasons why I should go. I assigned preferences and started to reduce the list to almost a third.
Then I started to look for all possible flight routes.
Cook Islands are often only considered a honeymoon destination and obviously, travelling alone, that’s not why I came here.
Looking at the globe, in the Pacific Ocean you can see a twisted line that divides the world into two other parts.
It’s the International Date Line.
Reaching the Cook Islands by crossing it can mean travelling through time.
To understand it, it is sufficient to think about time zones.
Considering the Greenwich Meridian, moving to the East you have to move the hands of the clock forward, while you have to bring them back if you travel to the West.
This is until you reach the International Date Line, where ideally you would meet two people who have travelled in opposite directions but at the same latitude.
Going through the few miles that separate two nations straddling the line of the date change you find yourself with a time difference of 24 hours.
You can therefore ideally travel through time, living twice on the same day or not living at all on a calendar day.
This, in fact, is the real motivation for my trip to the Cook Islands.
I felt like Marty McFly and Doc in the DeLorean of “Back to the Future”.
My trip to Oceania also took me to Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and New Zealand.
The Cook Islands were first colonised around 1000 AD by Polynesians from Tahiti.
The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish in 1595.
Captain James Cook landed on Manuae Island in 1773 and 1777, giving it the name Hervey Island and claiming all the islands under the British crown. The name Hervey was then used for the entire group of southern islands.
On a Russian navigation map from the early 1900s, the words Cook Islands appeared for the first time, in honour of the British captain, and later this name remained for the entire archipelago.
Since 2019, various discussions have been in progress to change the name, using the local language. But no final decision has yet been reached.
In 1821, British missionaries arrived and Christianity quickly took hold on the island’s culture.
The Cooks became a British protectorate in 1888 and then passed to New Zealand in 1901, until they assumed their present form of self-government in 1965..
They are largely independent but are still officially considered to be under the sovereignty of New Zealand, from which they can declare independence at any time.
Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand but New Zealanders are not citizens of the Cook Islands.
Due to their low taxation and the absence of controls on financial transactions, the Cook Islands are considered a “tax haven” and are therefore blacklisted by banks.
HOW TO GET TO THE COOK ISLANDS
The Cook Islands are a parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand, which also manages its defence in the event of a local government request.
Foreign policy is conducted independently.
This means that the link is so close that most international flights to the Cook Islands pass through Auckland (from Australia, Fiji, Tonga and other countries).
At least once a week, Air New Zealand connects Rarotonga directly with Sydney and Los Angeles.
Air Rarotonga shares daily domestic flights with the New Zealand airline.
Virgin Australia operates flights from 11 Australian cities to Rarotonga, with a stopover in Auckland.
Some tour operators also organise excursions of about 10 hours to the more remote islands with lagoon cruises, snorkelling in the reef etc.
As I said before, one of the reasons that pushed me here was the possibility to play on the International Date Line.
I had booked a lot of air tickets but this was definitely the one I checked several times before closing the payment.
I departed Auckland at 08.45 on 21 August, landing in Rarotonga almost 4 hours later at 14.35 on 20 August.
Yes, the day before…
And on the round trip, I said goodbye to the Cook Islands at 21.30 on 22 August and arrived in New Zealand at 00.05 on 24 August.
That’s right, I never lived on August 23rd…
So, “Back to the Future” is not just a movie, it’s reality.
I have travelled in time!
WHAT TO DO IN THE COOK ISLANDS
The Polynesian archipelago of the Cook Islands consists of 15 small, unspoilt islands with a total area of 240 km² and a population of just under 18,000.
The maritime territory has a total area of about 2.2 million km².
The green volcanic islands in the south (Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Takutea and Rarotonga, where the capital Avarua is located) occupy almost 90% of the total area of the archipelago and differ from the less populated coral atolls in the north (Manihiki, Nassau, Palmerston, Penrhyn or Tongareva, Pukapuka, Rakahanga, Suwarrow or Suvorov).
Rarotonga Airport is the international gateway to the Cook Islands.
Half of the population lives here.
Bus run clockwise and anticlockwise around the perimeter of the island.
Tickets can be bought on board and, by telling the driver your destination, he will drop you off at the nearest point.
All resorts, bungalows and b&b’s offer their guests a paid transfer to/from the airport, but this bus is certainly the cheapest option.
The interior of the island is characterised by mountains, green valleys and a forest with clear streams and waterfalls.
In the south-west there are white sandy beaches overlooking a shallow lagoon, while the north-east coast is more rocky.
Rarotonga is surrounded by an extensive coral reef, which protects it from the Pacific Ocean.
Its natural beauty, combined with the various activities available, a wide and varied choice of accommodation (from bungalows to luxury resorts), and a basic nightlife, make Rarotonga an excellent choice in Cook Islands.
About an hour’s flight north of Rarotonga is Aiutaki.
About an hour’s flight north of Rarotonga is Aiutaki. This coral island, known as Little Bora Bora, is surrounded by an unmistakable triangular lagoon, dotted with tiny islands called “motu“.
The heart of the island is characterised by forests, coconut palms, banana plantations and tropical fruit.
Getting a driving licence
This may sound funny, but to use a vehicle, even tourists must have a driving licence issued at the Avarua police station.
If you plan to rent a car or scooter to get around the island independently, this is an essential step.
Otherwise, you can use a bike, taxi service or buses.
If you don’t just want to swing in a hammock, spend hours in buffets and think of the Cook Islands as a huge resort in the Pacific Ocean, you have a wide choice of activities to do in this corner of Polynesia.
The most common and easiest are of course snorkeling, kayaking and sup.
Always respect the recommendations on timing before and after a flight, there are lots of dive sites: temperatures from 23°C to 28°C, visibility up to 60 metres, canyons, caves, coral walls and abundant fauna (hundreds of species of fish, turtles, sharks, rays, etc.) make the Cook Islands an underwater paradise.
If you want to relax, you can also try fishing.
Since many of the islands have a volcanic origin, they are not just small sandy atolls.
The mountains, with their lush vegetation and dense jungle, are ideal for a Polynesian experience, whether by bike, scooter, quad bike, off-road vehicle or on easy trekks.
Especially on Friday nights, Cook Islands nightlife explodes, involving tourists in traditional dances.
I usually stay away from these shows that I consider fake and organized only to give to foreigners a stereotyped reality.
It is possible to visit villages that demonstrate aspects of tribal life on the islands before the arrival of Christianity: cannibalism, dances with traditional clothes and handicrafts (all tending to the sale of souvenirs).
WHERE TO SLEEP
The Cook Islands are often considered a honeymoon destination.
That’s why most of the accommodation is organised for this reason: there are lots of luxury resorts with private beaches, many even for adults only.
I’m not interested in such hotels so I won’t make a list of the various resorts without having seen them.
I chose to sleep at the Aroko Bungalow (it has now changed its name to Muri Lagoon View Bungalows).
The bungalows are equipped with every comfort: kitchen, fridge, microwave, boiler, coffee and tea, bed covers, seas towels and a fan.
But most beautiful is the view over the ocean and the 3 motu of the lagoon and in a few steps you enter directly into the water of Muri Lagoon.
I recommend it to those who would like to enjoy the beauty of Rarotonga, without spending so much for luxurious treatments.
Just outside the entrance gate there is a stop for buses that go around the island, also stopping at the airport.
Nearby there are markets, diving centres, restaurants and shops.
There are also shoes and flippers of all sizes for entering the water, kayaks, masks and snorkels and deckchairs for sunbathing.
As I said before, I chose the Cook Islands mainly for the possibility to “travel in time”.
I didn’t come here on an all-inclusive honeymoon, I wasn’t interested in spending my time in an extra-luxury resort with a private beach, buffets at all hours, candlelight dinners, a personal photographer and dancing the night away in a formal dress.
Maybe I was tired because it was the last stop of my long trip in Oceania, maybe Rarotonga is not the best island of the archipelago, maybe the weather was not perfect, maybe I didn’t stay long enough, maybe I didn’t find the ideal place, maybe… but yes, I say it, I left Cook Islands disappointed..
I chose to stay in a bungalow a few steps away from Muri Lagoon and Muri Beach, listed as one of the most beautiful in the world for its spectacular beach and clear water.
I’m used to the sea of Sardinia and I had already seen a beautiful coral reef in Fiji and Tuvalu… but for me this is not sea.
Have you ever seen the classic photo of atolls, taken from an plane?
The dark blue is the ocean, reachable only by boat for diving or simple snorkelling.
The light blue, almost transparent, is the lagoon.
The ocean and the lagoon are separated by a coral reef, but the currents are so strong that it is difficult to get close because of the risk of cutting yourself on the coral.
Moreover, the lagoon, Muri Lagoon, is beautiful for taking photos but impractical for other activities.
The water is 20 centimetres ‘deep’, so you can’t swim.
You can walk around, but only with suitable shoes, because the seabed is not sandy but full of stones and sharp corals. Kayaks and surfboards are the alternatives for easily reaching the small motu, the sandy islets on which to relax in the shade of the coconut palms.
Just in case there isn’t a club with music blaring…
When I have negative experiences on a trip, I always wonder if I might have done something wrong.
The doubt remains until I can return to be contradicted or confirmed.
That’s why the Cook Islands are still on my list….