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Deep in the South Pacific, in the heart of the Polynesian Triangle, lies a plush oasis not on many people's radar: the Cook Islands.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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Comprising 15 islands and 19,000 inhabitants, the nation's main entities are its hub, Rarotonga, and the more northern, remote gem, Aitutaki.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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The Cook Islands offer a bit of something for everyone, making it the ideal getaway for couples, foodies, honeymooners, families, nature lovers, and adventure junkies of all types.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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Like elsewhere in the tropics, exotic fruit flourishes from the trees everywhere you look. Among other sweet treats, you'll spy guava, noni, papaya, coconut, passionfruit, and bananas (which, oddly enough, grow upside down in this part of the world).  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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To get a true taste of the local color on the main isle of Rarotonga, opt for a progressive dinner, which is offered each Monday and Thursday night. You'll get the chance to dine at natives' homes, sampling some of the best dishes the Cooks have to offer and traveling to a different house via bus for each course with your fellow diners.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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While on Rarotonga, drop by the Highland Paradise Cook Islands Cultural Centre for a look at Maori history and culture (and an aptly dressed Maori guide, at that!).  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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Check into the island's most posh stay, the Crown Beach Resort, which is owned and operated by a pair of genial Idaho cowboys. You'll enjoy the stand-alone villas and private plunge pools.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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If you've always dreamed of owning an authentic black pearl (or several), here's your chance. They're farmed in the northern atoll of Manihiki, and thanks to the abundance of pearl shops on Rarotonga, you'll have no trouble cutting a deal with a purveyor (just break out your best bargaining tactics going into it).  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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Another opportunity not to pass up is seeing an island show, where natives don Polynesian attire and play music, sing, and dance to their hearts' content. Most resorts (like this one, the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa) offer them on most nights. Reservations are recommended.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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For the fish out of water, there's no better place than the Cooks to strap on a snorkel and mask, or an oxygen tank for those who prefer diving to snorkeling.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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Even if you've never fully submerged before, consider a shallow lagoon beginner dive with the Dive Centre on Rarotonga, where you'll see marine marvels like octopus, stonefish, and maybe even a turtle or two.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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After you've soaked in Rarotonga long enough, hop an inter-island flight and arrive on Aitutaki, where pure peace, quiet, and seclusion will be yours. Stake claim to a plot of sand and your personal hammock, and revel in doing absolutely nothing at all.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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If it's an over-the-water bungalow you desire, stay at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and Spa. For a villa located right on the beach, where you'll have direct entry to some great snorkeling points, try the Pacific Resort instead.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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From Aitutaki, you can sail around the lagoon, stopping at uninhabited spits of land like One Foot Island, which played host to Survivor: Cook Islands. Boasting the world's smallest post office (literally, a shack with a window), you can send mail and get an authentic stamp on your passport in the shape of a footprint while there.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
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There's a reason the mantra on the Cook Islands is 'Kia Orana,' meaning 'live a full life.' The islanders abide by that policy, and when in the Cooks, you should do as the natives do. It's only polite, after all.  
Credit: Kristin Luna 
 
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