Cook Islands: A South Pacific for the Rest of Us

The Cook Islands often gets pegged as a honeymoon spot. And it is a great honeymoon spot. But we've discovered that this South Pacific sprawl of islands has so much more to offer... at a price you can actually afford.
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Huts on the beach in the Cook Islands
Huts on the beach in the Cook Islands  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Forget Fiji’s all-inclusive, private-island compounds. Stop pining for an absurdly priced, one-percenter’s beach escape in Bora Bora. There is an alternative—a South Pacific for the rest of us—scattered across the deep-blue sea some 650 miles from French Polynesia: The Cook Islands epitomizes down-home Polynesia to its core. It’s a place where homegrown is the norm, from the locally sourced meals to the sustainably farmed black pearls, and a veritable powder keg of adventure potential brims with deserted-island beaches, world-class watersports, and jagged volcanic peaks cloaked in misty jungles.

Despite all this, the Cook Islands often get pigeonholed as a wedding and honeymoon hot spot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this too-simple stereotype has the effect of flattening a culturally, historically, and naturally rich country—whose 15 lush, atoll-ringed islands sprawl across nearly 700,000 square miles of tropical open ocean—into a white-sand-beach backdrop for destination nuptials.

But that wedding stereotype wavers as soon as I touch down in the capital seat of Rarotonga. What I find instead are infinitely inviting islands that embody all the classic South Pacific tropes—the Gauguinesque vistas, the placid lagoons, and the smells of hibiscus and wild guava heavy in the sea air. Even better, the landscape is unmarred by ostentatious development. Handmade signs mark local landmarks, chickens join my morning forays up rainforest hiking trails, and there’s not a chain hotel in sight.

Published: 29 Jun 2012 | Last Updated: 5 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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