Cook Islands: A South Pacific for the Rest of Us - Page 3
|Bishop’s Cruises, Cook Islands (Travis Marshall)|
For inside-the-lagoon exploring, it’s hard to find a place more idyllic than the island of Aitutaki. Situated about 160 miles north of Rarotonga, and accessible via its U.S. military-installed, WWII-era airstrip, little Aitutaki is renowned for its otherworldly triangular-atoll lagoon, laced with shifting sandbars and pockmarked by 15 palm-fringed islets (called motus). These meandering spits of sand have made this one of the most sought-after spots in the chain—especially among the aforementioned wedding crowds, who flock to these desert-island backdrops.
A full day floats away in a flash when I tour the lagoon with a long-standing local company, Bishop’s Cruises. I snorkel shallow coral heads, where giant clams the size of briefcases filter-feed in the sun-drenched water, and take a walk around Honeymoon Island, whose sparse scrub interior harbors dozens of nesting frigate birds, with fluffy, gray chicks peeping out from beneath their mothers’ protective bodies.
The main attraction, however, is Tapuaetai, a.k.a. One Foot Island. Despite being a tour-typical island lunch stop—complete with the “world’s smallest post office,” where visitors can get a souvenir stamp in their passports—this tiny motu is the epitome of a South Pacific paradise. After a picnic of fresh fruit, fish, and cold beer, I take a walk up the beach and a long float back down the channel separating the beach from the sandy tailings of nearby Tekopua Island. The incoming tidal current funnels into the deep passage, creating a natural lazy river that flows peacefully alongside swaying coconut palms.
Back on Rarotonga, I settle in along Muri Beach. This area on the eastern coast is the island’s main beach activity center, with lagoon-front hotels, restaurants, and watersports operators, though even on busy days the atmosphere is lazy and decidedly uncrowded. With its four near-shore islets, the lagoon here offers a perfect place for windsurfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.
It’s also the ideal base for exploring Rarotonga’s formidable interior. Looking inward from the coast, the island seems almost impenetrable, a wall of sheer cliffs and toothy spires interwoven by a lattice of green jungle. Solo-hiking on the Papua Cross-Island Track, I pass under laden wild guava trees, push through shoulder-high ferns wet with morning rain, and navigate ground cover so thick it seems entirely possible—if I were to stand still for more than a moment—that encroaching vines could overgrow my limbs, absorbing me into the spongy forest floor like a downed log.
Best Hotels in Rarotonga