The totally tropical Cook Islands

From French Polynesia, a three hour flight west brought us to the Cook Island which used to be ruled by the British and are named after Captain Cook. Now they work in ‘free association’ with New Zealand; use the NZ dollar (with an unusal triangular one dollar coin thrown into the mix) and English is the main language.

The islands are both remote and accessible (a 4.5 hour flight from Auckland), modern and traditional. They are, in other words, the perfect tropical island bliss. They are probably what you think of when you think of paradise.

As we approached the country by air it took our breath away:

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Aitutaki from the air (courtesy Air Rarotonga)

Rarotonga

We started our adventure in the most populous island (home to all of 13,000 souls). The island rises spectacularly through lush countryside and farmland to the mountainous and thickly forested jungle interior. We spent our days driving the 32km outer ring road circling the island stopping at beaches for a swim, wandering through villages, sipping sundowners in bars and eating at the food markets.

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Black rocks beach
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Beach bar
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Pina Colada at sunset
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Delicious spicy fish sandwich
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Night market with food stalls and traditional dancing
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Our huge bungalow set on a hill above the beach

As well as the outer road, there is a quieter more traditional inner ring road, this is where you see the non-touristy side of the island with locals houses, papaya farms and kids playing in the street.

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Driving the inner road in the lovely ‘blue bottle’

 

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Plantation
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Abandoned truck

On our final day we hiked up to the viewpoint in the middle of the island…just as a torrential downpour started. Which made it pretty precarious as we crossed streams and had to climb up the mountain, using the roots of trees as stairs, for over an hour.

A rooster led the way to the top, strangely. Once there we were greeted with views of the brooding peaks that we had been seeing all across the island. We found the hike pretty hard but we passed several families with young children and babies which was impressive.

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The narrow trail
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Drenched at the top
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This chicken led the way up the hill
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View at the top
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The trail of tree roots

The capital of the country is the bustling metropolis of Avarua where 5,000 people live. It was a lot like London…in absolutely no way. No building was higher than two stories, buses ran every hour (either clockwise or anti-clockwise around the island) and there were hardly any people around.

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Clockwise bus
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Busy roundabout in the town centre
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Para o Tane Palace

Aitutaki

A small propeller plane took us to 45 minutes north to the island of Aitutaki.

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Our plane

This island is slower in pace and much less touristy. In fact there is hardly anything, or anyone here (the population is just 2,000). We spent our first day cycling around the lush green island, through tiny villages and along dirt tracks.

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View of the lagoon and outer islands from highest point
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Sweaty by this point
Cycling the dirt roads
Cycling the dirt roads
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Ootu beach

But the lagoon is what we really came to so we did on an all day lagoon cruise.

At times we couldn’t believe our eyes, the water was so clear and with so many shades of turquoise. We thought the Bora Bora lagoon in French Polynesia was outstanding but this might have just topped it.

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Our vessel

 

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The crew keeping us entertained
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On old jetty for the TEAL seaplane which flew between Auckland, Fiji and Tahiti
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Gorgeous island
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Amazing water
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Bird and baby bird

We stopped to snorkel with sharks and massive trevally fish and then had a lovely lunch on the boat. This included all the local specialities and BBQ’d tuna steaks.

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So blue wherever you look
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Unaware
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Shark!
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Nice spread of local flavours

But the real highlight was our last stop, One Foot Island, where we relaxed agape for a few hours.

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Incredible shades of blue 
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So clear…
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…and so calm

On Sunday we went to a local church service. The energy of the hymn singing was impressive and uplifting. There was one particular guy who sang with real gusto and was constantly encouraging the rest of the congregation onto their feet.

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The congregation leaving
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Religious opposition to Sunday flights
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Local lunch of fried whole fish, taro, rice, salad and coconut dressing

Another brilliant week in another beautiful tropical country.

Next stop: Wellington, New Zealand

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