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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
A small propeller plane took us to 45 minutes north to the island of Aitutaki.
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.
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.
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.
But the real highlight was our last stop, One Foot Island, where we relaxed agape for a few hours.
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.
Another brilliant week in another beautiful tropical country.
Next stop: Wellington, New Zealand