Surrounded by a sapphire-blue lagoon and fine, white sand, this romantic South Pacific paradise is the ultimate place to unwind. The way of life may be laid-back, but you'll still find plenty of heart-pumping activities to enjoy.
Head out on the water to explore the golden reef: an unforgettable scuba diving, snorkelling, or kayaking experience. Dine on the Cook Islanders' favourite dish of suckling pig, or freshly caught seafood, cooked right on the beach.
Explore the island's rainforests, fresh water streams and waterfalls as you trek in the shadow of grand volcanic ridges. No matter where you travel, from the ancient marae (traditional meeting places) to spiritual monuments and stunning private islands, you'll find friendly faces, rich culture, and stunning views.
The best way to get around this small island is to make like the locals and jump on a scooter. It's easy to get your licence and you can loop the entire island in about 40 minutes. There's nothing quite like feeling the warm breeze against your skin as you go beach-hopping, check out the shops, or discover some of the island's more rural areas – just watch out for roaming dogs and chickens.
Taking something home is easy too. Head to the markets to buy iridescent shells, sarongs and jewellery made from the region's distinctive black pearls, or watch as the local women practise the art of quilting, known here as tivaevae.
Getting to the Cook Islands
There are daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide to Rarotonga via Auckland. Air New Zealand also operates a 6 hour direct service from Sydney once per week, departing Sydney on Friday nights (arriving in Rarotonga on Friday mornings due to crossing the International Date Line) and returning on Thursday afternoon, arriving in Sydney Friday evenings. Air New Zealand also has code share and air share agreements with Air Rarotonga for those flying on from Rarotonga to the outer islands of the Cook Islands.
Best time to go
The Cook Islands are pleasantly tropical all year round. From June to August you can expect temperatures in the mid 20s, and you may need a light jacket or jersey at night. This is also the high season for escapees from the Australian and New Zealand winter, so don't leave it to the last minute to book flights and hotels.
How much will it cost
There's a good choice of accommodation to suit all budgets, from basic backpackers to luxury resorts. The Cook Islands uses the NZ dollar. Most visitors find meals and everyday costs, such as scooter and car hire, are reasonable. If self-catering, shop at the local markets for cheap produce.
Medical and dental services are available and there is a well-equipped hospital situated on Rarotonga and a small hospital in Aitutaki.
Australians can enter the Cook Islands without a visa – all you need is a valid passport and valid ticket for return or onward travel. Immigration will stamp your passport with a 31-day visitor permit.