I have always been a curious person but my parents were never passionate about travel or photography. My holidays with them were always in the same place – a couple of hours away from my home. So as soon as I could, I started exploring on my own. Mostly on budget trips and solo adventures.
Recently, I fell in love with photography. In my twenties, I used to carry a compact camera around with me. It was a Nikon Coolpix. I just took photos of whatever I liked: places, animals and people. Instagram then gave me the chance to find out more about beautiful and aesthetic places.
After jumping on Instagram, I slowly started to explore the world of photography. First it was with a DSLR and then I started to hang out and travel with fellow photographers and Instagrammers. In fact, on my recent trip to the Cook Islands, I was with the talented photographer Rob Mulally.
Inspiration to Visit the Beautiful Cook Islands
The Cook Islands were on my bucket list since the day I found out that they have no traffic lights and no buildings higher than coconut trees.
I was also really curious to try and get there from the west, crossing the international date line. So when I decided to do a solo around the world trip, I made sure to add the stunning Cook Islands onto my itinerary.
My first impressions were even better than what I had imagined. Welcoming people, enjoying a simple and slow life, and making the most of lush vegetation and pristine beaches. I had the impression of being on another planet – far from everything, both physically and mentally.
Eight Awesome Days Spent in the Cook Islands
I spent eight wonderful days in the Cook Islands and visited three different and unique islands: Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu. Rarotonga is the main island, lively and modern, and is characterised by its emerald mountains.
Aitutaki, on the other hand, looks like a postcard with its blue lagoon surrounded by the awesome reef. It’s incredible to see Aitutaki from the airplane and it’s definitely the most beautiful lagoon I’ve ever seen.
Atiu, on the contrary, is far less popular and that’s why I chose to visit. This pristine environment is home to lush rainforest and it’s known as “the island of birds”. I recommend everyone adding this island to their itinerary.
My Favourite Place in the Cook Islands: Aitutaki
I had many incredible experiences from visiting these three paradisiacal islands. In Rarotonga, I explored the reef with a local named Kura and swam with a dozen turtles. Even though this was an amazing experience, I think taking pictures at sunset in Aitutaki made this island my favourite.
Cook Islands Travel Guide: Why Visit Rarotonga
One of my favourite experiences in Rarotonga was a walkabout on the reef at dawn in Titikaveka through the eyes of a true local, Kura Happ. She takes people onto the reef – connecting them with the marine ecosystem and educating them on the ocean. Kura is both a reef tour guide and musician!
I also had the chance to go stand-up paddle boarding at sunset – and spotted a turtle – on the wonderful Muri Beach. And I attended a spectacular overwater show about the island’s history at the Te Vara Nui Village. All of these experiences made Rarotonga a delightful place to visit.
Cook Islands Travel Guide: Why Visit Aitutaki
I spent a couple of days in Aitutaki and would define it as “heaven on earth”. One activity I loved was taking a private lagoon tour with Teking – a local guide. We went snorkelling in crystal-clear waters and discovered giant clams, bounties of tropical fish, colourful coral, starfish and turtles.
We visited uninhabited islands with lush native flora and fauna, and also got to One Foot Island – a small islet in the southeast of the lagoon. Here, we walked on the white sandback and enjoyed the best view of the lagoon. Aitutaki is hands down one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Cook Islands Travel Guide: Why Visit Atiu
In Atiu, I went to the famous and amazing Anatakitaki Cave which looks like a natural cathedral and is home to the Kopeka bird – a unique bird that navigates in the dark using sonar. Another fun experience was with local birdman George. He took us to spot local birds across the island.
We were also allowed to attend a Tumunu, a two-century old Atiu tradition. Set in the jungle, this is the meeting place for locals to share ideas and songs with the home-brewed bush beer. All in all, Atiu was a fantastic addition to the other popular Cook Islands like Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Why the Cook Islands are such an Incredible Destination
The Cook Islands are unique in a way that can’t be imagined. The feeling of peace, the bond with the sea and the power of nature here are paramount. You can feel it as soon as you step foot off the plane and are greeted with a flower necklace and huge smile. I felt welcomed, safe, relaxed and happy.
Cook Islands Travel Guide: Amazing Food Scene
The food in the Cook Islands was great. Fish is amazing. I recommend the Ika Mata (raw fish marinated with coconut and lime). The Nesian fusion cuisine is a must try! Especially, if you enjoy it barefoot and on the seafront.
Cook Islands Travel Guide: Best Places to Stay
Moana Sands Lagoon Resort is in Muri and overlooks Rarotonga’s famous pristine lagoon. It’s modern and boasts a spectacular swimming pool. The Moana Sands Beachfront Hotel overlooks the pristine Titikaveka Beach. It’s a wonderful beachfront place with mesmerising views of the lagoon.
In Aitutaki, we stayed at the Tamanu Beach Resort. This accommodation was wonderful. I was staying in a luxurious, Polynesian-style wooden bungalow that had its own terrace and an open-air shower. Just paradise!
Atiu Villas is the only main accommodation on the island of Atiu. These villas are hidden in the middle of the forest and are super cozy. The owner of the villas is extremely kind, interesting and makes you feel right at home.
Riding Motorbikes through the Heart of Atiu
I have many great memories from this trip to the Cook Islands. My dearest memory, though, is travelling on a motor scooter in the heart of Atiu. I was surrounded by the sound of birds and waves, set among lush vegetation and wild pigs. That was the first time I’ve ever tried to ride a motor scooter!
It was so much fun and to me it summed up everything wonderful about traveling in the Cook Islands – freedom, fun, natural beauty and wildlife.
Need to Know Before you Go
I recommend visiting many islands to get a glimpse of the variety of experiences that the Cook Islands can offer: from the lively Rarotonga to the romantic Aitutaki, from the wild Atiu to the pristine Mangaia.
I would also make sure to spend time getting to know the locals, trying typical experiences, and watching the sunrise and sunset. Relaxing on the beach and sunbathing is amazing, but there is so much more that you can do in the Cook Islands. Thanks for reading my Cook Islands travel guide!