Posted on June 23, 2013


The Cook Islands really are about the simple things in life. Visiting deserted islands by boat, beach combing for beautiful shells, splashing about in the amazingly warm water -just spending time as a family. The Cook Islands get under your skin and you soon find you’re on ‘Island Time’ yourself and only wish you could stay that way!!

I’m not going to lie. The flights out were exhausting. Nearly 24 hours from the UK to Rarotonga – the largest island in the Cook Islands. I think if I were to do it again (and I can’t wait until I do!) I would break the flight in LA for at least a day or two – we did this on the way home and it definitely helped. The jet-lag was pretty bad but it was easy to spend time relaxing (and recovering from it!) there – ‘Island Time’ was something we heard a lot about and we soon fell into that relaxed way of living!

We spent a week on Rarotonga and a week on the breathtaking island of Aitutaki.

1. How to get around.

On both Rarotonga and Aitutaki we hired a car. It’s worth noting that car seats were available in Rarotonga (but really old) but not in Aitutaki. If (when??!)) I go again I would definitely bring our own car seat.  On the much smaller island of Aitutaki it simply wasn’t available and we just held onto our nearly 2 year old as we drove around. There really was hardly any traffic, but I would have much preferred to have our own car seat to rely on.

We did take the bus on Rarotonga – there is one that goes clockwise around the island and the other goes anti-clockwise! They were really easy to flag down and run really regularly so it would be very easy to survive without a car here but in Aitutaki if you want to leave your resort it is pretty much essential.

To get between islands planes are generally the only way (you can go by boat, I looked into it!, but they are a) expensive, b) infrequent and c) take forever!). The flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki was probably the least enjoyable part of the whole trip. It was a really small plane, very bumpy and oh so scary! But they have a really good safety record and it’s a really short flight so you can almost hold your breath and close your eyes! It is really worth it – Aitutaki is a magical island that shouldn’t be missed.

2. Things to Do

On Rarotonga there were more organised activities to take part in – you could take glass bottom boat rides, try various water sports etc With a nearly two-year old in tow we kept it fairly simple. We took a drive around the island – which took about an hour! This was really interesting to see the whole place and we stopped off for food at a really lovely little restaurant and gardens for a run around. We took our little boy out on a canoe a couple of times which he loved.

The sea water was the temperature of bath water and just amazing to be in. One word of warning, or note of interest!, there are a lot of sea cucumbers in the Cook Islands! Beach shoes are an absolute necessity to avoid treading on them…especially useful as one day a deadly Stone Fish had managed to get itself very close to the beach…a good reminder to keep something on our feet at all times.

3. Where to stay

There are lots of options for staying in the Cook Islands and although it certainly isn’t a budget holiday you can find a variety of accommodation at different prices. We stayed at the Pacific group hotels which in Rarotonga was set on Muri beach and came complete with a kid’s club (which we didn’t use) and canoes for free hire. We had a lovely little villa with a separate lounge area and a little crab who lived outside our terrace!

In Aitutaki the private villa was just breathtaking. This hotel was less set up for children but they couldn’t have been more welcoming to our nearly 2 year old – they even purchased a baby bath for us to use as he didn’t like showers and the villas didn’t come with baths!

4. What to eat

As a vegetarian I was really concerned about food on the Cook Islands but I definitely shouldn’t have worried. We ate SO well. I tried amazing new dishes like bread fruit lasagne and restaurants were quick to whip me up special dishes packed full of fresh veggies and tasty coconut sauces. The food was absolutely delicious. There were very few children’s meals but our son just shared our food and there was always plenty to go around.

My partner, who eats fish, was in food heaven with all of the amazing fresh and unusual seafood on offer.

5. What to buy!

There are lots of beautiful shell bracelets and necklaces and also jewellery using the black pearls that the Cook Islands are famous for. Another Cook Island staple are hand carved ukuleles, one of which we bought for our little boy from a market on Rarotonga.
One of my big regrets from the holiday is missing out on buying one of the most unique souvenirs I’ve ever seen.  I had read that the prison was a great place to shop as the prisoners carve various wood panels and items which you can go and buy. Somewhat apprehensively we drove up the long, overgrown driveway in the centre of Rarotonga and parked outside the prison. Prisoners milled about outside meeting relatives and you could see right into the exercise yard where more were playing basketball and hanging out. We went into the main office where there were lots of wooden items for sale and spoke to the chief warden who told us all about the prison – how there was only one female inmate (a lifer!) and how they allowed them to sale items they made. I, stupidly as it turned out, decided to return on our last night in Rarotonga to pick up some unique gifts, so as to not drag them all the way to Aitutaki and back. But I hadn’t worked out that our last day was a Sunday and when we drove back to the prison the office was closed. I keep telling myself it’s good to have things to return for!

6. Top tips with children

Take all the essentials you need. Creams, medicines – even nappies (diapers) can be hard to find, particularly on the smaller islands. We ran out of nappies on Aitutaki and did eventually track some down but it’s worth taking enough (and a few extras!). It’s also worth bearing in mind that nearly everything has to be imported from New Zealand and this pushes the prices up so essentials are worth bringing from home. We took lots of snacks which were really useful those first few days when we were jet-lagged and up at times when no one else was around. But remember that no fresh food is allowed into the Cook Islands and they do check your luggage on entry.

Get on Island Time as quickly as possible! Our son slept on a little boat we hired on Aitutaki and learnt to have his afternoon naps in a hammock! You just have to go with the flow and relax.

Ultimately it’s amazing to realise how few things from home you need. Our little boy spent lots of time searching out hermit crabs or looking for sea cucumbers (not hard to find!). It was really lovely to be somewhere where we made our own, simple fun and just enjoyed the amazing setting we were in.