My Trip to the South Pacific – Cook Islands: Planning and Preparation

It has been exactly a year since I was last minute planning for one of my dream destinations. I highly recommend going if you’re looking for a unique tropical paradise to get away from it all – a Robinson Crusoe type of adventure full of discovery and immersion into nature: from lush rainforest jungle and rolling green mountains to clear turquoise lagoon waters with white sandy shores. Rustic, secluded and unspoiled. Bonus – the locals are some of the friendliest people you will meet!

About the Cook Islands

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The Cook Islands are a group of 15 small islands  in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They are South of Hawaii, and in between more popular known Islands such as Fiji (to the West) and the French Polynesian Islands like Tahiti and Bora Bora (to the East). (map) One unique thing about these islands is that there are several that are considered Atolls.

An atoll (play /ˈætɒl/ or /æˈtɒl/)[1] is a coral island (or islands) that encircles a lagoon partially or completely.

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That’s the atoll of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands!

Background – why here?

My friends will remember me promoting a website my sister helped co-found: GeckoGo.com: a site that created travel guides based on user-generated content for independent travelers. I was inspired by all these places other people had been to, although sunny laying-on-the-beach destinations were not my number one interest.

On another day, my boyfriend met some people representing the Cook Islands and he told me about this remote set of islands that was off the beaten track (I’d heard of tropical islands like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Tahiti before but never the Cooks!) . He told me this place largely unspoiled by tourism, spoke of long walks on sandbars and this amazing lagoon and after seeing some photos – that was it – new dream destination!

The flight alone is pretty expensive (easily over $2000 from Vancouver,Canada) so when I happened to see an Air New Zealand deal I jumped on it immediately! $1200 roundtrip per person for the trip of a lifetime? Yes…definitely yes!

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Timeline… how we got here

February 2011

The first time I saw a good price was $998 before taxes round trip from LA. Which means closer to$1300 after taxes, plus the flight TO LA (an additional $300) ! Well, at least I had an idea of prices.
I continued to take note of these deals.
I also continued to email these links 🙂

May 2011

Discussions of our next travel plan begin. The Cook Islands comes up! We decide it’s on the pricey side. Conclusion: Asia would be better!

June 2011

I see a large multi-page spread of Aitutaki (one of the 15 Islands that make up the Cook Islands) in the Lonely Planet monthly magazine “The Island Special”

Pretty Amazing right?!

Oct 2011

We find out that one of us can’t take holidays in December due to the nature of the Industry.

Nov 2011

I see a travel alert from Air New Zealand. $799 before taxes round-trip Vancouver – Rarotonga (Main Island in the Cooks)! This is the lowest I’ve ever seen it and decide to seize this opportunity! I originally planned on going for 1 week, but after the Agent at Flight Centre basically told me it would be the greatest shame to fly all the way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and only stay a week, I decided that he was right – we should really stay for 2.

Timing was key as both my boyfriend and I were able to take 2 weeks holiday with short notice.

And so the tickets were booked! We had a celebratory lunch at Earls over a Chicken Brie sandwich and the last minute planning began!

Last minute booking and 10 day countdown

Checklist – Before you go

– No Visa requirements neccesary, but you do need a passport that has at least 6 months until expiry. You can stay there 31 days without any extra paperwork, otherwise you can apply for extensions

Shots – Hep A/B, typhoid and tetanus (some of these you should have anyway!) We were a bit late with these, as ideally you would have 4-8 weeks before departure to vaccinate. But the doctor suggested that is wouldn’t hurt to get it done and we took some general antibiotics with us (which we never needed!) and some water purification tablets (which we never used! We boiled all our water and bought bottled water).

Sun protection! We bought hats, sunscreen, and rash guards (pictured below) with SPF built into them (these would prove VERY useful)

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– After bite, mosquito repellent and water purification tables

– Other general travel essentials I like to bring such as first aid and toiletries

– A couple of books

– Snorkel gear  -we went to MEC to buy our own

Island Hopping – tickets and costs

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– Bought in advance: Plane tickets from Rarotonga (the main island) to Aitutaki (the gorgeous lagoon pictured earlier). From all the reviews on Trip Advisor and internet research, we knew this a place we wanted to spend the majority of their time. You can do a day trip to Aitutaki and experience the famous lagoon (also known as the “Bora Bora of the Cook Islands”), but many people in the forums expressed the same sentiment: they wish they had spent more time in Aitutaki!

Tickets ran about $200  – $300 NZD for one way flights between the islands, and the flight is only 45 minutes.
http://www.airraro.com/clientpages/raro/aitutaki.html

Accommodations

Did some island hopping and stayed at 4 different places, booked each of these in advance.

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We mainly used Trip Advisor to read reviews and looked at maps of Rarotonga and Aitutaki to get a sense of where we wanted to be located.

Our very own private island

While researching, we learned that you could stay on the famous One Foot Island and have the island all to yourself!!!

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Unique/Adventurous/Romantic/Just plain cool all at once! A lot of the famous promo photos for the Cook islands are taken from this one motu (mini island) called One Foot Island! Tour boat operators take people to go snorkeling in the lagoon and ultimately to One Foot Island where you can walk around on this long winding sandbar (more exposed depending on the tide). All the people leave One Foot Island by 3 pm so from this point onwards, you’re by yourself, exploring and enjoying the islands and it’s surroundings. Staying here and experiencing this was TOTALLY worth it. It was a more costly to stay here, so we evened it out by staying at a backpackers hostel the first couple of nights in Rarotonga (in a private room – it was great).

I emailed all the different accommodations we were looking at, provided credit card information online as a deposit, and planned to finalize the booking for the private island upon arrival.

(more on accommodations here)

Activities

We knew that we would do lots of water activities, snorkeling, walking, hiking and exploring. The only advance booking we made was the Teking Lagoon Snorkel Trip.This was so amazing that we did it twice!

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A complete summary and review of activities are here.

Food

Tried a lot of new, fun foods at the markets, cafes and restaurants.

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We also made use of the kitchen facilities in our bungalows and had plenty of fresh fruit and coconut.

More photos and summary of food here.

There aren’t really all-inclusive options in the Cook Islands (unlike Mexico or the Caribbean..) so you have to book things piece by piece. I think that style lends itself to more flexibility and adventure though, and you can make it as expensive or cost-effective as you want.

If you’re looking for a unique and authentic experience, look into visiting the Cook Islands. It’s beautiful, safe (no poisonous/dangerous wildlife!) and very welcoming.

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Related Cook Islands Blog posts:

 

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