Air New Zealand has weekly direct nonstops from LAX and Auckland, New Zealand, and offers agent friendly travel packages and commission through www.VaxVacationAccess.com/AirNewZealand.
For the short flight to Aitutaki, Air Rarotonga offers a pricey flight, but does offer a number of specials.
What to Do
A lagoon cruise out of Aitutaki to One Foot Island is an absolute must and includes snorkeling, barbecue and infectious live Polynesian music. The scenery is impossible to describe. Bishop Cruise charges about $55 for the cruise.
A safari tour with Tangaroa 4x4 Tours was a good way to get a sense of the island and see its lush interior.
The beaches are impressively underdeveloped, and the island nights are an excellent recommendation for clients looking for traditional meals, fire dancing, hula and drumming.
Where to Eat
Tamanu Beach or anywhere there is an Island Night happening.
Where to Stay:
Crown Beach Resort, Rarotonga
Edgewater Hotel, Rarotonga
Offers 15 percent commission on rack rates
Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Offers agents 10 percent on rack rates
I had a little chuckle when I first heard the Cook Islands announce themselves as a “recession-free zone,” thinking to myself, “What is that supposed to mean?” However, after a weeklong visit, I stopped chuckling. They do have something to celebrate. The Cook Islands are economically in good shape and are a great destination for travelers. Businesses are growing, visitor numbers are up and a strong alliance between the Cook Islands and Air New Zealand continues. I guess these 15 tiny islands do indeed appear to have missed much of what the rest of the world has experienced.
Some say Aitutaki might be the most beautiful island on earth.// (C) 2009 Robert Paul Young
As a traveler, I found the islands charming, clean, safe and friendly. The weather is comfortable year-round and similar to that of Hawaii. The Cook Islands also compare to neighboring Tahiti’s beauty, with Moorea and Bora Bora similar to Rarotonga and Aitutaki respectively. Agents can feel confident in sending discriminating clients to these pristine shores for romantic getaways, family trips and sheer relaxation. Plus, the islands are a good value for travelers because the Cook Islands use New Zealand currency, which translates to a nice exchange rate for U.S. visitors.
The Cook Islands are located in the South Pacific, about a 2½-hour flight north of Auckland, New Zealand, and 9½ hours from Los Angeles. On my recent visit, the plane from L.A. landed at dawn on Rarotonga Island, the main gateway to the Cook Islands, leaving me a little groggy, but enthusiastic. While I wiped the sleep from my eyes, live ukulele music filled the small airport and flowers were draped around my neck. By the time I had arrived at my hotel, I was ready to explore.
Rarotonga is a tiny island about 20 miles around and easily accessible by hourly buses going, not surprisingly, in one of two directions: clockwise and “anti-clockwise.” These buses pass all points of interest and relevant hotels on the island.
The main town of Avarua is a good spot for Internet cafes, food, souvenirs and just hanging out — although, my favorite experience included the weekly Saturday morning Punanganui market, 10 minutes by foot from Avarua. It was a great way to be a tourist, mix with the locals, try new Cook Islands treats and shop for goodies. Visitors can expect to find inexpensive black pearls — one of the Cook Islands’ chief exports — eight-string ukuleles and authentic tuvaivai, a hand-sewn garment that ranges from pillow case-size to large honorariums fit to be buried with the departed.
The next stop on my visit to the Cook Islands was Aitutaki Island. While the 45-minute flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki can be a little pricey, it is well worth the expense. I had been told by a friend that Aitutaki might be the most beautiful island on earth. After seeing it for myself, I think he may be right. I took 60 photos of the island from the plane’s window before I even landed.
Aitutaki is well manicured and well maintained. At the same time, it feels romantically deserted but not isolated. The warm Pacific Ocean waters in multiple shades of jaw-dropping, surreal blue were amazing. There was not a speck of inorganic debris anywhere. I arrived at Aitutaki’s lagoon port to find three boats and a few kayaks on an empty, silent beach that led to great snorkeling and uninhabited islands. I cannot think of a more perfect destination for a honeymoon.
Cultural events, such as “island night,” can be found almost every night of the week on both Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and are usually a combination of fire dancing by festively clad local men and hula by both men and women. I was impressed by both performances.
To better understand the Maori in the Cook Islands, a safari tour is a good start. My own experience with such tours took me into the interior jungles and mountains of Aitutaki and Rarotonga and included a traditional umu kai, or earth-oven feast. I also recommend clients try ika mata, which is raw fish marinated in salt and lime juice and then served with coconut cream.
The true key to assimilating to island culture, however, is to simply give in to “island time.” On these beautiful South Pacific islands, clients will find a relaxed, easygoing pace and they would be wise to embrace the concept of time as merely a suggestion. After all, what else would you expect in paradise?