Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki

You’ve seen the pictures. The amazing pictures. They’re in calendars and glossy magazines. Those volcanic atolls surrounded by coral motu and pale turquoise water and not much else. Dense jungles ringed by untouched beaches. Soft, sugary sand and swaying palm trees and white Tahitian Gardenias. The 15 Cook Islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between French Polynesia and Samoa. They’re up there with Bora Bora and Fiji and the Maldives as dream destinations. So let’s dream.

Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki

After landing on Rarotonga, take a smaller plane to Aitutaki. The hook-shaped island is known for its postcard-worthy lagoon and beaches. Search for giant clams as you snorkel around uninhabited Tapuaeta’i. Visit the oldest church in the Cook Islands. Eat just-caught seafood. Cafe Tupuna lists the catch of the day on a blackboard. The Boat Shed offers coconut-crusted shrimp. Samade on the Beach is known for its Sunday afternoon BBQ. Koru Cafe has Atiu coffee and local artwork. And browse black pearls, weavings, woodcarvings, and tivaevae–patchwork quilts with island scenery. You’ll want something to remember this trip by, not that you’re likely to forget it.

Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki
Photo: Pacific Resort Aitutaki

But it just keeps getting better. And better. Ride a bike or a scooter to Pacific Resort Aitutaki. You’ll be welcomed by Cook Island hospitality, a chilled coconut drink, and a flower garland. The beachfront suites and bungalows have timber furniture and private sun decks. Have crepes with caramelized bananas delivered in the morning. Swim in the infinity pool, explore the rock pools, or snorkel through the Aquatic Eco Trail after breakfast. Drink a lychee colada at lunchtime, and a lemongrass and ginger tea during afternoon tea. Learn how to tie a pareu or schedule a Rapae massage in the afternoon. Watch for migrating humpback whales as you sip a Matutu Mai beer at dusk. Eat ika mata for dinner at Rapae Bay, or better yet, in a Bedouin tent, surrounded by candles and flower petals as you drink champagne. And watch a fire dance, with traditional chants and costumes.

This peaceful, secluded paradise is even better than you ever imagined. All of those best-in-the-world lists got it right.

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