5 reasons to take kids to the Cook Islands

We send our Editor-in-Chief Sido Kitchin to chill out with the whanau.
Cook Islands

A four-hour flight from Auckland on Air New Zealand, and the family can escape the hustle and bustle for a picture-postcard island retreat in the Cook Islands. If your kids like bare feet, sun, swimming, snorkelling, and their parents happy and chilled out on island time, they’ll love it. We took our two for Easter.

1. Where to stay

There are loads of resorts on the main island of Rarotonga, but the best spot we stayed at was Taakoka Villa, our own private two-storey house with a pool out front and views of Muri Lagoon beyond. Increasingly, families are opting to rent a house in Raro, some taking chilly bins of their own food from New Zealand because you can fly almost anything but fruit and veges. We prefer to eat locally to support the economy, but it’s also handy to be able to stock up on fresh fruit for breakfast, snacks and drinks, and have your own kitchen to help the budget. A laundry is helpful with kids too. Our villa was spacious and beautifully furnished, and the complimentary kayaks were put to good use. We loved this place.

Young Darcy tucked into a delicious Nu Shake made with coconut water and ice cream.

2. Getting around

There are regular buses that circumnavigate Raro, but it’s handy to have a car so you can suss out the snorkelling spots (Fruits of Rarotonga is a goodie) and be a bit spontaneous – which is how we ended up at a fantastic Beach Day Out music festival at Nikao. We had a wonderful three-hour bike adventure with Storyteller’s Eco-cycle Tours, meandering off the main roads and through villages with our great guide Jimmy and stopping along the way to learn loads about the local way of life (and pluck mangos fresh from the trees!).

Who wouldn’t be tempted to dive right in? Cleo’s trip to Aitutaki went swimmingly!

3. Aitutaki

Our Aitutaki Day Tour was the trip highlight. A 45-minute flight north of Rarotonga, from the air you can see why its reputation precedes it. I’ve never seen such gorgeous turquoise water. After a tiki tour of the main island, we spent the day on a lagoon cruise, visiting tiny white-sand islets, exploring bush and birdlife, snorkelling with tropical fish (and meeting Charlie, the friendly giant trevally) and munching on a fresh BBQ lunch. The kids loved having their passports stamped at One Foot Island, home to the world’s smallest registered post office. Peaceful and perfect, Aitutaki is paradise.

Mmm … Jimmy’s offer of fresh mango stops us in our tracks on a fabulous eco-cycle ride.

4. Snack attack

Back on Raro, if the orange road cone is outside the Cook Islands Coffee Company, you’re in luck for the best caffeine fix. You absolutely must try a fresh tuna or mahi-mahi sandwich from Jill at the Mooring Fish Cafe. And the kids will die for the doughnuts at the Saturday morning Punanga Nui markets in town. The local Matutu Beer is pretty good, but if you’re thirsty, I reckon an ice-cold “Nu” coconut drink, straight out of the shell, is just the ticket.

5. Night adventures

After days of swimming and sunshine, our kids were spent by evening, but a second wind was compulsory because we had to make the most of every day. The sunset show at Highland Paradise was a great way for the children to learn about island heritage through a narrator, singing, exquisite dancing and spectacular drumming. The island-style feast was fantastic – I had to have seconds of ika mata (fish marinated in lime and coconut milk) and rukau (taro leaves). At Coco Putt, we had a round of evening mini-golf, then a few ales and a BBQ while an awesome band played. For fine dining with a Polynesian twist, the restaurant at the elegant Nautilus Resort will wow you. Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar at the Pacific Resort Rarotonga provided the best service and most laughs, thanks to fab maitre d’ Bianca. But my happiest memory is lying on a lounger under the stars with a cocktail in Wilson’s Beach Bar at Castaway Beach Villas, while the kids went nuts on the sand.

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