Cook Islands map
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Passport stamp
Even if you're only spending a few days in Rarotonga, there's time to explore more of the Cook Islands.  And if you do, I promise you'll be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime. 
This page is here to help you find out where it's practical to go (and where it isn't),

AITUTAKI DAY TRIP
Aitutaki is most visited island after Rarotonga, and Air Rarotonga run day trips Monday to Saturday, which include transfers to and from your accommodation. 

You'll get a whirlwhind tour of the island, before boarding a traditional boat for a leisurely cruise around the crystal clear, turquoise blue lagoon which is one of the wonders of the natural world.  



You'll stop off at some of the stunning little islets (motus) in the lagoon, including One Foot Island where you can buy unique stamps and get your passport stamped at the post office which sets up there daily.  American visitors might recognise it also as one of the locations for the reality show, "Survivor Cook Islands" in 2006.  Other motus have been used in the UK's Channel 4 show, "Shipwrecked".


Aitutaki lagoon
Swim among the fish
And there's plenty of time for  swimming and snorkelling (gear provided) among the fantastically colourful fish and giant clams.  You might even (as I did) see rare turtles skipping through the water. 

At NZ$459 *(UKĀ£234, US$396, 287 Euros, AUS$3422), it's not exactly cheap,, but the price includes return flights and a barbecue of incredibly fresh fish during the cruise.  So, if you only do one excursion during your visit to the Cook Islands, this has to be it (and I promise you no one has paid me to say that!).  You can book through the tourist office in Rarotonga, at your acommodation or direct with the airline.    
* Appoximate conversions for guidance only and based on rates in May, 2014

STAY AT LEAST A DAY
Several of the Southern Group islands are less than an hour's flying time from Rarotonga, but the airline schedules mean you will have to stay at least one night.  Mangaia, Mauke, Atiu and Mitiaro are all options if you can spare a day or more away.   They're all very different, so choice is a matter of personal taste.  Here's a thumnail sketch of each....



Mangaia is rugged
MANGAIA  It's the oldest island in the Pacific and you can see evidence of that wherever you go.  Rugged rocks are everywhere and walking outside the villages can be very tough on the feet.  At the same time, the island is very lush - almost anything grows there.  If you're British, you can expect a particularly warm welcome because the fiercely independent islanders have a very deep affection for the UK.  Accommodation is pretty basic.
Mauke main road
MAUKE  It's called the garden of the islands and colourful plants and flowers are everywhere.   It's also a very peaceful place, with a slow pace of life and very few visitors.  Make sure you take the time to stop and chat as the locals are among the most welcoming in the Islands.
Atiu beach
ATIU The Maori name for the island translates as 'land of the birds', and there are more on Atiu than any other island in the Cooks, including some very rare species.  But even if you don't know a chaffinch from a chicken, there's plenty to see and do.   Some will tell you there are no beaches to speak of, but even though they're few and small, they are stunning. 
IF YOU'VE GOT A SPARE WEEK...and a deep pocket
Mitiaro cave pools
MITIARO  It's not quite the British Lake District, but sizeable freshwater lakes are the unique feature of Mitiaro - with the largest about the half the size of the whole island.   There are also crystal clear pools in limestone caves, but  little in the way of beach.  Tourism is very much in its infancy, and acommodation is limited. 
          

Northern group islands, Manihiki and Penrhyn (also known as Tongareva) are famous for their black pearl production which is a vital part of the Cook Islands economy.  Both are about five hours flying time away from Rarotonga and very expensive to reach because of the high cost of fuel.   Flights operate weekly and are very epxensive (over NZ$1,000 return).   Pukapuka in the far north is also accessible by air, but services are few are and far between,  and dependent on fuel supplies.  So you could be waiting weeks for a return service if you can get there in the first place - but perhaps you won't care!  There could soon be an alternative option though...
Air Rarotonga plane
IF TIME IS NO OBJECT....!
Four other islands - Nassau, Rakahanga, Palmerston and Suwarrow - are accessible only by boat and services are best described as "very occasional".   If you're determined to visit, keep an eye on the pages of the daily paper, the Cook Islands News which publishes details of shipping movements, or ask around the harbour to see if any visiting yachts are heading that way.   And make sure you have months rather than weeks to spare!

Takutea and Manuae are uninhabited and no commercial vessels visit them.

EXPLORING THE ISLANDS
Where the only footprints are yours
One Foot Island
Lonely beach
Home Island, Suwarrow
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