Aitutaki, Cook Islands - September 17, 2013: Cook Islanders welcome tourists in Aitutaki airport on September 17, 2013. The airport was originally constructed by the United States and New Zealand militaries during World War II. The runway recently underwent a $3.8 million upgrade.


Late last year Sian O’Connell and her husband Keir holidayed on the Cook Islands. Friends had recommended Rarotonga as a great place to unwind, but they were unsure what to expect… was there enough to do? Would they be bored? They shared their experience with Spirit Magazine.

As parents to three teenage kids, we haven’t had the opportunity to travel a lot, in fact this would be our first ‘couple’ holiday in a very long time, so we promised each other we’d be up for new experiences. Just stepping off the plane into the terminal was a new experience, as we were serenaded by legendary local musician, Jake Numanga, and a beautiful, fragrant lei hung around each of our necks by a lovely local lady. Before we knew it, we were on the bus heading for our (adults only) accommodation at Muri Beach Club Hotel, just a few minutes’ drive from the township of Avarua.

Arriving around midday (the day before we left!) there was plenty to see and do within walking distance of our accommodation, including excellent snorkelling and paddle boarding.  We booked in for a massage, followed by poolside drinks (this was to become a regular end-of-day indulgence). Bliss!

There are numerous ways to discover the real Rarotonga, by foot, bike, bus, scooter, or car. We decided to mix it up and try a bit of everything. A Storytellers Eco Cycle Tour took us off the beaten track, discovering hidden places we might not have otherwise found, our guide regaling us with fascinating stories of history and culture. A picnic lunch and a swim rounded off a great day.

The following day we headed off on a Raro Mountain Safari Tour – our guide really enjoying showing us the spot where the seven Vaka left Rarotonga for New Zealand. Yes, it’s pretty awesome!

An easy day, we caught one of the two Cook Islands Buses – one goes clockwise and the other, anti-clockwise. It’s worth staying on for the full cycle until you decide where you want to stop first. One place we had been told to look for by numerous people, was The Mooring Café in Avana. Great advice!  Their pan-fried fresh fish sandwich was a lunchtime taste sensation.

I’m not really a fan of ‘Island Nights’ but on (another) recommendation, that evening we bussed to the Highland Paradise Culture Centre for the most fabulous, authentic, cultural show including traditional foods, history, dancing and great entertainment.

Hiring scooters for a day, we zipped about, stopping at roadside beaches and cafes, and a bit of compulsory shopping.

Aitutaki Island was an indulgence. We’d have loved to have had more time there, but time and budget restraints limited us to just a day trip. Another time, I think. The highlight – cruising the lagoon on the vaka, Titi-ai-Tonga, snorkelling, swimming, barbecuing, and leaving our footprints on pristine, white sands.



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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.