Reaching the Cook Islands from the UK may seem a bit of a slog, yet agents on a recent fam tell Andrew Doherty the island’s rustic charm more than makes up for the long journey
The Cook Islands have been intriguing explorers since they were first discovered by the Spanish in 1595.
Next to fall for its beauty was British sailor Captain James Cook, who actually branded them the Hervey Islands in the 18th century. It was only in the 1820s that the Cook Islands received its current moniker, when they appeared in a Russian naval chart.
Even today this Polynesian paradise seems to possess an otherworldly charm, which last month the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation showcased to UK travel agents during its latest fam trip.
TTG speaks to three consultants to hear about their experience and how the fam has helped selling the Cook Islands.
For Ian Griffiths, general manager UK for the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, the purpose of the trip was to highlight the multitude of experiences available on the islands beyond the beaches.
“We are looking to promote the fact that visitors can expect an authentic Polynesian experience, with cultural events and attractions in abundance, including traditional dancing displays, great island nightlife, village tours and much more,” he explains.
“If people are looking for a butler service destination, they’re not going to find it in the Cook Islands. We don’t want to be like other places. We are pushing ‘soft adventure’.”
Once on Rarotonga, the group split up to travel their respective accommodation: Pace and Holden sharing a room at the Sea Change Villas, with Smith staying at the Muri Beachcomber hotel.
While Pace and Holden both loved the self-catering aspect of the Sea Change Villas, Smith fell for Muri Beachcomber’s rustic feel.
“The hotel is made up of three-star self-catering bungalows. I definitely would recommend it to both families and couples,” says Smith.
“What’s great is that the hotel has an adults-only area closer to the beach, so you would still have peace and quiet if you were on a honeymoon. The property also has garden units for families with children under 12.”
As a weddings and honeymoons specialist, Holden was impressed with how easy it is to get married on the Cook Islands, explaining that many of the hotels offer their own romance packages.
“It’s very easy to tie the knot – you only need to be on the Cook Islands for three working days. You can even get married on One Foot Island, on a sand dune in the middle of a lagoon!”
Visiting One Foot Island, situated off Aitutaki, is a must-do activity, Pace explains.
“We took a short regional flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki, and when we landed we took a speedboat to nearby One Foot Island. Here, you can have your passport stamped for less than £2. It’s a great little addition.
“Even getting to One Foot Island is a brilliant experience – you walk in water several inches deep for about 10 to 15 minutes. There is also a bar there on the beach where you can relax with a beer and take in some of the most clear-blue waters you will ever see in your life.”
After spending a night on Aitutaki, the agents headed back to Rarotonga, where they took in an evening of culture at the Te Vara Nui Village.
Holden says that this popular tourist attraction should definitely be on clients’ itineraries.
“The village is in the most magnificent setting with a lake and beautiful trees. We were taken on a tour to learn about the history of the islanders before enjoying a magnificent buffet dinner where we watched a traditional dance routine.”
The agents also had the chance to experience Rarotonga’s nightlife on the Raro Pub Crawl – a party bus that stops at the island’s best bars and clubs.
Holden explains that the tour can be arranged locally or agents can book it in advance, adding: “I do a lot of honeymoon bookings and they would absolutely love it. Because Rarotonga is such a small island, we met a lot of the staff from the hotels on the bus. It’s a great way to get to know the locals.”
Pace was particularly impressed that most of the hotels offer complimentary non-motorised water sports, such as paddle-boarding and kayak hire.
“We actually did a bit of snorkelling ourselves. What’s great about the Cook Islands is that just by walking a few metres into the sea you will be able to spot beautiful brightly coloured fish and coral reefs.”
Pace says that popular land-based activities include bicycle hire. “Although I didn’t join the rest of the group on the bicycles, I found an alternative way to explore. I hopped on a bus that runs in a simple clockwise or anti-clockwise route around the island, which took me to all of the main tourism spots.”
Since returning, Holden now recommends the Cook Islands to both families and honeymooners alike.
“The Cook Islands are beautiful and unspoilt, making for a great alternative to the Maldives. I think it’s a destination that would suit a range of clients – honeymooners, families and young people too. A lot of my honeymooners do Hawaii but now I will recommend the Cook Islands as a more tropical destination.”
For Smith, it was simply the islanders’ personalities that made her fall in love with the Cook Islands.
“The locals are so nice and always walking around with a big smile. It really brings a spot of sunshine to you, even on one of the islands’ rare rainy days.”