Cook Islands

Visitors who prefer more intimate accommodations won’t be disappointed in the Pacific Resort Rarotonga. This marvelous, 64-room boutique hotel on the edge of Rarotonga’s stunning lagoon is tailor-made for a vacation consisting of lazy island days and splendid evenings. Built on one of the world’s most spectacular spots, the resort stretches for about a half-mile along Rarotonga’s southern beach. It also offers suites and 2- or 3-bedroom villas, all built in a palm garden with beachfront panoramas.

Room rates at Pacific Resort range from $259 for a studio unit in garden setting, to $735 for an exclusive villa in the best location on Muri Beach, a palm-fringed turquoise wonder of calm waters and bright sunlight. The resort is famous for its wedding package (from $900) that includes wedding license, flower arrangements and a personal wedding planner.

What about those who want to view Rarotonga through a different prism? Tangaroa 4×4 Tours—named after the ubiquitous Polynesian god of fertility whose well-endowed image is the national symbol—takes sightseers on a 4WD experience that may be the best way to experience Rarotonga. The tour (approximately $56) unwinds along an ancient road skirting old maraes (sacred sites for religious rites in pre-Christian Polynesia) and palaces before zigzagging through farmlands and dramatic scenery, ending in a sumptuous lunch of marinated raw fish, lamb and taro wrapped in banana leaves, all baked in a pit.

But despite Rarotonga’s attractions and restaurants, it doesn’t take long to get the itch to see more of the Cook Islands.

aitutaki Air Rarotonga, a nifty little airline, offers daily flights to Aitutaki, a marvelous atoll 40 minutes removed from Rarotonga. Roundtrip fare is approximately $175.

Aitutaki is everything Rarotonga has prepared visitors for—marvelous South Seas hospitality, great weather, incredible views and a sense of being so far from daily cares, it’s easy to think of the island as a dream infused with fragrant flowers and sunlight.

The Pacific Resort Aitutaki offers nonpareil accommodations and an atmosphere that reeks of the wonders of the tropics. This is a magic, five-star hideaway made up of 27 beachfront bungalows at the edge of a triangle-shaped atoll. It is one of Australasia’s leading boutique hotels where nature overwhelms everything. There are tropical trees, flowers, beaches with water that feels like a warm bath, pools and waterfalls set against the backdrop of volcanic rock formations. If you can’t relax here, there’s no hope.

Rates begin at $620 for a bungalow and move up to $770 for a villa. Prices include airport transfers, daily fresh fruit in the rooms, breakfast and use of kayaks, pedal boats, snorkeling gear and beach service.

Nearby, the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa is even more secluded. It’s the Cooks’ only private island resort and probably the most luxurious. Here, guests arrive by ferry to stay in thatched bungalows, villas or lavish suites built on stilts above the lagoon. The place oozes comfort and good taste.

Rates range from $245 for a garden bungalow to $1,096 for a royal honeymoon pool villa. Prices include a cluster of activities and amenities.

Aside from the resort’s stylish atmosphere, the beauty of the lagoon will astound. This is a long stretch of shallow water that’s a virtual natural aquarium where schools of parrotfish, blue sea stars, wrasses, giant clams, sea turtles and other exotic marine life romp over a carmine coral reef.

No matter where one goes on the Cook Islands, their beauty is bound to enthrall. After all, where else on earth can visitors eat oranges allegedly descended from the HMS Bounty mutineers who, lore has it, anchored off Rarotonga while desperately seeking a safe haven from the Royal Navy and while here, traded the island’s first orange seeds for meat and coconuts?