For this week’s travel crush, we’re dreaming of a little paradise known as The Cook Islands in the South Pacific.
In the weeks and months I’ve been editing this column, I am surprised to inform you that none of our writers has ever used the following method to inspire their Travel Crush choices: Closing their eyes, spinning a globe, and going with wherever their pointer finger fates them.
The inspiration is often directly related to a personal experience or ongoing travel research, but the COVID-19 crisis has of course dramatically shifted how we work and think about travel altogether.
One thing I’ve been grappling with lately is how I can invite the unfamiliar and unexpected in my life, which at times can seem dead with routine and claustrophobic in the space I occupy. The phase of seeking comfort is over for me now, and I am ready to explore a little more of the unknown (from a safe, social distance!)
It might seem like a cliche for a travel editor, but I actually do own a decorative globe (it belonged to my Great Uncle Henry and may very well offend contemporary cartographers). For as much time as I spend in my apartment these days I’d actually forgotten about it gathering dust on my highest bookshelf, but I saw it today at a moment when a sliver of sun reflected off the Olympic blue paint of the Pacific Ocean, and decided it was time to make use of the age-old impromptu travel directory—which delightfully took me somewhere I’d never even heard of before, but am now mooning over like no other destination. Mission: accomplished.
Journey Around the Cook Islands
Located in a vastly isolated plot of Pacific Ocean almost exactly between New Zealand and Hawaii, the Cook Islands are surprisingly easy to access with direct flights from Los Angeles, Auckland, and Sydney. Once there, you can hop around the country’s 15 pristine islands via Air Rarotonga, including day trips to the Aitutaki Lagoon (reportedly one of the most beautiful in the world) just a 45 minute flight from the capital city.
Rarotonga, the main island, is only 32 kilometers in diameter (19.8 miles), and guests are welcome to jet around on mopeds or via the island’s singular bus system, which has just two routes: Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise.
The Cook Islands are not the kind of destination where you hole up in a resort and get pampered hand and foot (the country’s tourism board even pokes fun at the monotony of resorts in a cheeky video promoting the Cook Islands).
Which is fine with me: I’d rather stay at Ikurangi Eco Retreat on Rarotonga, the island’s first “purpose-built” eco accommodation. Here, guests stay a little closer to actual island life. Nestled in a lush organic garden surrounded by views of mountains and fresh fruit plantations, the luxury safari tents are just a quick jaunt from the beach and a free bike ride away from local villages.
Live the Cook Island Life
With no major resort chains, shopping malls, or buildings taller than a coconut tree, there’s not much else to do but explore the natural wonders of the Cook Islands—not that I’d be complaining. Snorkeling, fishing, kite surfing, hiking, and rock climbing are all available. I’d make expeditions to Te Rua Manga, a striking cylindrical peak in the middle of Rarotonga, and Papua Waterfall (often referred to as Wigmore’s Waterfall) for a cool off.
This is the perfect kind of trip post-quarantine, in my humble opinion. It’s a big enough journey to feel like you’re getting out of your familiar space, but doesn’t require too much planning other than booking a flight and hotel. Once you get here, you have enough options to indulge in island life and the freedom to be spontaneous—decide what you feel like doing in that moment, and go—not unlike spinning a dusty old globe and seeing where you land.