It’s impossible to resist the relaxed bliss of Cook Islands living.
What I noticed in comparison to other destinations is that the pace is the same wherever you go. You don’t leave your hotel and hit the street only to be overcome with chaotic traffic and people trying to sell you things. You can walk straight from a poolside cocktail out onto the street and the chilled island vibe will continue.
The Cook Islands is still a wonderfully authentic destination for tourists, and I couldn’t get over the warmth and genuine welcome we received from the locals. We were invited to enjoy a variety of opportunities where we not only experienced the culture of the Cook Islands, but were a part of it. As a Travel Associates Advisor it is my privilege to enjoy life-changing moments like these and bring them home to share with my clients.
Punanga Nui Market
Wandering through this waterfront market with a fresh coconut in hand was one of my favourite ways to experience the relaxed culture of the Cook Islands.
Make sure you arrive hungry - there are tons of stalls selling mouth-watering cuisine. There’s a real community vibe to the markets, and you can tell that many locals come down to eat their favourite foods, catch up with friends and stock up on produce.
I spent a few happy hours browsing the stalls of arts and crafts, smelling the fresh flowers and tasty treats cooking, and listening to the drum beats and music drifting through the warm air.
Te Vara Nui
This recreated Cook Islands village hosted us for an amazing night that I would recommend for all ages.
We walked into the village and were surprised to come upon a clearing - a large space with an overwater stage, surrounded by loads of tropical foliage. The friendly staff ushered us to our table, and showed us the buffet. I felt my eyes light up at the sight of the colourful beauty of the fresh salads, meat and seafood dishes, and it tasted as good as it looked. Their seafood chowder was the best I have ever tasted.
The show itself is nothing short of an extravaganza. Traditional dance, music and drumming are used to tell a story and the energy of the performers and gorgeous display of costumes made it impossible to tear your eyes from the show. I never wanted to leave!
Local church service
I felt welcome as soon I stepped into the church, where the choir was singing - it is said that some of the best singing in the Cook Islands is done in church and I believe it.
It was a beautiful celebration of people coming together, rejoicing with uplifting singing and constant laughter. I found it fascinating and humbling to discover that 16 denominations all co-exist on one island, yet all appreciate and respect each other’s beliefs.
The service was followed by morning tea, where we were welcomed into the embrace of the mingling community.
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Storytellers Eco Cycle Tour
About 15 of us set off on mountain bikes, although this is much more than just a bike ride. Every 10 or 15 minutes we stopped for a water break or a nature talk, and we saw so much of the island you’d never see from the main road.
I learned a lot about medicinal herbs and plants, and the many ways that local produce is used in the community. Our guide, Uncle Jimmy, was overflowing with information about the island, from history and culture to plant knowledge and personal anecdotes.
The bikes were of excellent quality, and although our ages ranged from 20 to 70, everyone was made to feel safe and comfortable. Apparently this tour is highly customisable depending on your group, which is unsurprising giving the lovely nature of the Cook Island locals.
Muri Night Markets
Eating dinner at these local night markets was a local cultural experience that made a wonderful change from sitting in a restaurant. The markets were buzzing with local families; there were happy kids and pets running around everywhere.
I had the most amazing fish curry for a very reasonable price. I would advise you to get there early, as it’s not a large market and the delicious food stalls means it gets busy. The favourites sell out fast!
Be sure to hire a plate for a gold coin donation - it’s eco friendly and helps to raise funds for local school kids.